PRSA Code of Ethics: Overview & Application

After graduating from Grand Valley State University last May, and more recently, starting media relations efforts (among other things) for a local logistics company, I realized that I wanted to practice public relations in the way in which it was intended – with proper ethical guidelines. Although I had heard about PRSA’s Code of Ethics in school, I never had practical application until now – which has led me to investigate for myself what PRSA says about the public relations profession and how we, as PR pros, should practice our craft. The PRSA Code of Ethics is built on several core values.

View the PRSA Code of Ethics

PRSA Professional Values

Advocacy

We serve the public interest by acting as responsible advocates for those we represent. We provide a voice in the marketplace of ideas, facts, and viewpoints to aid informed public debate.

PRSA Code of Ethics

First and foremost, we are responsible as pr pros to advocate for organizations, causes, and initiatives that we represent. Advocacy is an essential part of public relations and it needs to be done through honest, transparent, and authentic communication or it might feel pushy, awkward, or forced. Forbes, supporting this idea of building advocacy through PR, says “creating an advocacy program is one of the most impactful things a brand can do to start building meaningful relationships with their most dedicated fans, engage their most loyal customers, and empower organic word of mouth both online and offline”.

Honesty

We adhere to the highest standards of accuracy and truth in advancing the interests of those we represent and in communicating with the public.

PRSA Code of Ethics

In my opinion, this is the most important value on the list. Although there are scenarios in which business leaders have used PR to twist and manipulate dishonest media coverage and other messaging, PR is largely dedicated to serving the public through advocacy, honesty, and transparency. In recent weeks, I have been on the lookout for podcasts that can enable me to be a more honest and transparent professional, and I came across the Spin Sucks Podcast by Gini Dietrich. Gini talks a lot about reclaiming the PR profession for what it was originally meant to do – serve the community!

Expertise

We acquire and responsibly use specialized knowledge and experience. We advance the profession through continued professional development, research, and education. We build mutual understanding, credibility, and relationships among a wide array of institutions and audiences.

PRSA Code of Ethics

Being an expert does not always come easy. It comes through trial, testing, and innovation – often driven by a desire to learn. As a new professional (only 1 year out of college), I struggle with using the word “expert” to describe my experience. What are the qualifications to be considered an “expert” in PR? Years of experience? Successfully avoiding crises? Accreditation or education? Your network? As I continue to learn what it means to be a professional (I am far from finishing this race), I have come across plenty of “PR experts” who do things I did not learn in school or using methodologies that do not make sense to me, always leaving me with the question: do people understand PR?

Independence

We provide objective counsel to those we represent. We are accountable for our actions.

PRSA Code of Ethics

We provide objective counsel. Wow. How often do we provide subjective counsel and value another person’s opinion over fighting for the PR profession? I sure do this, and I am not proud of it. Being an independent, hard-working professional that is held accountable by a local PRSA chapter is essential to maintaining our objectivity and accountability. As I reflect and relate this to my experience, I can remember several times that I feel inadequate or unable to fight for the PR profession because of my lack of experience. How can people take me seriously in the workplace? How do I even know if I am practicing what is right? How can I remain independent and fight for objectivity while having responsibilities towards my clients?

Loyalty

We are faithful to those we represent, while honoring our obligation to serve the public interest.

PRSA Code of Ethics

This is an incredible statement. We are liaisons between those whom we represent and we have a responsibility toward the public interest. Over the past year in my current job, I have realized that it is easy to go one way or the other. It is extremely easy to only advocate for the organization you represent instead of serving the public and their needs. How can we go about changing this? We can start by understanding our obligation and loyalty to the public and be more concerned with what they are concerned about.

Fairness

We deal fairly with clients, employers, competitors, peers, vendors, the media, and the general public. We respect all opinions and support the right of free expression.

PRSA Code of Ethics

Respecting opinions and conducting your professional work with fairness are two things that our culture has a difficult time doing. It is important to note that PRSA is advocating for this mindset in the context of each key public (clients, employers, competitors, peers, vendors, media, etc.) – meaning that we are to conduct ourselves fairly in relationship to all of these publics and not be selective. The right of free expression is something that has been hotly debated over the past couple of years and it is essential that we maintain this right in the years to come.

The Application

How can we apply these principles to our day-to-day workplaces? How can we fight for these ethical boundaries while we practice PR? These are questions that must be applied to our day-to-day or they prove ineffective. Here are a few actionable steps to get us started:

  • Struggling to get behind a cause? Become an advocate for your organization and find key publics that will benefit from your communication.
  • Are you being encouraged to communicate bad information? Be honest and only communicate information that is trustworthy and reliable.
  • Do you lack expertise? Be honest and admit your need to learn and grow as a professional.
  • Are you too concerned about one public or the other? Be independent and objective in your communication and conduct.
  • Be loyal to your organization and key publics – do not compromise on either end and be ready to stand up for the profession.
  • Be concerned if only one narrative is being pushed and incorporate fairness into your public relations strategy.
Carson Kunnen

Carson Kunnen

Carson Kunnen is a public relations and communications professional located in Grand Rapids, Michigan. A recent graduate of Grand Valley State University, and Fellow of the Design Thinking Academy, Carson is working to learn, grow, and drive innovation. His passion for people, relationship building, and faith in Jesus Christ motivate his pursuit of excellence in all areas of his life.

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