Ethics 2.0

Do you remember when the PR department had one major pitch strategy—press releases to the media? The answer is, probably not. Why? Because the newest group of PR grads and first-timers (that’s us!) has grown quite accustomed to the idea of working with the giant vortex we like to call “social media.” There are so many outlets and intricate tunnels we can incorporate into our strategies that it is hard to imagine sticking with only a few simple techniques. As the wise uncle of our dear Spider Man once said, “With great power comes great responsibility.” For the purposes of this argument, the “responsibility” shall refer to the ethical code PR practitioners have been following for years. Just because our techniques are changing, doesn’t mean our ethics have to.

There are many things to consider in our newfound repertoire of tools. For example, is it ethical to ghost blog? Can we really pose as our client just because of our expert blogging skills? What about tweeting? Facebooking? What is a PR practitioner to do?

There has been a long history of PR ethics, most of which have been transformed, shifted and re-evaluated to suit today’s dilemmas. It is up to the newly educated individuals in the PR world to keep up with the tradition of good ethics. We need to ask ourselves “Is this ethical?” in every situation. It may seem tedious or elementary, but when it comes to the integrity of the industry, it is our duty to maintain (or in some cases, establish) a good name for the PR practitioners of the world. The PR Code of Ethics should be our reference in any time of need. Of course, with any ethical decision, the outcome is quite subjective but the decisions are easier to make when we’re prepared.


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5 Responses to Ethics 2.0

  1. dolson says:

    You can’t be ethical without being transparent and honest about your motivations. Ergo, you can’t ghost blog. Don’t listen to me, just ask Edelman how ghost blogging worked for them with their Working Families for Wal-Mart fiasco in 2006.

    I think it was Raymond Chandler who wrote, “The greatest trap is the one we set for ourselves.” Losing our ethical sense in PR is that trap. It’s just asking for trouble, because sooner or later that misstep will catch up to you, and then you will be using time and energy to correct it and apologize and work to earn back the trust you squandered. Tedium and elementary aside, it’s better to maintain a good name for ourselves. No one forgets the screwups.

  2. tburns says:

    I am a person who always has to look at the ethical side of any profession. (Maybe it’s my philosophy minor & the classes I have had to take to get it. Who knows…)

    With the rise in new ways to communicate with stakeholders, I do not think it is right to write a blog on behalf of a president of the company or Tweet as though you are the president of a company. If a company wants to have such tools, then I think the executives should do their part. They maybe can write a draft for their PR person to look over and proofread, but I think, especially in the social climate of today, we expect more of highly-paid company officials. Writing your own blog and Tweets says something; it can show how much you want to be involved in your work and your level of commitment.

    Another issue I have had with PR (one I know I will never be able to change, but it still doesn’t seem right to me) is being able to write a quote on behalf of a client. As long as they read it and okay it, you can say, print or post it. I cannot stand this. Yes, they approve, but it is not the words of that person. I think your ability to communicate and send out messages says a lot about who you are, and it is a little bit harder for people to see who you are when someone else is writing your statements.

  3. hhoma says:

    I have a huge problem with ghost blogging (and ghost anything for that matter). In my JMC 415 class, I had to write an op-ed on behalf of my fictional client’s CEO, and I voiced my opinion about how it seemed wrong to me. (It was also very difficult to do, since I was writing an opinion that was different from my own personal one.) I was surprised by my professor’s response when she said that ghost writing is very common and is considered ethical within the world of PR. It seems crazy to me and makes me question what I will do if I encounter this situation in the future. Will I do what I’m told even if I think it’s wrong, or will I stand behind my ethical beliefs and possibly face getting fired? Who knows.

    I also agree with Tara about making quotes on behalf of another person and simply getting his or her approval. This seems wrong to me too, and I don’t understand why PR practitioners keep doing it.

  4. kwashburn says:

    I agree that as PR professionals and people who are providing information to the public, we always need to be aware of ethical decisions. We need to think about the good of the people and delivering truth without biased and with all of the facts. I don’t think that it discredits or makes a company or person less truthful or ethical, though, if they have a “ghost-writer” to keep up with their social media department. It would be difficult for a huge, big-name company to do this with just one person. Several people need to come together to make their social media department successful.

  5. srugeris says:

    A news writing professor once told me to always use the “gut check” meaning if it feels wrong when you are sending the document out to publication, you probably are feeling some sort of ethical dilemma with the piece of writing. Clunderburg, when you bring the question, “Can we really pose as our client just because of our expert blogging skills? What about tweeting? Facebooking? What is a PR practitioner to do?” I think this is definitely a question that needs to be asked if you are writing on behalf of a company that you do not feel you are truly representing. However, if you are in the PR industry writing as an account executive on behalf of your client, I think this is a situation in which the practitioner must be the communication expert, so knowing what the client seeks to interact with the public about is of utmost importance. For example, this is not much different than a PR executive writing a statement on behalf of the CEO of a company when one is required for publication as most notable in the 90s for traditional media purposes. Always stay true to the messages that the organization originally wishes to communicate and it should be easy to steer clear of ethical dilemmas.

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