Why Doesn’t PRSA Identify Code of Ethics Violators and Sanction Unethical Behavior?
When PRSA introduced its first Code of Ethics in 1950, the Society’s leaders had high hopes for cleaning up many of the bad practices that sullied the reputation of the profession. Clear guidelines, tough enforcement and public shaming were put in place as the strategy to address ethical violations. But during 50 years of trying, those good intentions were frustrated, due to a lack of cooperation; enormous legal and investigative expenses; significant investments of time, money and resources for investigating alleged violations; and a slow but steadily growing realization that the meager results of the effort in relation to the time and resources required, failed to provide a valuable return on investment for PRSA, its members or the broader profession.
In fact, over the 50-year span of the initial PRSA Code of Ethics, only a handful of actions reached a point where they could be brought to the PRSA Board of Directors for action. None of these actions resulted in sanctions or official notifications of “violations.”
It also became clear that the legal barriers and risks to PRSA would only grow, potentially diminishing the value of PRSA’s Code of Ethics. Over time, PRSA members and its executive leaders realized that a focus on the value of ethics in the profession, and a more vigorous professional development and education program centered on ethical communications, was a better and more valuable approach.
The central question was whether PRSA wanted to be known for the number of people it tried to expel or expose — at an extraordinary cost to its members — or for its ability to inspire, motivate, focus and illustrate for its members, and practitioners everywhere, what ethical behavior is and is not.
In 2000, after three years of development, a revamped code of professional practice was proposed, unanimously accepted by the PRSA Assembly, and implemented through PRSA’s Board of Ethics and Professional Standards (BEPS).
The revised PRSA Code of Ethics focuses on helping practitioners learn how to be ethical and to detect, deter and avoid unethical behavior. Still, unethical behavior continues, and it frustrates those of us who believe strongly in best practices and feel our profession and our personal reputations are damaged by the unethical behavior of others. That feeling often leads to a call for PRSA to enforce its Code of Ethics through punishment and sanctions. Often, that call comes from those who have little knowledge of PRSA’s half century of experience in unsuccessful enforcement.
To address these concerns, and to fully address PRSA’s history with ethics enforcement, BEPS members prepared the following essays, which offer significant detail and perspective about PRSA’s education versus enforcement strategy.
Reporting Questionable Ethical Behavior to PRSA
Information on ethical lapses is invaluable for education and learning purposes. We encourage those who witness questionable ethical practices or behavior in public relations to use this form to anonymously provide ethics case study material to the PRSA Board of Ethics & Professional Standards.
Please provide all information generically and use a pseudonym or no name for the organizations or individuals whose conduct you are describing. Any scenarios received that directly identify real organizations or individuals will be returned to the sender.
Should you have further questions or concerns after reading these two documents, or seek additional information regarding PRSA’s stance on ethical communications, please contact the PRSA Board of Ethics and Professional Standards at firstname.lastname@example.org.