Three Rules for Ethical Communicators

September is ethics month for members of the Public Relations Society of America, the public relations industry’s professional trade organization. Even though ethical practices are mandatory every day, the month is set aside to focus specifically on how communicators can meet high ethical standards when the rules seem to change quickly.

In that spirit, Blueprint Alaska has compiled a checklist for communicators who insist on upholding the core values of ethical practice of public relations, including advocacy.

  1. Always tell the truth, and don’t be cute about it: Everyone will be tempted to lie at some point, even a “harmless”, little white lie. Don’t do it. It should go without saying that an honest representation of the facts must always be at the core of any type of two-way communication. Fear, surprise, or even panic may lead to the temptation to lie, or stretch the truth. It’s a trap that must be avoided, not only for ethical reasons, but also reputational. No professional communicator wants to become known for being fast and loose with the facts.
  2. Be accountable: We all mess up. This is as true for the entry level professional as the seasoned, senior manager. Where ethics comes into play is in correcting the record, and ensuring that bad information is replaced with accurate information. Can this be embarrassing? Absolutely. Is it mandatory? Yes. No one wants to issue a correction to a press release, social media post, or any other type of public statement. But if we get it wrong, we are duty bound to correct it, no matter how painful. Correct the record, and move on.
  3. Avoid the sin of omission: This is similar to “always tell the truth”, but with the added twist of the entire truth. Half stories are just that− half stories. Ethical communication requires full disclosure of the facts; after all, what good is a public discussion when only partial information is available? The best communicators are not unlike professional athletes who yearn to compete against the very best in their field; what good is winning when you have not gone toe-to-toe with the very best? The same logic applies in ethical communication. Discuss, debate, even argue your side fiercely, but do it in a way where all the facts are on the table.
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