About PRSA's Board of Ethics and Ethics Resources Available to You

As the practice of public relations becomes increasingly important to business and society, its responsibility to preserve the public's trust through ethical behavior grows right along with it. The larger our role and effect, the larger our need to understand and address ethical approaches and challenges as they relate to our interaction with the public, our clients, and the way we conduct our own businesses. 

To help identify and uphold standards of practice and stay current on new issues, PRSA's Board of Ethics and Professional Standards (BEPS) has developed and maintains a Code of Ethics and an ongoing series of Professional Standards Advisories. The Society’s support of ethics is also carried out through BEPS members and PRSA chapter ethics officers throughout the U.S.

The Code outlines core values, which form the basis for guiding principles and guidelines. As summarized on PRSA National's website, the values advise us to:

Protect and advance the free flow of accurate and truthful information.
Foster informed decision making through open communication.
Protect confidential and private information.
Promote healthy and fair competition among professionals.
Avoid conflicts of interest.
Work to strengthen the public's trust in the profession.

The Code's guidelines help us to:

Be honest and accurate in all communications.
Reveal sponsors for represented causes and interests.
Act in the best interest of clients or employers.
Disclose financial interests in a client's organization.
Safeguard the confidences and privacy rights of clients and employees.
Follow ethical hiring practices to respect free and open competition.
Avoid conflicts between personal and professional interests.
Decline representation of clients requiring actions contrary to the Code.
Accurately define what public relations activities can accomplish.
Report all ethical violations to the appropriate authority.

The Professional Standards Advisories are scenario-based tools for applying ethical decision making in actual daily situations, including:

Intellectual property ownership.
Deceptive online practices and misrepresentations.
Disclosing payment of expert commentators and spokespersons.
Front groups.
Overstating charges or compensation for work performed.
Disclosing the status of client-based PR agency staff.

There is also an extensive Resource library of case studies, best practices, and guides for ethical decision making, in downloadable PDF and PowerPoint formats. 

Need someone to talk to? The Westchester/Fairfield Chapter Ethics Officer is Stephanie Harwood, APR, at [email protected] or 203-972-7574. All conversations are confidential.

 Ethics in the news:

July 2013: Edelman issues guidelines for ethical sponsored content. When The Atlantic ended its brief business relationship with the Church of Scientology in January after publishing an online advertorial for the group that resembled a regular article, publishers realized they needed clear principles for handling content paid for and produced by marketers. As Forbes.com reports, Edelman has published a new paper laying out what it calls an “ethical framework” for sponsored content.  Based on interviews with executives at more than 30 media companies, the framework consists of six “ideals” — starting with disclosure that sponsored content appearing on news sites is sponsored. Another ideal is to provide the audience with an opportunity to give feedback. The Atlantic’s biggest mistake was not accepting marketing dollars from a controversial organization, but that it screened out negative comments about the article to make it appear the responses were overwhelmingly favorable. Edelman’s other ideals for ethically handling sponsored content include a commitment to working with journalists, and continuously updating sponsored stories so they’re as current as news content. The framework recommends no quid pro quo arrangements between buying sponsored stories and editorial coverage, and a nonporous divide between those who produce and place sponsored content and those who work directly with journalists.  — Greg Beaubien, PRSA National. 

October 2011: The 2011 PRSA Tri-State (NY, NJ, CT) District program focused on BP's crisis communications and ethics approaches during the April 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil rig explosion, convening a mock tribunal with Paul Holmes of The Holmes Report, Ben Cohen of Conclave Strategic Communications, Michael Shubert of Ruder Finn, Kerry Sulkowicz, M.D. of Boswell Group, and David Kelson of Ricochet PR. The District has made a video of the proceedings available, if you'd like to see how BP fared in the "court of public opinion."

May 2011:  PRSA chair/CEO Rosanna Fiske commented on the Burson-Marsteller ethics issue in PRSAY, the Society's blog. This followed coverage of the issue in USA Today and The Daily Beast.