The Importance of PR Ethics in Today’s Fractured Media Landscape

Recently, I was asked to be a speaker at Indiana University, for a Media Ethics Course run by its New Media School.

The topic? PR Ethics. The class studied ethics when journalists speak. But what are the ethical implications when a company speaks…to the public, its customers, its employees, its investors?

There are many. This is especially true now in an era when your company can be talked about in social media, on review sites, on employee rating sites like glassdoor.com, and so much more, in an instant. Now, as companies can become publishers of their own content, sending it out to their own media, the question becomes– what responsibility do companies have to be ethical in their communications, when they are clearly promoting their own product and message?

Though our tools are more complex, the answer is the same as it has always been. A company can have a point of view as it relates to their own company, products, and the industry they operate in. They are not, after all, expected to be as objective as the evening news. But, you can’t knowingly tell a lie, or omit key information just to make a point. The PRSA Code of Ethics, after all, hasn’t changed.

But, what today’s new media landscape has changed is the speed at which we must communicate, and the number of outlets where we are expected to do so. This is the essence of transparency. We must endeavor, as communicators, to be open, fair, and responsive, in every platform where we operate. And we must use those platforms to monitor how our audiences are perceiving us, and what they are saying about us.

Yes, it’s complicated. But, in many ways, it’s simple. Tell the truth. Be responsive. And be one step ahead of your audience’s need for information. That’s really all there is to it.

You can check out my full presentation on Slideshare.