My roommate, a self-proclaimed health nut, recently discovered the pro-high fructose corn syrup ads launched by the Corn Refiners Association. The night she finally watched one, she screamed my name for me to come in and watch. After it finished, she turned to me–near tears, and asked “how could anyone possibly agree to produce this?” My roommate is a marketing major, and as such, she found the entire ordeal not only upsetting, but also insulting. “It’s a matter of life and death,” she said. “How do you sign on to be a part of something like that?”
That got me thinking, we are all getting ready to enter the workforce–and as entry-level professionals, it is entirely possible that will be entirely replaceable. So my question is-at what point do you refuse to work on a campaign? Sure, you want to preserve your own commitment to ethics, but you also want to be successful.
It seems nearly every PR organization has its own code of ethics, and as we all know, the PRSA has it’s industry-wide ethics breakdown, but when it comes down to individual situations and the hazy questions of morality, how do you reconcile personal issues with loyalty to your company?
One PR blog brings up the argument that most people feel that codes of ethics exist only to professionalize public relations, and that typically they don’t offer anything outside of what any person would consider to be a normal sense of ethical responsibility.
I remember taking the required ethics class in the Cronkite school, where every day we learned how to navigate through the gray areas in journalism; but where do we really learn the ethics of public relations? Sure, we can study the various codes of ethics and memorize the rules that they suggest, but when it comes time to make a decision on a campaign that doesn’t quite fit into one of those handy rules, what do we do?
In the case of high fructose corn syrup, the ads aren’t implicitly unethical. What they’re saying is true… but the implications of a person taking the information that “it’s perfectly safe in moderation” and using it to justify consuming mass quantities of the substance are murky at best.
So what do you think? How can we navigate morally gray waters while still maintaining loyalty and professionalism? Would you have helped to come up with the pro high fructose corn syrup ad, knowing that it might have disastrous implications later down the road?