Ethics and professionalism in public relations, like in any other profession, go hand in hand.
As Pope Benedict XVI put it,
“To me, it really seems visible today that ethics is not something exterior to the economy, which, as technical matter, could function on its own; rather, ethics is an interior principle of the economy itself, which cannot function if it does not take account of the human values of solidarity and reciprocal responsibility.”
Ethical decision-making is integral to a well-functioning economy and society. The Public Relations Society of America cites six professional values: advocacy, honesty, expertise, independence, loyalty and fairness. As PR professionals, we serve the public interest by serving as advocates to the organizations we represent. The information we provide to people aids in having a productive public discourse and contributes to the marketplace of ideas.
Essential to ethical decision-making, is the professional value of honesty. As PR professionals it is vital to remain honest and accurate while advocating for those we represent. The next value is expertise. It is important for PR professionals to further our profession by displaying expertise in our field. This can mean furthering education, research or our own professional development.
In maintaining a professional standard of independence, we provide objective counsel to those we represent and remain responsible for our actions. It is important to maintain a level of independence to advocate both for the organizations we represent and the public welfare simultaneously.
The last professional value, fairness, plays a large role in PR professionals’ actions and decisions. It is important to respect the opinion of everyone, and to treat everyone, from clients to the general public, with fairness.
These PRSA professional values show the inseparable nature of professionalism and ethics in public relations. It is necessary to maintain a high standard of professional values in order to remain professional and ethical in the field.
According to The Chartered Institute of Public Relations’ survey last year, 72 percent of PR professionals strongly agree with the statement “Being considered a professional is important to me.” However, the current milieu of public relations shows a lack of education and professional training and may be hindering those in the PR profession from achieving the desired state of professionalism. Of the respondents, 72 percent have academic degrees, but only 13 percent have degrees in public relations or communications. Additionally, only 44 percent have any professional qualification at all, such as a diploma, advanced certification or foundation awards.
It seems that while expressing a desire to be seen as professional, many people in the PR field lack qualifications which are typically indicative of professionalism. As the industry continues to grow and change, public relations professionals are now faced with the opportunity to substantially professionalize the field.
Following these survey results Stephen Waddington, president of CIPR, issued a challenge to public relations professionals.
More than nine out of ten of you say being considered a professional is important. My challenge to you is: how serious are you about putting this into practice?
Professionalism is more than box ticking and abiding by a code of practice. In this business, as skills continue to change, and our responsibilities continue to grow, each and every individual must accept responsibility for their own professional development.
These results show CIPR members who have a positive attitude to self-improvement and proactively manage their careers are ahead at every stage.
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Alec, M. (2014, February 26). PR is at a professional crossroads. Retrieved November 23, 2015, from http://www.prweek.com/article/1282506/pr-professional-crossroads
Public Relations Society of America (PRSA) Member Code of Ethics. (n.d.). Retrieved November 23, 2015, from https://www.prsa.org/AboutPRSA/Ethics/CodeEnglish/#.VlONDvmrTjZ
Ethics Quotes. (n.d.). Retrieved November 23, 2015, from http://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/keywords/ethics.html