Strengthening Your Core: Keeping PR Pros Ethically Fit

By: Jeff Adkins

“Quality means doing it right when no one is looking.” – Henry Ford.

As I prepared for PRSA Detroit’s ethics webinar titled “Strengthening Your Core: Keeping PR Pros Ethically Fit,” the quote above from Henry Ford kept going through my mind. He may have been referencing quality in the context of building automobiles, but the principle of what he said transcends industries and eras. It’s something that PR pros should always keep in mind, both personally and professionally.

The webinar was hosted by the PRSA Detroit Ethics Committee, which comprises co-chairs Linda Hagan, Ph.D., APR and Shelly Najor, Ph.D., as well as the committee’s liaison, Sharon Tatom Garcia, APR. The keynote presenter was Shannon Bowen, Ph.D. – a communication ethics expert who teaches at The University of Southern California.

The webinar began with a few mock scenarios, led by Shelly, that described ethical conflicts a PR pro may encounter in the workplace. The exercise was a valuable reminder of the complex situations practitioners can sometimes experience; situations that can be challenging to navigate. It was wonderful to see that when faced with an ethical dilemma, nearly all of the webinar’s attendees chose the most ethical option when presented with different ways of handling the issue. I believe that’s a testament to the high ethical standards you’ll find among PRSA members, not only in Detroit but also across the nation.

Dr. Bowen shared what she calls her “ethical consideration triangle,” which PR pros can use to gauge whether they’re acting ethically in a situation. At each corner of the triangle, there’s a question that a practitioner should ask his or herself:

  1. Am I doing the right thing?
  2. Are dignity and respect being maintained?
  3. Am I proceeding with a morally good will?

At the center of the triangle, you’ll find the people who should be positively affected by your decision: yourself, your society and your stakeholders. If ever in doubt, PR pros can always look to the PRSA Code of Ethics for guidance. The code provides a solid foundation and framework for all practitioners to use.

Dr. Bowen also spoke about reversibility, which is a simple concept you can use to guide your decision making. The concept is simple: ask yourself, “If I were on the receiving end of this decision, would I still understand it?” This is an important question to ask because PR pros can sometimes encounter circumstances where the best way to proceed is not obvious. The decisions we make should be fair for all parties involved – not only ourselves but also our stakeholders and the larger society we serve.

The webinar was a wonderful reminder and way to celebrate PRSA Ethics Month. We’re thankful to Dr. Bowen for being the keynote presenter and sharing her insight with us, and also for all the work the Ethics Committee put into this presentation!

With programming like this, I’m more sure than ever that PRSA Detroit members consistently do the right thing when facing ethical dilemmas – even when no one is looking.

Jeff Adkins is a public relations specialist with Henry Ford Health System, and a member of both PRSA National and PRSA Detroit.

Main picture via Pixabay

Jeff Adkins (photo provided by Jeff Adkins)