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.
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.
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.