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PRSA/PRSSA Google+ Hangout: Lessons Learned in the Workplace

With guidance from our professors and colleagues in the field, we are challenged to be exemplary ethical professionals and to adhere to the highest standards of accuracy and truth in communicating with the public. Unfortunately, sometimes the best decision in each situation is not always clear and clean-cut.

As part of Ethics Awareness Month, PRSA and PRSSA hosted a Google Hangout on how to tackle ethical issues that young public relations professionals face in the workplace.

Among one of the many topics we were taught in the classroom, was to say “yes” to everything and go above and beyond. But what if you don’t know how to do what you’re asked?

Lauren Gray, co-host of the hangout, PRSA new professionals blog co-chair and PRSA New York new professionals co-chair, said that before you say “yes” to everything, you have to make sure you can handle what you are being asked to do.

“It’s better to be honest and upfront and say ‘I don’t know how to do this, but I’d love to learn how to,’ ” she said. This exemplifies honesty, a value of PRSA’s Code of Ethics, at its most basic level.

Approaching a situation with honesty is always the best policy. If something feels wrong, instead of revising the code, talk about the situation with someone who you trust, Gray said. This person could be your supervisor, a mentor or someone who you think will be objective and could help you walk through the situation, even if you cannot provide specifics about the case. It’s important to tackle the issue as it arises before it becomes a bigger issue.

If you don’t have someone you can trust with the ethical dilemma, Gray said your company’s human resources department is a really great place to start.

“My experience with HR professionals is that they keep everything very confidential," she said. “They’ll take every step they can to correct a situation.”

PRSSA National President Heather Harder said that a lot of times people think if they see something unethical happen, they need to “keep it quiet” because they are new to the company. No one wants to lose their job, but if you don’t stand up for yourself now, what will you do next time? Will you let it slide? Consider these questions beforehand since it will set a precedent and affect what kind of public relations practitioner you want to become in the long run.

When you apply for a job, make sure your culture and values align with those of the company. Gray mentioned a few ways through which you can gain insights on how a company tackles ethical dilemmas:

Learn about the company’s reputation
This will depend on your research and common knowledge. You can learn about this by searching for news articles written about them, referencing their website, checking Glassdoor or talking to friends or other PRSA members who have interned or worked there.

Talk to someone who works at the company
Having an insider’s view can help you learn about the culture in ways that you may not be able to learn otherwise.

Look for context clues
Gray said that during your interview, you can ask about employee retention and how the company handles certain situations, without mentioning specific crises.

Whether the company is based in the United States or overseas, make sure you represent yourself, your company and your profession in the most ethical way possible because as Harder said, “Ethics is really at the forefront of what we do as PR professionals.”

Besides your mentors, you can also consult with any of PRSA’s resources including: the PRSA Code of Ethics, the PRSA Ethics app (available on Android and iOS) or by contacting the PRSA Board of Ethics and Professional Standards (BEPS). In addition, you can read the Ethical Standards Advisories issued by BEPS to help professionals examine specific and common ethical dilemmas, and other resources provided on PRSA’s website such as the Ethical Decision-Making Guide, which you can use to examine the situation and discover what the best course of action is, given the circumstances and the parties affected.

Finally, I would like to ask you the same question Lauren Rosenbaum, PRSA new professionals social co-chair, asked during the hangout:

If your client does something unethical and the trend continues, at what point do the media and the public deserve to know, or do they at all? Should you ever speak against a client for ethical reasons?

Please share your answers in the comments section below!

This post is courtesy of Andrea Gils, current PRSA St. Louis Chapter Newsletter Editor and social media co-contributor and former PRSSA National Diversity and Ethics Subcommittee member and PRSSA Southeast Chapter Firm Director. She is a public relations and journalism senior at Southeast Missouri State University, and you can find her on Twitter @andreagils.

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