Ethics can be A LOT of fun!

As you know, I just got back from PRSSA National Assembly and one of my favorite sessions was the “Ethics Challenge” session.

I think ethics is one topic that often gets overlooked or people start to roll their eyes if it is even brought up. Well this was a GREAT session at #PRSSANA because we actually talked about different ethical situations we could really be put in and it was great to hear everyone’s feedback!

Click image for original location.

We were divided into teams and given different scenarios to discuss different ethical problems from ethical funding issues to interns disclosing confidential information and looking over problems just to benefit a client.

The thing that I liked, as said above, is that as PR students, professionals and even young professionals, we could all end up in these types of situations. I think it is SO important for managers to cover ethics with interns and new hires before even beginning a job.

Once you cover the ethics, the responsibilities and the consequences, I think things are a lot better and a lot clearer for everyone. Reviewing your personal ethics, the PRSSA Code of Ethics and the PRSA Code of Ethics are always great things to do and something I really suggest everyone look over again.

I also suggest going over different types of ethical dilemmas with your Chapter, organization, team, etc. to see how different people would react and to get different people’s opinions.


More on the ethics session about making ethical decisions and the values of PRSSA and PRSA: blog post here.

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5 thoughts on “Ethics can be A LOT of fun!

  1. In my opinion, ethics is a more relevant topic than it has been in decades for two reasons.

    The first is social media, which exists without – in most cases – editorial filters and can make “spur of the moment” declarations permanent for the world to see.

    The second is the emergence and ongoing growth of “Integrated Marketing.” More than ever, agencies are bundling PR and advertising services under the same umbrella. While this has some debatable advantages, this presents some very real pitfalls, especially for new PR people who may end up the sole PR voice on a team of advertisers and marketers who have never practiced our trade. To give a generic example – stock photography is acceptable and regular practice in advertising. Using an image of a guy in a lab coat and calling him a doctor is not if you are sending out a news release.

    Also related to photography, “Photoshopping” is something to be wary of as well. I had a situation a few years back during a photo shoot under the Golden Gate Bridge. The images were dual use for my PR campaign and a colleague’s advertising campaign. My colleague altered the images to remove some brick buildings and some tents near the base of the bridge in the background. Those altered images, in my opinion, were unusable in our PR campaign because they were misleading and inaccurate. Luckily, we were able to recover the unaltered images (one of which was eventually featured on the cover of a major automotive magazine that probably wouldnt have used the altered images).

    One final area we’re seeing more of (again because of Integrated Marketing) I think it is important for new PR pros to understand is “pay for play” placements. With the severe staffing cutbacks at many print publications, many magazines actually have their editors selling ad space. This can lead to the inevitable “buy advertising and I will publish your release” scenario. In my opinion, if you chose to do this (or your client wants to do it), it is okay, but the release needs to state very clearly that it is an advertorial or that the space has been paid for.

    Lauren – thank you for the wonderfully insightful posts and the chance to participate in the discussions. Im having a blast reading and getting on my soapbox a little. As an independent consultant working from my home, I dont get as many chances to interact with peers as I did when I was still in the agency world.

    • Mike,

      I’m loving your comments, feedback and examples! Please feel free to comment as much as you like!

      I VERY much agree that social media + ethics is a topic that everyone needs to cover in every aspect of business, personal and everywhere else. Students, professionals and everyone are making mistakes by saying something they shouldn’t online and then trying to delete it when the damage is already done. It’s a problem that needs to be addressed.

      I haven’t personally come across issues with photography, integrated marketing, promises of publishing or anything, but I’m sure the time will come when I will be faced with several of those ethical decisions and it’s so important to remain ethical and keep integrity.

      Thanks for commenting and reading! Glad you are loving the posts :]


      • One of my favorite courses at Western when I was there (in the 90s) was Communication Ethics. The professor was JC Alexander. I don’t know if you ever got the chance to meet him – he retired a few years ago.

        He was also the dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, but made time to teach that one (and only that one) course.

        It was brutally hard. Not only did we have to describe how we would handle specific (real and fictional) contemporary ethical dilemmas, we had to back up our arguments with anecdotal and philosophical evidence – e.g. citing PR/Journalism case studies (good and bad) alongside quotes from Aristotle, Kant or others. Most people dropped the course after the first few weeks.

        I’ve never quoted Aristotle to make my point, but I have been in situations where what I learned in that class helped me be a better consultant to my clients.

        • We took Comm. Ethics but we it was mostly a lot of discussions. I really like discussion classes better because I’m more of a hands on person who wants to be involved in the class too!

          I think city works and case studies is a great way to learn too!


  2. Ethics are the rules or standards that govern the way people behave and their decisions on the right thing to do. It is important to note that ethics relating to and its applications are not fundamentally different from other situations.

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