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Is PR a low-ethics industry?

By Erica Cottrill

36010638_sHere, you win by demonstrating your ethical know-how

Is fakery rife in the PR industry? Lying has unfortunately become more common with some PR practitioners – especially lately, with the majority of outlets slashing their seasoned workforces. This leaves tightened budgets, added responsibilities and time-crunched junior practitioners with little experience and apparently no problem turning their heads when it comes to unethical tactics.

Talk to ethics experts and they’ll tell you that the best defense against ethical problems is keeping it real. Professionalism – not exaggeration – is the key to the future of the PR industry. PR is all about building relationships and brands; if the brand image tumbles because of a faulty message, that can damage your relationships, products and services.

There are no guarantees in public relations when it comes to placement in the media. What makes it more challenging is PR’s own image. We know that “lying” is the manipulation of words and facts to suggest something other than the reality. What tempts us to be unethical and how can we change?

Cultivate three-tier relationships honestly and openly

It is important that the client, reporter and PR professional work as a team when sharing information. While the media is looking for information from the PR professional, the PR pro is working with the client to get the best and most accurate information to the journalist.

PR people can sometimes be tempted to give any information to reporters, even if it’s not completely true. If it looks like a pitch isn’t going to be a home run, it’s important to stay honest and find other avenues to get placements for clients. For example, if you missed your opportunity with The New York Times, keep in touch with the reporter in the future and offer timely story ideas that have more than a ring of truth. If you’re accurate, steady and in the right place at the right time, you may get lucky.

PR pros who carefully cultivate important contacts in this way, with a “what do you need” instead of a “what I want” approach, will have a better shot at landing a feature next time – or, better yet, they may call you.

PR is not magic

Even if a media pitch gets a client an interview, there’s no guarantee that the client will be in the final version of the story. PR opens the door to opportunities, but there are never any guarantees. If the interview was good enough for one publication, it could be just as appealing to another. You get your clients into the stories they want to be featured in by sharing irresistible anecdotes that reflect their objectives. The challenge is to keep it factual.

Are there any ethical bloggers out there?

Conceptualized as venues encouraging us to “be creative” in our messaging, blogs offer the freedom to manipulate information so that it’s no longer necessarily true. Therefore, it’s best to stick with the established, influential bloggers who don’t tolerate exaggerations and mistruths. There are many benefits to connecting with these writers – chiefly: Once the blogger gets to know you and your clients, she may choose to publish your content in her established outlet. From there, other influential bloggers may pick you up as well.

Strong ethics will serve you well

According to the PRSA Code of Ethics, social media platforms offer an exchange of information in an open system with billions of regular users. That means that if you don’t strategically develop your social media guidelines and execution plan, you put yourself at risk for amplifying any ethical mistakes.

Ethics in PR must begin with the individual. PR practitioners’ clients often place them in a quandary: We face the dilemma of having to choose between loyalty to your team and employing the questionable ethics that course of action appears to demand. The fact is that demonstrating ethics that are completely above reproach is the best way to prove our loyalty to you because you will actually benefit in the long run.

PR done right is a lot of work, and to devalue that work by straying past the line of verisimilitude is a travesty. Strong ethics are without a doubt the best and smartest use of your PR dollar. Axia Public Relations offers a downloadable e-book explaining how to maximize your PR investment, packed with above-board tips for giving your brand a boost beyond compare. Download the guide today – it’s never too late to start!

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Erica Cottrill is a PR strategist with 20 years of experience. She specializes in crafting stories via blogs, magazines and websites. Erica has versatile experience elevating products and services from the technology to luxury furniture spaces.

Featured image credit: 123rf.com

Topics: public relations, ethics, shared media

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