Ethics Matter: Enhancing the Profession, Honesty & Fairness

By: Julie Smith-Taylor, APR

Why Integrity Matters At Every Level – Especially When Billing Your Clients

Have you ever thought about padding your next invoice? The temptation may be enticing because we know how important cash flow is to any PR firm. But think again. The PRSA Code of Ethics is here to help you stay the course. It was created to help all of us be the best versions of ourselves in order to ensure the integrity of our members and therefore, enhance our profession. Please read on to learn more about the importance of honesty and fairness in billing practices as featured in PRSA’s Ethical Standards Advisory #2.

Overcharging Clients is a Short-Term Gain

Every PR agency owner and consultant out there knows that cash flow and a healthy number of billable hours each month is the lifeblood of their company and business. There’s a lot of pressure in owning an agency and sometimes you might feel justified in padding an invoice or charging an added percentage on outside services now and then. And why not? Adding an hour or two to the retainer or up-charging a subcontractor’s work a little more than usual isn’t that big of a deal, right? After all, the client really won’t miss it, and what a difference it can make to your bottom line at certain times of the year.

But here’s the catch. It’s dishonest, it’s unfair and it hurts your reputation as well as every other PR firm out there. As members of PRSA, we pledge a rigid adherence to the Code of Ethics, our list of Professional Values and we are expected to conduct ourselves with the highest standards of professional integrity and responsibility.

Honesty, fairness and ethical dealings are mandates for public relations professionals and the companies they represent. The practice of claiming compensation or credit for work that was never performed is unethical. It weakens the public’s trust in our profession and of other PR pros. Additionally, such practices may be in violation of contractual obligations and may be even found to be illegal. To see specific examples of improper practices, Ethical Standards Advisory #2 lists 11 different examples to review. Click Here to read them. ESA #2

Simply stated, overcharging or taking credit for work that you did not perform violates our Code of Ethics, specifically under the provision of:

Enhancing the Profession: PR pros work constantly to strengthen the public’s trust. We have an ethical obligation to refrain from business conduct that is in opposition to this code and denigrates the public’s trust in the profession.

These actions also affect two of our Professional Values:

  1. We adhere to the highest standards of accuracy and truth in advancing the interest of those we represent and in communicating with the public.
  2. We deal fairly with clients, employers, competitors, peers, vendors, the media and the general public.

Recommended Practices:

PRSA recommends that all of its members and the companies they represent, including public relations agencies and independent public relations consultants, MUST bill clients ONLY for services they perform and ONLY for the expenses they incur on behalf of clients.

And, don’t forget the Golden Rule, do onto others as you would have them do onto you. Integrity, honesty and fairness are more important than ever before and we are fortunate to have PRSA and a Code of Ethics to help guide us along the way.

I’m also including a link to the entire Code of Ethics HERE.

Good luck! Please reach out to me should you be facing an ethical dilemma or have any questions that I might answer or at least put you in touch with someone who can help.

I look forward to sharing more content, offering guidance, solutions and providing resources on ethical matters in the months to come. If you would like to reach me, have questions or ideas of topics I should cover in this column, feel free to email me at: or call 760-213-5686 cell.

About the Author

Julie Smith-Taylor, APR is the owner and founder of Taylor PR Strategies. She earned her accreditation in public relations in 1993. This early career achievement opened the door to serving our PRSA chapter in a wide variety of board positions and committees through the years. Smith-Taylor was also the 2013 Chair of PRSA’s Western District and the 2019 Chair for the Opening Night Reception Committee for PRSA’s ICON held in San Diego.

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