Common Ground Insight: An Overview on Ethics

Common Ground PR team member Nina Kult serves as the Chief Ethics Officer for the St. Louis Chapter of the Public Relations Society of America.

Many professional communicators will face a unique situation that requires ethical decision making, whether torn between loyalty to employer or client, or serving the public’s best interest.

These dilemmas can challenge our professional ethics.

Members of the Public Relations Society of America are required to follow a Code of Ethics: principles and guidelines built on core values of advocacy, honesty, loyalty, professional development and objectivity. To help navigate situations, PRSA developed a model that helps guide us through the decision-making process.

  1. Define the specific ethical issue or conflict. Determine the specific problem that is causing you to question your decision-making ability.
  2. Identify internal and external factors that may influence the decision. Determine if your company or client adheres to policies or codes, or if there are any state or federal laws, that would factor into decision making.
  3. Identify the key values. Ask yourself which values (advocacy, honesty, loyalty, etc.) apply to the situation and why.
  4. Identify the audiences who will be affected by the decision. Consider all stakeholders, from employees to customers/clients, investors and media.
  5. Select ethical principles to guide your decision-making process. This is conduct followed by those in any profession, such as providing truthful and accurate information; serving the best interest of the greater public; or maintaining the integrity of relationships.
  6. Make your decision and justify it. Come to a decision that will result in the best outcome, today and in the future.

Whatever decision-making process you decide to use, be sure to take the time to think through your situation rather than quickly justifying an unethical decision. Understand the impact of issue, ask questions and research similar situations as well as the outcomes of those decisions.

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