by Lisa Hester, Senior Account Manager

Lest there be any doubt, we, as public relations professionals, have an obligation to always be honest in all we do during our career.

The PRSA Code of Ethics states that:

“We adhere to the highest standards of accuracy and truth in advancing the interests of those we represent and in communicating with the public.”

It’s members shall:

  • Be honest and accurate in all communications
  • Act promptly to correct erroneous communications for which the member is responsible
  • Investigate the truthfulness and accuracy of information released on behalf of those represented
  • Reveal the sponsors for causes and interests represented
  • Disclose financial interest (such as stock ownership) in a client’s organization
  • Avoid deceptive practices

First, though, we need to define exactly what “truth” is. Is truth “facts?” As a journalist, it was reinforced in me constantly to not let my own bias in interpreting facts be reflected in my reporting. Stay neutral. But, in many cases, it’s actually more difficult to define facts than you might think. Truth is perception, after all.

German 20th century philosopher Martin Heidegger believed that the ancient Greek word for truth simply meant “the revealing of something that was previously concealed.” Another German philosopher, Jurgen Habermas, believed that truth is whatever is agreed upon (the “Consensus Theory”).

For us as PR professionals, if there is even the slightest sense that we are not being fully honest, our reputation is damaged – our own and that of the PR profession. It doesn’t take much for the damage to go from insignificant to beyond repair. People depend on us to be truthful, and we are guided by a code of ethics.

Public relations research reveals an agreement for many years that ethics must be central to professional practice (e.g. Pratt, 1993, p. 219; Wright 1989a, p. 3; Schick, 1994; Pearson, 1989).

According to Seitzel (1992), “the [future] success of public relations [….] will depend to a large degree on how the field responds to the issue of ethical conduct” (cited in Pratt, 1993, p. 220).

Take stock. Ponder the subject of truth in PR as it relates to your own work, daily. Make sure you feel confident in what you say and do on behalf of yourself and others. Hold yourselves to the high standards set for us. And remember what your parents told you, “Telling the truth is simply the right thing to do.”