“Oh it’s just another PR stunt put on by those spin doctors!” – said everyone, everywhere…

How does a profession that was built around forming relationships, communicating directly with an audience, and maintaining a positive image earn such a horrendous reputation itself? Many people see public relations professionals in a negative light. The vast majority of public relations professionals are not masters of the art of deception and deflection. However, we do often face challenging situations and ethical dilemmas in our work. So, how do you work in this profession and stay true to your moral values?

When it comes to maintaining an ethical code of conduct in the public relations world the Public Relations Society of America (PRSA) has established a set of guidelines to follow.

Find a balance.

At times in your profession you will be faced with hard decisions and put in positions where you must make a difficult choice. For example, if your company is pushing a product or promoting something that you don’t believe in, to what extent do you follow through with this? If you’re aware of negative implications that it will have on consumers, although it is your job to endorse this product, what do you do? Do you omit the truth to the public, because does that necessarily count as lying? Or do you speak up about something that you feel will have a negative influence on the company’s image? This is when PR professionals must balance the pros along with the cons and see where their ethical values fall into place in order to make the right decision. As a PR professional, it is your job to keep the balance between the company, the client and your views.

Your ethical values come first.

Along with practicing honesty and maintaining integrity in your career, PR professionals sometimes find themselves at a crossroads of whether to follow through with the needs and wants of a client if sometimes those needs and wants don’t align with your personal views. A perfect example of this is the Volkswagen emission scandal back in 2015. For those of you who are unfamiliar with this downward spiral of a PR crisis nightmare, it goes as follows:

  1. Volkswagen installed devices on more than a half-million diesel cars that supposedly read that their cars were compliant with all federal emissions levels.
  1. Turns out they were not compliant, and the defective devices were detected leaving many people angry, upset and all trust in Volkswagen was lost by valued customers.

This left Volkswagen’s reputation in shambles and someone had to figure out how to piece it back together. When all is said and done, someone on the Volkswagen PR team understood that this was a horrible judgement call and didn’t stop it. If you have to question your moral judgement, then it probably isn’t the right decision to be made. As a PR professional, you walk a fine line, but you should never allow you job to come before your ethical values.

Be transparent.

In the long run, making the right choice over the wrong one will always engender a more positive outcome for you personally—and for the organization you represent. Public relations is an important but vulnerable profession that takes ethical decision making, common sense and a lot of trust in your gut to do it well. If something doesn’t feel right, it probably isn’t. Being transparent with your clients and company is extremely important, but being transparent with yourself is what matters the most. When all else fails, find a new job…going against your ethical values is not worth any amount of money and being honest with yourself will get you further in life anyways.