For as long as the public relations profession has been around, there seems to have always been the issue of whether it is ethical or unethical. What I am looking to highlight today, is my point of view on the situation, and see if I can come to some form of conclusion regarding this matter.
The definition of public relations from CIPR is:
Public Relations is about reputation – the result of what you do, what you say and what others say about you. Public Relations is the discipline which looks after reputation, with the aim of earning understanding and support and influencing opinion and behaviour. It is the planned and sustained effort to establish and maintain goodwill and mutual understanding between an organisation and its publics.
To me, there is more to public relations, but like I have mentioned in a previous blog post, to people who aren’t involved in the profession of public relations, this is a round a bout, sufficient enough explanation so people can get an idea of what us in the PR world do.
This still doesn’t stop the opinions that people form about PR as a profession and a practice. In today’s society, everyone has an opinion on everything, which I think is great, but what people don’t take into consideration when they voice their opinions, is the effect it has on the reputation of a profession.
Let us imagine that I am a PR practitioner (one day!) who has a controversial client. I am doing my job by representing this client, but many people may be against the idea of me representing them. This would make me question my personal morals. Do I see PR as a job in which I will represent anyone? Or do I see PR as a job which I can control and pick and choose who I represent? There is no right or wrong answer to this. I have sat for hours and thought about this. I suppose the only form of answer I could give was to wait and see what happens, play my future career by ear. If I am looking at my personal morals, surely it is up to me who I represent, and this shouldn’t effect other peoples opinions of me, I am, after all, only doing my job. I could see a client positively, but there is guaranteed to be someone else out there in the world who doesn’t. This faces us with the ethics question, is this situation ethical, or unethical. To decide this, I suppose we need to pick whose opinion is correct.
The next situation is social morals. Let us imagine, again, that I am work for a popular agency, and a large company going through a crisis approach us for help. We would then put the company in the best light we could. We don’t have to do this by lying, but we would hide some of the truth. This could be considered as lying by many, but as an agency, we are just doing our job. This approaches the ethical debate again, but this time, we need to look at the outcome. By placing that company in the best light we can, we have secured the jobs of many employees, and ensured that the company is stable again, building the morale, and making the place a happier environment in which to work. As an agency, we would see this as a job well done, so surely people who were questioning our social morals, would see this as positive too?
I can still sit and think, and I know this question of ethics in PR will never end. There will always be people who have their own opinions, and there will always be PR practitioners doing their job. I think this matter will never be resolved, but maybe one day, I will be proved wrong.
What is your opinion on PR, is it an ethical or unethical profession?