Top Tips for Ethical Public Relations

Everyone has a set of rights and wrongs that make up his or her personal moral code or ethical ideology. This is no different in the business world, especially in public relations. The most valuable asset of a public relations expert is his or her reputation. Successful professionals in this industry live and die by their word. They understand that one ethical misstep with a reporter or a client can tarnish your reputation for years to come, and trust may never be regained.

Here are our top ten tips for ethical and effective public relations efforts.

1.      Know Your Company’s Ethics Policy

Be familiar with your company’s standards and professional code of ethics. Many organizations and companies have their own ethics policies for employees or members. Take advantage of any available training, so you are prepared and understand where the boundaries are set. Industry associations like PRSA also have profession-based ethics that are recommended. Remember, even when you change jobs, your professional reputation will follow you.

2.      Always be Transparent

Strive for transparency with clients and the media. Clients and media personnel want to work with people they can trust. Always lead with honesty. Don’t sell your reputation short to get your company or client on the news – or it could be the last media coverage you land.

3.      Get the Stamp of Approval

Create a clear approval process for any materials distributed to the media or posted to social media. A news release or social posting should never be made public, unless your client or internal management and any sources quoted have approved. Double check any hard statistics used in a news release and provide sources for those statistics whenever possible.

4.      Show Respect for the Competition

Always take the high road. Never take a shot at your competitors or a client’s competitor. Behavior like this may lead to negative repercussions or revengeful efforts that can reflect negatively on you, your company and/or your client. If a valid comparison is stated in context, always provide accurate reasoning to back it up. Focus on doing your job well, and you’ll be too busy to worry about the competition.

5.      Cooperate and Collaborate

In other words, play well in the sandbox. Keep a positive outlook towards teamwork, whether you are working with your own internal team, a client’s team, or even someone you feel is a competitor. Great success can be achieved, if everyone at the table is striving for their client’s goals and ultimate success– not their own.

6.      Be Sensitive to Current and Cultural Events

Be aware of and sensitive to current events, holidays and anniversaries that may impact the timing of your media pitching or social media posts. Are you questioning how your communications might be received by the public? When in doubt, hold the communication for a more appropriate time. Ethical communications sometimes calls for passing on an opportunity for earned media coverage out of respect for other occurrences and others’ time – especially if a current event has taken place involving victims.

7.      Consider Employees a Primary Audience

Always include the internal team as an audience in your communication efforts. An employee should never hear about a company announcement on the news or see it on social media before the announcement is shared with them internally. Always treat your internal audience as your primary audience and share the news with them first. Keeping them in the loop on all external efforts will ensure they are aware of the story and able to share and support it, rather than being surprised.

8.      Know When to Share or Not to Share

Choose wisely! The digital world has made it very easy to share anything and everything with clients and public audiences, but it is important to know that even a well-intentioned share can violate a copyright law. Be aware of and understand laws like the Fair Use Act or the Digital Millennium Copyright Act. Copyright violations can warrant penalties of imprisonment for up to five years or a $250,000 fine per offense.

9.      Don’t Instigate Conflict

More common in an agency environment, conflict of interest can arise when new, current or existing clients are direct competitors or similar by trade. To avoid the action of undermining or compromising the impartiality or credibility of an agency, it is best to have a policy and system in place to ensure transparency with and integrity of both clients.

10. Check the Facts

Always do your research! One of the biggest mistakes a practitioner can make is releasing information too early or not having confirmation that all statements are factual and correct. Always check your sources and have someone proof your work before a piece is ever distributed. Providing false information is one of the quickest ways to tarnish any reputation.

So, there you have it. We’ve shared ten things that every communications professional should know. Looking for more PR tips to help your business? Check out our blog on preparing for a PR crisis.