Public relations practitioners often have to shake off the label of ‘spin doctors’, i.e. people who purposely twist the truth to suit their clients’ needs.
But even though they say the truth is relative, a true PR practitioner actually follows a strict code of ethics. Under most circumstances, your small business can take advantage of public relations effectively if your PR practitioner sticks to the accepted ethics of the profession when dealing with a wide range of issues.
On the other hand, PR practitioners are also constantly faced with the pressure to bend or modify the truth in the interest of their clients.
For example, if a warehouse burns down, it would be tempting to make it seem like a minor incident, when in fact the company has lost a significant amount of inventory and had been negligent about potential fire hazards.
The truth may cause the company some problems. Instead, the PR practitioner can state the salient facts but emphasize the owner’s determination to bounce back and not only replace the inventory, but build a safer warehouse. In this way, the truth can be inspirational and instil confidence rather than negative sentiments.
However, ethical public relations communication offers more than mere facts. It also gives context to a story. This means explaining to the public, usually through the media, why an event has importance or why company leaders take a particular over an issue.
For example, simply announcing that a business has recalled a product due to safety concerns would be accurate. However, if this ‘recall’ was a direct result of a government agency raising concerns, then that information would have to be included by an ethical PR practitioner.
Ethics come into play when a PR practitioner announces a company’s involvement in social causes, charities and fundraising events. The practitioner has an ethical duty to reveal not only her client’s involvement, but the involvement of other sponsors. If your client’s company sponsored a marathon and a controversial company was also involved, clarity of the messaging needs to be articulated in the statement.
Finally, it is important to also note that ethical dilemmas frequently happen and will prompt the PR practitioner to make the hard call, meaning it could go either way. Playing by the rules might not get you immediate public attention, but you can be sure of gaining public trust. This is crucial because once you have it then they will always buy what you are selling, thus there lies in the power of public trust lightly.