Commonly, public relations professionals are known as ‘spin doctors’ who bend and twist the facts to fit the narrative they build. PR professionals strive to change these perceptions by adhering to a strict code of ethics and following guidelines.
Public relations practitioners constantly confront pressures to bend or twist the truth. For example, if a warehouse burns down, it might be tempting to make it seem like a minor incident when losing a significant inventory. Being honest prevents the public and industry peers from coming back later and claiming you tried to cover up the seriousness of the loss. Instead, the PR practitioner can state the truth and emphasize the owner's determination to bounce back, cover the loss, and build a safer warehouse, thus eliminating the chances of recurring such an incident. In this way, the truth can be inspirational to the listeners and, at the same time, instill confidence in the business.
An ethical public relations communication offers more than mere facts; it offers context for a story. Context requires explaining to readers why an event has importance or why company leaders take their stances. For example, simply announcing that a business has recalled a product due to safety concerns could be accurate. However, if this recall resulted from a government agency raising the concerns, the ethical requirement for a PR practitioner is to include that information.
PR practitioners face an important ethical issue when advising company leaders. These practitioners may have to muster a great deal of courage when confronting leaders contemplating violating the company's values. For example, suppose a leader is considering reducing employees' hours so they will not qualify as full-time workers and thus won't receive benefits. In that case, the PR practitioner must speak up. In this case, the practitioner must point out the ethical misstep the leader is about to take and highlight how the press and the public will judge the decision.
Ethics come into play when a PR practitioner announces a company's involvement in social causes, charities, and fund-raising events. The practitioner has an ethical duty to reveal her client's involvement and the involvement of other sponsors. For example, if her client's company sponsored a marathon and a controversial company was also involved, that should be included in the announcement.