Ethics and professionalism to fix the image for PR

The public relations industry in a way is having a PR crisis of its own. Most people outside of the field either have little understanding of what PR entails, or worse, associate PR professionals with the “spin” practice that puts a positive cover over a company’s unethical practices. Since most PR work lies in the background (the public sees an article, not a press release, for example), it is easy to grab the PR work on the surface, like crisis PR, to be the field’s only practice. Think of Penn State’s Sandusky case, for example, that most people called a “PR crisis” while it was arguably more of a moral and organizational issue. As PR professionals and students understand, no “PR magic” can fix a wrongdoing, but proactive communication can make it clear to the public that the organization does listen and care about what its audience has to say, even when this feedback is criticism. Nevertheless, from the outside looking in, PR seems to serve the sole purpose of making an organization look good with little consideration of the truth.

Samantha as PR professional in Sex and the City

The PR misperception is also prevalent in pop culture: The TV show “Sex and the City” portrays the character Samantha as a sharp but manipulative PR professional. (Image source:

The perception of course is inaccurate. But as in any PR practice, perception is everything. And to change this negative perception of the field, PR professionals and students need to actively hold themselves, their colleagues and the industry in general to higher standards. Both PRSA and PRSSA, the national PR organizations at the professional and student levels, have a Code of Ethics that all members have to uphold. More than following the Codes, however, each individual professional and student needs to demonstrate ethics on the job, while working with clients, media members or the general public.

PRSA Act Ethically and Carry On

PRSA sent out this poster to members in September for professionals to hang on their wall and remember to practice ethics. We students can remind ourselves by “hanging” this digital version as our screensaver. (Image source:

For PR students, it is important to practice ethics not only at professional internships and part-time jobs, but also in class and interactions with other students. This goes to show various publics, including other students, professors, university staff and community members, that PR is a reputable field with reputable professionals, even at the student level. Often times, demonstrating ethics as PR students involves being professional within and outside of the professional context. As a personal example, although our group, Prism Communications, is working with the Louisiana Northshore Quilt Trail Association as a class project, we regard the organization as a professional client in respectfully discussing ideas and holding ourselves accountable in delivering the work we have been assigned. We are currently working on the details for the organization’s SCVNGR launch event on Sunday, Dec. 2.

Whether ethics or professional practices, we still have more to learn during our time as PR students. Keep in touch through my blog and see the final outcome of our semester-long efforts at our event or through LNQTA’s Facebook page.


One thought on “Ethics and professionalism to fix the image for PR

  1. Tran Tran,

    I completely agree with your statement that most people outside of the public relations field do not understand what public relations really entails. When people ask me what my major is, it is hard to explain to them exactly what public relations means. I normally just say that I want to work with the media because people do not understand what we do. I think we, as upcoming public relations professionals, need to do a better job of clarifying what we do with public relations. I think this means we need to take a more proactive approach to public relations. Like you said, it is easy to think public relations is only the reacting to crisis. We need to show the good work we do, not just trying to clear up the bad. I think this correlates to professionalism. As public relations professionals, we need to always strive to be ethical and professional. I think the public relations world is constantly testing these standards. I think it all starts with how you brand yourself, whether it is through your daily interactions or through social media. You have to be conscience of what you put out into the world. I try to keep what I post through social media appropriate for everyone because you never know who is looking at what you post, or when that information will be used against you. You can check out my twitter @samrebowe if you learn more about me.

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