Public Relations Tactics

3 Tips for Navigating Ethics as a New Professional

September 5, 2017

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I don’t know about you but, for me, ethics is not a topic that comes up in everyday work conversations around the office. Even in mandatory work trainings, we cover things like social media policy and sexual harassment, but nothing that directly calls out morals or principles as a priority.

If asked, then I would certainly say that I try to be as ethical as possible in any situation and would agree that my employer is also ethical. However, everything we do and all of the communications we have as professionals are related to our foundational values in some way or another, and we should treat the topic with the care and attention it deserves to grow into the ethical professionals we all want to be.

Think back over the course of your career. How many times have you run into a situation where you questioned how to respond in the most ethical way? Perhaps it relates to what kind of information you divulge about clients to avoid a conflict of interest or a breach of contract, or maybe it’s about communicating with your audiences through honest but positive framing.

What should we do as PR professionals who are in entry- to mid-level positions in order to ensure that we are being as ethical as we can be? And how do we stand our ground when presented with a tough situation to do the right thing, even if it seems difficult? Often, the landscape can be trying when values and principles are not the focal point of discussions.

Below are three tips for navigating ethics as a young professional:

1. Familiarize yourself with the PRSA Code of Ethics. This is your compass as a PR pro. What you’ll find is that every aspect of your job comes down to how you work as an ethical professional — upholding core values to advance your career and the PR practice as a whole. Following the guiding principles of advocacy, honesty, expertise, independence, loyalty and fairness will serve you well as you move throughout your career.

2. Know your personal values and ethics.  How do they intermingle with, and impact, your professional life? At some point, you may be asked to do work for an initiative or a client that goes against your personal beliefs or to frame some information in a way that you feel is dishonest and unethical.

Find a mentor or someone within your organization who you can talk with about the issue. They can help you decide on the best course of action to do the right thing for both you and your employer. It’s easier said than done, but working for an organization that is closely aligned with your personal values will make navigating ethics much easier.

3. Read up. There are so many resources, including ethics case studies, on the PRSA website. You can read a case study, answer questions and then view discussions about it. For instance, there are ethical and legal considerations prior to recording an interview. Did you know that you should look into state and federal laws guiding when you can tape someone? If you interview people over the phone regularly, do you inform them if you are recording the call?

Someone who conducts Q-and-A’s regularly, such as a PR professional or journalist, may assume that subjects know they are being recorded during an interview. Meanwhile, situations like this and many others are available as case studies — you may be surprised at how many different ethical dilemmas you are presented with every day.

Ethics is not an easy topic to master, especially for professionals with only a few years of experience or those who are just starting out. But when armed with tools and resources like those offered by PRSA, you can become more comfortable and feel empowered to ask questions when something doesn’t feel right, making it much easier to navigate ethics over the course of your career.

Lindsay Moeller

Lindsay Moeller is a PR executive for Two Rivers Marketing in Des Moines, Iowa, where she writes content and connects with the media. In addition to her role as co-chair for the PRSA New Pros blog, she serves on the Central Iowa PRSA Board as the professional development/networking co-chair and volunteers as part of the event management team for the Des Moines Arts Festival.


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