Yet another public relations crisis has shed negative light on our profession and the ethical standards we work so hard to uphold.  The recent Burson/Facebook debacle has received a lot of attention and commentary from the media and the industry over the past week.  If you’ve been following this story, you know that many people have weighed in on the impact of this kind of event on the public relations profession.
Here are just a few reactions from the PR industry:

PRSA National Chair and CEO, Rosanna Fiske, APR, shared her perspective on the PRSAY Blog: PR Pros: Haven’t We Learned Anything About Disclosure?

Denver-based Ground Floor Media’s Gil Rudawsky wrote about it on Ragan’s PR Daily: Why All of PR Will Pay for ‘Whisper Gate’.

Robert Housman, a partner at Book Hill Partners, weighed in with this Internet Evolution article: A PR Response to Facebook Gate.

Why do people feel compelled to comment on this? — Because this kind of news strikes a chord with public relations professionals.  These incidents and the negative attention that results from them, give the PR industry a bad rap.

Here we have one of the top public relations firms in the country that was not only involved in unethical practices, they were not upfront about it when first questioned.  Rather than admit that they made a seriously bad judgment call with this smear campaign, they tried to cover up the details stating that the client ask that its name be withheld and then eventually turned the tables on their client placing the blame on them.

PRSA Colorado’s Ethics Committee, chaired by Randy Blauvelt, APR, has worked hard to promote the PRSA Code of Ethics and demonstrate sound ethical conduct within the local business community.  One such effort was the Clean & Fair Campaign Pledge during the 2010 midterm election. Candidates signing the pledge agreed to “conduct myself professionally, with truth, accuracy, fairness and responsibility to the public and to abide by the highest ethical standards as described by the PRSA Code of Ethics.”

While this is just one example, it demonstrates our Chapter’s commitment to holding people and businesses accountable. It would be great if every businessperson signed this pledge, but it would be even better for us all to hold ourselves to the highest ethical standards in our daily activity, no matter the circumstances.

As public relations practitioners, we are challenged with making ethical decisions from time to time.  However, we must remember to conduct our work on the basis of honesty, integrity, and fairness and to embody the ideals of ethical professionals.

Let’s not let a few bad apples spoil the bunch!

One Response to Burson/Facebook Debacle — Another Unfortunate Lesson in Ethics

  1. Sarah says:

    Well-said, Meredith. I thought Rosanna’s note on membership – “only 14 of B-M’s 2,200 global employees are PRSA members and, as such, have agreed to abide by the Code” – is telling. We have a number of young professionals in the Colorado chapter, and many of them may not be familiar with PRSA’s Code of Ethics. Not to say that there surely were senior people involved in the BM/FB situation, but I think it’s a good reminder to all of us here to be sure that we discuss ethics as a chapter, in our committees and mentor/mentee relationships, and also within our own workplaces.

    I believe that in our profession, we make ethical decisions on a regular basis (maybe weekly, sometimes daily). A lof of times, though, those decisions are made unconsciously.

    This situation has caused me to reflect on my decisions – am I comfortable with them, do they align with the Code, or do I need to revisit some of them? I hope others are doing the same!

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