Ethics is PURE & Simple

Recently, my colleague and PRSA Chair, Tony D’Angelo, defended the profession of public relations when our field recently came under attack by Virginia Heffernan’s Feb. 2 op-ed, “Who is Hope Hicks, anyway?” In the article, she wrote: “lying to the media is traditionally called PR.”

It’s flippant statements like these that continue to hurt our industry. When I teach, I have to remind students that because of ignorant opinions such as these it is even more important that they understand how our ethics guide us as professionals.

PURE Model of Ethical Decision Making

Image from: A Practical Guide to Ethics in Public Relations

My co-author Jamie Ward and I introduce the PURE model for ethical decision making in our new book A Practical Guide to Ethics in Public Relations. This model takes into account traditional ethical theories and applies them to modern day practice of the profession.

Intentionally simplified, the PURE model affords entry-level PR practitioners the opportunity to understand how ethical principles are grounded in theory while also allowing for individuals to better assess their options before making a decision. 

Step 1: Personal and organizational principles are at the forefront of this model. Using principles inherent within each of us, along with ethical standards set by the  organizations we work for should be the first step tapped into when making a decision. Whether a PR professional is planning a campaign or representing a client, we should question if any personal or organizational principles have been compromised.

Step 2: Next ensure that all parties are held to the same standards. Grounded in Kantian ethics, this step utilizes a duty-bound approach. Is everyone being held accountable in the same way? Within the traditional PRSA code of ethics, we abide by the principle of fairness. “We deal fairly with clients, employers, competitors, peers, vendors, the media, and the general public.”

Step 3: Being honest and transparent is paramount therefore it is within the parameters of our job to balance the needs of the client with those of the public.

Step 4: In this final step PR practitioners should ensure that the end result can be justified.  Utilitarian principles require that PR practitioners focus on the consequences of their actions.

The Institute of Public Relations lists some of the major public relations association codes of ethics:

So, tell me, what do you think of the PURE model? Is this streamlined approach helpful?

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