Ethics… it’s just a matter of right and wrong, correct? Yes, but there are layers to being an ethical professional. Remember when PR was deemed the profession of spin? We’ve come a long way since then and in today’s media landscape, where everything is picked apart and scrutinized, we must remain trustworthy.
When covering ethics in public relations, there is a lot of mention of keeping the line of communication between the public and company, client and/or brand transparent, as well as legal. It’s a no brainer that public opinion is important but we must remember the gatekeeper, the middle man, better known as the media. Building trust between practitioner and the media is just as important because essentially, they are telling the public your story. One of PRSA’s core codes of conduct is the free flow of accurate and truthful information. That means building honest relationships with journalists, even if they become a close friend along the way. As ethical PR practitioners, we must play fair and keep an even working relationship between all members of the media. Yes, we should tailor each message depending on the interest of the publication and beat, but that doesn’t mean sending over confidential, inside information to a journalist just because you two are friends.
Being ethical doesn’t just mean avoiding bad situations. It is proactively doing what’s right, giving clear, correct, and complete information to the media while building meaningful relationships. Here are three essential rules to build trust between the media and the public:
- Do what you say you are going to do
As a PR professional, it is our primary job to communicate and disseminate information to the public. We are a resource and must be complete, accurate and timely at all times. Don’t be that PR person to hit up a journalist months before or after a issue is being printed with “new news” on the topic. They don’t care, you’ve missed your chance, and you’ve broken a tad bit of trust by wasting their time. We must remember that day to day, we work with a variety of people, companies, and industries that may not work in the same manner. Keep a trustworthy relationship with all stakeholders by meeting deadlines, responding to emails and phone calls, and fulfilling the duty of being a resource.
2. Focus on the relationship not the transaction
Trust comes with respect. If your primary connection with a person is based on press coverage, it is less likely they will come to you when they need a quote from an industry leader. How would you feel if a journalist clearly makes it known they primarily work with you because your company offers cool freebies or perks, you’d feel a little used. Don’t continuously send press releases and pitches without any other dialogue. Set time aside to really get to know the journalist and what they like, beyond their beat. Sometimes, working relationships are forced but to build solid relationships with the media remain open, transparent, and friendly.
3. Remember the Golden Rule
The Golden Rule simply states, “Do unto others as you would like them to do to you.” How would you feel if you were on deadline and someone didn’t give you critical information needed? What would you think if you gave a journalist cool information on a new campaign, and they left out the hook that made the story interesting? Ethical public relations can be much simpler if we keep the Golden Rule in the back of our minds. Treat your client, the media, and the public with respect by practicing public relations with the highest ethical principles.