Let’s play pretend. Let’s pretend you work as a PR consultant for a company called Envirogas. Your company has developed a fuel additive that will reduce carbon emissions while simultaneously increasing a car’s miles per gallon. This additive has already been shipped to gas stations nationwide when a discovery is made that this additive increases asthma in infants by .01%. Reformulation and redistribution will take an additional two years. Do you release the information about the potential dangers of your additive or do you hope that this information simply doesn’t surface for the next two years?
This was the question NU PRSSA was presented with by Jack Jackson when he came to speak at our October 5th meeting. Jack is the Ethics Officer for PRSA Boston and has held this position for the past eight years. He presented the organization with the idea that in public relations, we should ‘sweat the small stuff,’ contrary to the title of the popular self-help book, “Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff.”
As Jack explained, many people assume that when it comes to a real moral issue, that they would make the ethical decision. But, as we learned, the day-to-day issues matter too.
“The PRSA Code of Ethics…Sucks,” read the title of a slide in Jackson’s presentation. He explained that there are many conflicting aspects of the ethics code and that it is extremely outdated. For example, one part of the code would advise you to release the information about your fuel additive, while another instructs you not to disclose information to your competitors.
Instead of relying solely on PRSA’s code, Jackson advised that people use their internal guide and ask questions to become informed about the issue at hand. He has also developed his own “Two-Step Evaluation of the Ethical Measure of any PR Activity.” First, describe your PR activity to your mother. If in doing so, you find yourself altering facts, omitting details, or hiding information, then you need to ask yourself some serious ethical questions.
So, give it a shot! Talk to your mom about what you would do if you were in Envirogas’s position. See if you find yourself glossing over any gritty details, or leaving out any facts. You’ll definitely learn a lot about your ethics, or lack thereof.
– By Libby Kober, NUPRSSA Secretary