A Year-Round Commitment to the PRSA Code of Ethics

In a letter to members at the start of 2023, PRSA Chair Michelle Egan, APR, Fellow PRSA, outlined her priorities for the year, including: “Amplifying our Code of Ethics to ensure that not only our members, but also our entire community at large know what professional communications should entail.”

PRSA’s Phoenix Chapter helped amplify the Code of Ethics during its first event of the year, an in-person discussion of some real-life ethical situations communicators are currently facing, including the use of ChatGPT. Chapter leaders also invited attendees to sign the PRSA Code of Ethics to reaffirm their commitment to making ethical choices in public relations.

“We wanted to highlight ethics for the first meeting of the year to set the tone for our members and remind us all of the importance of ethics in the practice of PR and how the principles in PRSA’s Code of Ethics can be applied to even the newest — and most controversial — practices and topics,” said Chapter President Heather Vana, senior director of communications at Avnet. “The quality of the discussions at our Ethics Kickoff showcased the impressive adaptability of PR professionals in today’s changing environments.”

Real-life examples aside, she said the recommitment to the Code of Ethics is essential to her as a volunteer leader.

“The Code is truly the backbone of our organization. It’s a document we often breeze through when we sign up or renew as members but don’t often pause to think about how it affects our day-to-day work,” Vana said. “It’s important to keep the conversation about ethics alive among our members, especially as new trends and issues continue to play out in the media landscape.”

Vana credited the event to Chapter member Michelle Olson, APR, CEO of Lambert, who proposed the idea last year.

“We were proud to make it a reality by hosting an interactive discussion with members,” Vana said. “It’s our job at PRSA Phoenix to offer tools and training so we can continue to serve as ethical leaders in Valley companies.”

“Every Month Is Ethics Month”

Olson, who served as PRSA’s chair in 2021 and as the evening’s host, said it was a successful event because it brought together PR practitioners of all experience levels.

“These continual conversations bring younger practitioners into what sets us apart as PRSA members, how we need to behave in this profession,” Olson said. “There are so many things that could get in the way of us staying aligned with our personal and corporate values. We must ensure that we’re doing what’s right when the stakes are high and when they’re not.”

She said this discussion was a helpful way to champion ongoing ethical practices and professional standards — not just in September when PRSA recognizes Ethics Month to bring increased attention to the core foundation of the communications profession.

“Every month is Ethics Month, not just September. Having it front and center when facing challenging situations is important. You pledged as a PRSA member to abide by this Code of Ethics,” Olson said. “Young practitioners, senior practitioners — we’re all being asked to communicate on behalf of organizations, whether through marketing initiatives, social media or the press. And how are we going to do this with honesty and transparency? The Code of Ethics is our guide.”

Olson also said communicators of all experience levels could benefit from ongoing conversations and activities built around ethical standards.

“I’ve lived in this profession for several generations now. And what we deal with today is vastly different than when I first started in this business in 1985. The landscape is different, the journalists are different, not to mention the whole advent of person-to-person communication by companies through social media and other channels,” Olson said. “It takes an aware practitioner to know news literacy and media literacy, such as what’s a true outlet versus an outlet that has a ton of followers but is some person in a basement with a strong opinion about things.”

Olson cited PRSA’s 2023-2025 strategic plan, which leadership created with ethics as the backbone.

“There are more ways for ethical breaches to occur now than ever before,” Olson said. “If we focus our strategic plans with that as our North Star, then everything else will fall into alignment.”

And she hopes to see other PRSA Chapter host similar events.

“Ethics are extremely important to the public relations profession,” Olson said. “I am impressed with the PRSA Phoenix Chapter’s commitment to putting ethics first in their work and acting as role models for other communicators. By leading discussions on ethics in PR, and encouraging members to reaffirm their commitment to the Code of Ethics, the Phoenix Chapter has laid the groundwork for other Chapters to follow.”

Learn more about the PRSA Code of Ethics here.

[Photo: prsa phoenix]

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