By Edward M. Bury, APR (aka The PRDude)
Don’t you wish all exams were this easy?
Well, hopefully, those who took last week’s quiz on ethics in public relations found my three questions to be within their grasp. But before we get to the an analysis of the quiz, two thoughts on ethics.
Technology — The Great Equalizer and Enabler
The ability to tweet, broadcast, post and publish in real time makes it easy and convenient to call out situations where ethics are breached. That goes for lapses in ethical standards in the public relations profession, as well as in just about every other industry. That’s good.
But from another perspective, the ability for anyone to tweet, broadcast, post and publish could create and certainly exacerbate situations where ethics are compromised. The take away: An effective public relations program — including an up-to-date crisis communications plan — is essential to mitigate damage resulting from a breach of ethics.
Who’s in Charge of Managing Ethics?
The modern workplace is a much, much different place than it was not too long ago. In the past, alleged ethics violations more than likely were handled by the boss or management team. Today, some companies have employed an ethics officer, a senior staff person who becomes “the organization’s internal control point for ethics and improprieties allegations complaints and conflicts of interest,” according to the Society for Human Resource Management.
Conglomerates and publicly-traded entities can afford to pay — and certainly need — staff dedicated to ethics. But what about smaller businesses, local governments, start-up firms? Are there people with the right skill set who can “freelance” ethical counsel?
Now, back to last week’s questions:
1. You’re the account manager for a new client landed by your agency. During the first face-to-face meeting with the client, you want t0 capture everything that’s discussed; so you record the conversation — but don’t tell the client or your colleagues.
Is this a breach of PRSA ethics? If so, which provision?
Answer: Yes, of course it is! This surreptitious action violates open disclosure of information by being a deceptive practice.
2. ABC Amalgamated is celebrating its 50th anniversary. As the director of communications, one of your responsibilities is to order logo merchandise for use at anniversary events. Your old friend, a fraternity brother, owns a promotional products company in town. The friend offers your company a discount to get the order. You ask your superior if you could do business with your friend.
Are you violating any ethical standards? If so, which one?
Answer: No. As long as the boss is aware of your relationship with the vendor, there’s nothing wrong with this type of transaction. There would be an issue if you got a kick back or gift.
3. As head of business development, you’re asked by agency leaders to complete a new business RFP. The prospective client is a manufacturer of an agricultural product that is under investigation by the EPA for being unsafe. Before the RFP is due, you learn though a source at the EPA that the product will be approved.
Answer: This is a tough one, but I say “yes.” The way the information constitutes a potential conflict of interest and stifles open competition.
As this post is published, there’s just a few hours left in the month of September, PRSA Ethics Month. Did you have to cope with any ethical challenges recently?