Organizations today more than ever before are faced with a challenge of satisfying a never enlightened and more liberal population. Consumer rights are a common demand amongst consumers with more consumer rights groups coming up to defend consumers against the abuse from businesses. In a bid to control the damage that can arise from misunderstandings between consumers and businesses, organizations have put within their system public relations departments with the sole responsibility of managing communication between the business and stakeholders.
Public relations are a practice, which is complex in that, it has to be input and tally with the external and internal processes in an organization. Public relations officers use a number of tools to ensure that staff in an organization adheres to norms and standards which are predetermined by regulatory agencies, the government, the professional association as well as standards revolving around an organization.
Of all public relations efforts an organization puts in place none is perhaps as important and crucial as the professional code of ethics and standards . Ethical and professional standards are carefully crafted guidelines which employees in a given organization use so as to ensure that there is unity of purpose in an organization. Indeed, in as far as public relations are concerned, ethical and professional standards form the basis for maintaining public trust not only of an organization but also amongst professionals .
Therefore, ethical and professional standards are crucial in the promotion of integrity amongst professionals without which efforts of public relations to build public trust would blatantly fail. Ethical and professional standards guide professionals to conduct themselves in an appropriate manner in a fast globalizing world. Therefore, ethical and professional standards are important because they guide professionals into overcoming difficult job situations where professionals could be faced with dilemma and therefore calling for discretion.
Ethical and professional standards are important in that they enable professionals to function well in any setting irrespective of diversity or cultural orientations. Indeed, it is ethical and professional standards that provide for cohesiveness between business and regulatory bodies considering that without a framework to guide professionals, conflicts would emerge something, which can derail business growth.
Public relations can only achieve its roles if the staffs in a given organization are well equipped in terms of law governing them, rules and regulations of the organization, regulations of the government, standards and requirements of regulatory organizations, requirements of licensing agencies as well as the requirements of the professional bodies governing the professional activities of any given organization .
The above calls for public relations officers to objectively advocate for laws and rules that while giving a degree of independence to professionalism also puts in place control measures in order to ensure that professional activities are in line with ethical considerations. For instance, ethical and professional responsibilities require that professionals must avoid misconduct, that professionals must maintain privacy, that professionals must keep secret non-public information, that professionals must be accountable, royal, caring, as well as being dutiful .
As a business professional one faces many potentially ethically compromising situations throughout a career lifespan. To best handle such situations a code of ethics is important in that it aids in the decision making process. Indeed, the code of conduct serves as a ‘moral compass’ to guide professionals wherever they are faced with pressure to compromise as well as uncertainty. Ethical and professional standards require that professionals follow the core principles as provided for in their respective professions and maintain the highest standards.
Contrary to popular believe that public relations is solely about ‘damage control’ there is more to public relations than controlling negative effects. Indeed, ethical and professional standards lead to high productivity given the fact that it enables professionals to act honestly and with integrity at all times. This clearly indicates that as a result of maintaining ethical and professional standards business performance is enhanced. Ethical and professional standards call for respect for colleagues in the workplace.
Besides the fact that this is a public relations requirement, the requirement for professionals to respect one another is in line with acknowledging human dignity and this achieves more than public trust but also stakeholder trust. Professionals differ significantly on the importance and role of PR practitioners. There are those who are of the view that PR practitioners should not be licensed for instance, the author undertook to interview Prof. Chris Di Salvo a PR professor at a well respected university. According to Prof.
Chris Di Salvo, PR practitioners have failed to fill the gap the profession once was tasked to fulfill . Prof. Chris Di Salvo is of the opinion that PR practitioners have miserably failed in prevention and mitigation of costly situations in organizations and have relegated their responsibilities to responding to disasters when they strike. This according to Prof. Chris Di Salvo, is a clear indication that although PR practitioners are supposed to be the role models in as far as maintaining ethical and professional standards are concerned, they have failed miserably.
In line with the views of Prof. Chris Di Salvo, PR practitioners must change the approach to PR practice and lead pro-actively in the pursuit of ethical and professional responsibilities. Besides the fact that the objective of a public relation practitioner is to establish and maintain good will and mutual understanding between an organization and its public’s, it is clear from what is happening in many organizations that either public relations practitioners have failed to exert their control in organizational decision making or the tactics they use are ineffective.
In order to obtain good will, trust is implicit; for example, if validity becomes a matter of doubt, credibility is lost, and reputation is diminished. The above clearly demonstrates that ethical and professional standards are important for maintaining reputation because without reputation an organization cannot stand. This is where PR expertise comes in. As a part of management PR practitioners must demonstrate leadership in directing and guiding the organization to adhere to ethical practices, which saves organizations a lot of money.
This is possible by enforcing the highest standards for ethical conduct in line with theories of ethics such as Kant’s position, which requires that leaders demonstrate ethics in a universal way, in any given situation for purposes of maintaining professional standards. Ethical and professional standards outline responsibilities and expectations of professionals as well as outlining consequences of the decisions professionals make.
It is paramount that professionals take responsibility for their actions no matter the implications because in as far as ethical and professional standards are concerned there are no excuses for making the wrong decision. Ethical and professional code of conduct spells moral rules to guide professionals in difficult situations so as to ensure that professionals can tell between a wrong and a right choice. Whether the professional chooses right over wrong or vice versa is dependant on the desired outcome and the situation but for businesses repercussions for wrong choices are often unbearable and expensive.
Any decision professionals make is supposed to be guided by integrity on the other hand motivation a professional has in taking that kind of action. Ethical conduct maintains that professionals act rationally and in respect to truth and fairness for the good of others. Public relations is about benefiting the majority so as to achieve happiness. This is why there are ethical and professional requirements crafted in such a way that they give guidelines to professionals on how to act in order to have the least possible negative effect on not only the public but also other stakeholders.
This is the reason why transparency and openness is a high virtue amongst public relations practitioners. Drawing from utilitarianism principles professionals’ actions should encourage disclosure and openness even when these are not favourable because contrary to doing that, would please a few and hurt more. For example, in accounting an organization is supposed to disclose financial details so as to make it hard for financial scandals to take root in an organization. In addition, disclosure of the truth brings about a sense of trust and confidence in an organization something which leads to greater satisfaction amongst all members.
However, ethics is not about disclosing everything but rather carefully choosing the kind of communication and information to pass across and to who. This is because there are some situations that call for privacy and disclosure of such sensitive information such as people’s health details as well as financial details could be counter productive. Evidently, public relations is about balancing between interests of different members of an organization so as to achieve the organizational goals while respecting individual liberties.
Majority of public relations professionals have succeeded in guiding their organizations through difficult situations, situations, which would have caused organizations their reputations to the benefit of all stakeholders and specifically the public. Therefore, organizations through public relations professionals continue to achieve common good for the greater cause by upholding moral and ethical standards within an organization. Ethics in business is not only adhering to best practices and processes but also adhering to morally acceptable practices .
Ethical issues are what shape public opinion about an organization. Without adherence to ethics organizations cannot achieve public trust because it is ethical standards that guide an organization’s decision making process as well as benchmarking the relationship an organization maintains between itself and the public. Ethics dictates that, an individual should always do what is moral and just for the benefit of all. This is important in order for professionals to overcome challenges in the workplace, which if not well addressed, could lead to making of the wrong choices.
Ethical and professional standards guide the organization during times of conflicts to decide on better options. Equally important is the fact that ethical and professional standards are crucial in overcoming dilemmas which people are faced with in their daily lives. Without adherence to ethical and professional standards, both individual and organizational effectiveness cannot be realized. Ethical and professional standards are what make great leaders. Leaders conceive ideas but it is for the staff at the bottom line to implement the ideas as well as the reform strategies.
For staff to pull in the same direction they need to be given all the necessary support by the leaders. The ability to empower employees stems from the appreciation of others, a value that leaders must always demonstrate. Without believe in others transformation cannot be achieved in an organization. Indeed, believe in others enhances team spirit and collective responsibility. Where collective responsibility is appreciated professionals willingly take responsibility for their mistakes and they view success for one team member as success for the whole organization.
It is the belief in people that allows organizations to pull in the same direction. Since leadership is about trust and belief in each other, ethics for leaders plays an integral role in determining how the goals of public relations are maintained because where ethical considerations such as tolerance of each other, fairness, and respect of ideological or cultural opinions of every employee matters. Differences will always emerge in organizations but adherence to professional standards leads to quick resolution of such differences.
Adherence to professional standards is what makes organizations to arrive at wise decisions. The kind of decisions an organization makes can have a positive or negative impact on the organization. This is where public relations practitioners are supposed to apply principles in line with industrial requirements and government policies so as to make sure that the right kind of information is passed on to the desired audience. In most cases, public relations practitioners have found themselves in dilemmas concerning an ever increasingly probing media.
This has presented fresh challenges to public relation professionals who have been forced to embark on controlling damage or negative publicity by media. For instance, even fortune companies have found that exemplary financial performance does not necessarily lead to positive media reports. As a result, even the best performing organizations have found the media to be a delicate party to deal with. One of the issues that public relations practitioners have found themselves dealing with currently is the issue of the hefty pays companies pay to their chief executive officers.
Although initially high pay was associated with motivation subsequent studies have found that high pay has got little or nothing to do with how people perform. This is due to the fact that different people work for different reasons and therefore what motivates one individual does not necessarily motivate the other. The media has seized this opportunity to criticize even some of the best-run organizations due to pay rise schemes, which are paid to the chief executives. This is a pension of ethical concern although such hefty pays to CEO’s are often sanctioned by shareholders who blindly think that high pay leads to high performance.
As a result of hefty pays most organizations leave little funds to other core areas such as marketing because their concern becomes how well the CEO is compensated. This is also an area of concern for PR practitioners today considering the fact that it raises questions of how moral it is. Public relations officers are tasked with the responsibility of helping out an organization from challenges, which arise in the industry. Challenges facing organizations vary from industry to industry and therefore the responsibilities of public relations officers will vary depending on the organization.
While the roles of public relations officers are strikingly the same in many organizations, there exists difference especially in connection to industry regulations. For instance, pharmaceutical companies have to constantly employ public relations tactics in their marketing campaigns because of sensitivity of drugs, which is the core business in the pharmaceutical organization. Therefore, public relations officers in the pharmaceutical sector have to consider concerns, threats, opportunities and challenges which their organizations are faced with if they have to effective in playing their roles.
Often, there are media reports about a certain pharmaceutical company that produced drugs with unacceptable side effects, the role of public relations officers in such an organization is to balance between the interest of the company in terms of business and reputation of the company in terms of what ultimately the public will accept as the best explanation for such happenings. In a situation like this, public relations officers are faced with the challenge of ensuring that the final decision they arrive at is the best possible for the organization. Any mistake can break the organization’s reputation.
The challenge in public relations is also about the urgency with which public relations are required to respond to emerging issues. For public relations officers there is no time to waste, as negative publicity has often tended to attract public attention, as well as media coverage that can cause unforetold damages within hours. This is a clear demonstration that public relations officers function in environments full of uncertainties and situations, which are very unpredictable. This leads us to the question, what exactly should public relations practitioners do in order to make sure that they are effective?
To answer this question, there is a need to look at common situations which public relations practitioners are faced with. As mentioned above time is always a constraint when it comes to public relations practice. This is because when disasters happen there is no prior knowledge that things were going to happen that way. In most cases, everyone in the organization is caught unawares including the public relations practitioners themselves. However, when situations requiring damage control arise, everyone expects the public relations professionals to respond immediately and efficiently.
For public relations practitioners this is an enormous challenge and it calls for integrity, honesty and a deep knowledge in situation analysis without which public relations efforts fail. Another important quality for effective public relations is resource availability. Although many look at public relations as a matter of ethical considerations, there is more to public relations than that. Infact, public relations departments are some of the often-overlooked departments when it comes to resource allocation in most organizations.
The situation should be rather different and it is a high time that organizations look at functions of public relations as important and core to the success of organizations and reciprocate by allocating sufficient funds to public relations departments. To ensure that professionals constantly adhere to ethical and professional guidelines do not just require the public relations practitioners to lecture or give handouts outlining the ethical and professional standards to staff but rather requires an ongoing exercise.
The ongoing exercise should comprise of regular training as well as brainstorming meetings with staff to ensure that everyone in an organization keeps abreast with new knowledge in their areas. Another importance of an ongoing training on public relations matters is the fact that if not constantly reminded professionals can take the ethical and professional guidelines lightly and as less important. When this happens, the ethical and professional standards fail to achieve their goals and consequently the organization cannot function as effectively and efficiently as required.
All in all, ethical and professional standards are core to the normal functioning of an organization. In conclusion, ethical and professional standards are important in that they deliver valuable response to situations which if not well diffused, could lead to tensions and conflicts in an organization. Ethical and professional standards can be said to be key elements in public relations efforts to deal with reputation of the organization in that the reputation depends on actions of professionals within the organization.
Before public relations practitioners can think about how to relate to the public by gestures such as well-crafted mission and vision statements or media campaigns through advertisements, they should first embark on enforcing ethical and professional code of conduct within the organization as an inbuilt system of guiding the professionals to act in accordance to requirements of the organization.
Where ethical and professional standards are adhered to there is little chances of breaking the law and therefore it is rare for such organizations to engage in activities which place the reputation of the organization at risk. Where ethical and professional standards are followed, common good is achieved and organizations function harmoniously for the good of the public. If applied well, ethical and professional principles are a regulatory measure of upholding integrity, honesty, accountability, as well as respect in an organization.
Public relations practitioners play a very important role as demonstrated in the above discussion and therefore governments should empower public relations practitioners to continue contributing positively to organizational performance so as to continue achieving common good for the public. Without the important role public practitioners play the public is likely to suffer in the hands of businesses whose goals are usually profit-driven and rarely social-oriented.