September is ethics month. Why should I care?

As a public relations student, I have spent the past couple of years learning different types of skills I know will guide me through my professional career. Since my first public relations class, I have continued to fill my toolbox with critical skills — such as AP style and website building — and an expertise and passion for the PR industry.

Among those PR tools lies the understanding of ethical practices, something I have become quite familiar with over the past few months.

I joined the PRSA Alabama Ethics client team at the end of last semester, and my membership on this team continues to change the way I conduct both my personal and professional life.

My new teammates quickly brought me up to speed on all the wonderful tasks they were tackling, and at first, I was overwhelmed by the magnitude of the ethics month campaign. Specifically, my team was creating and promoting a campaign for PRSA Alabama focusing on ethics in the PR industry. This was bigger than our school or our state. This was something that would potentially be seen nationwide.

In order to successfully work on this campaign I had to ask myself: What are ethics and why are they so important, especially in the public relations industry?

Ethics are a prescribed set of behaviors that determine right from wrong.

The definition is simple, but in practice, it’s never that easy. This is why learning about ethics is so important.

Of everything I learned during this campaign, here are my top three reasons why I think public relations students need to care about ethics.

1. No Ethics = No Trust

PR professionals sometimes get a bad reputation for being “spin doctors,” but that is exactly the opposite of what we do. It’s important to be aware of misconceptions like this to understand why trust is so crucial in our profession.

Consumers are not only weary of public relations professionals feeding them overhyped information, but they are also hesitant to connect with brands that are deemed inauthentic. This is where we — as ethical PR professionals — come in and use the resources we have to act honestly while being advocates for those that we represent. Without trust, we have no credibility, and ultimately, that means the PR industry is discredited.

2. If we act ethically, it is more likely that our clients and others will follow suit.

In order to promote this campaign on social media, we created the hashtag #EthicsStartWithYou. When you act ethically, others will, too. Maybe that means you don’t use a friend’s work to plagiarize a school paper, and you end up actually learning about a topic that helps you later in life. Or maybe you say no to your boss who wants you to collect data on your client’s target market without them knowing, and end up preventing a scandal.

To quote former U.S. President John F. Kennedy, “One person can make a difference, and everyone should try.” Whatever the situation, it’s important to remember that you have the power to act ethically and help others do the same.

3. Everything is not black and white.

There is a lot of gray area when trying to decide if something is ethical. This is why it is so important to familiarize yourself with the PRSA Code of Ethics and the code of ethics your employer and client might have.

Situations will arise in your career where you are faced with a dilemma, and you must choose between right and wrong. It sounds easy enough to be ethical, but what if you are unaware that one option is more ethical than the other? What if your supervisor pressures you to act unethically? Fully understanding the code of ethics now will make you that much more prepared for when these problems arise in your career.

As I am about to enter the workforce, I can already anticipate the ethical questions I may have to face. If you take the time to learn about ethics and truly understand the importance of ethical behavior in the public relations industry, you will be better prepared for your career —  I guarantee it.

This blog post was written by Bre Gajewski. She is in the media department in Capstone Agency.

Capstone Agency