Ethics for an Evolving Profession
The PRSA Code of Ethics is widely regarded as the cornerstone of the ethical practice of public relations. First developed in 1950, the Code applies to PRSA members and is designed to be a useful guide as they carry out their ethical responsibilities, setting out principles that uphold core values, including advocacy, honesty, expertise, independence, loyalty and fairness.
PRSA provides educational opportunities to explore ethics within public relations year-round, including hosting a variety of offerings during “Ethics Month” in September and at PRSA’s annual conference.
Recognizing and acknowledging ethical issues as they arise is among the reasons the PRSA Board of Ethics and Professional Standards (BEPS) was created. Comprised of senior professionals and PRSA members, BEPS provides an abundance of educational resources and training for public relations professionals that include case studies, position papers, blogs and other assets which follow in this section.
BEPS upholds and amends, when necessary, the PRSA Code of Ethics.
Case Studies and Resources
Ethics Case Studies
- Ethics Case Study Safeguarding Confidences | Ethics Case Study Safeguarding Confidences Discussion Guide
- Ethics Case Study Looking the Other Way | Ethics Case Study Looking the Other Way Discussion Guide
- Ethics Case Study Conflicts of Interest | Ethics Case Study Conflicts of Interest Discussion Guide
- Ethics Case Study Competition | Ethics Case study Competition Discussion Guide
- Ethics Case Study Enhancing the Profession | Ethics Case Study Enhancing the Profession Discussion Guide
- Ethics Case Study Ethical Decision Making Guide
- Introduction of the Matrix of Ethical Dilemmas
- Matrix of Ethical Dilemmas
- Ethics Case Study Illegal Recordings
- Ethics Case Study Plagiarism | Ethics Case Study Plagiarism Discussion Guide
- Expropriating Intellectual Property | Exploring Intellectual Property Discussion Guide
- Free Flow of Information| Free Flow of Information Discussion Guide
- Disclosure of Information | Disclosure of Information Discussion Guide
- Disclosure of Deceptive Online Practices | Disclosure of Deceptive Online Practices Discussion Guide
- Ethics Case Study Representing Front Group | Ethics Case Study Representing Front Groups Discussion Guide
- Ethical Use of Interns | Ethical Use of Interns Discussion Guide
Check out “Ethical Public Relations: Everyday Expectations”
Available On Demand │ Free to PRSA and PRSSA members
Test your PR ethics knowledge by taking the PRSA Ethics Quotient (EQ) Quiz.
Guide to Increasing Collaboration Between the Communications and Ethics Offices
PRSA and the Ethisphere® Institute, the global leader in defining and advancing the standards of ethical business, have created a Guide to Increasing Collaboration Between the Communications and Ethics Offices that provides insights from the World’s Most Ethical Companies®, actionable research highlighting best practices for effective communications and a roadmap for building greater accountability.
Ethical Standards Advisories
Applying the PRSA Code of Ethics, the PRSA Board of Ethics and Professional Standards (BEPS) offers analysis on current practice issues and challenges through Ethical Standards Advisories (ESAs).
ESAs are considered direct extensions of the PRSA Code, and have the same force and effect as any provision within the PRSA Code. Designed to keep the PRSA Code timely through a formal process, ESAs provide practitioners guidance to deal with new situations and circumstances as they arise int he daily practice of public relations.
BEPS continues to build the ESA library. Your input with issues you are facing or have faced are the basis for ESA topics.
- Disclosure (2018)
- Ethics and Social Media (2015)
- Disclosure and Transparency in Native Advertising and Sponsored Content (September 2014)
- Deceptive Online Practices and Misrepresentation of Organizations and Individuals (Rev. June 2012)
- Illegal Recordings (March 2011)
- Ethical Use of Interns (February 2011)
- Plagiarism (September 2010)
- Looking the Other Way (August 2010)
- Expropriation of the Intellectual Property of Others (February 2010)
- Use of Video News Releases as a Public Relations Tool (October 2009)
- Questionable Environmental Claims and Endorsements (Greenwashing) (October 2009)
- Pay for Play (October 2009)
- Engaging in the Use of Deceptive Practices While Representing Front Groups (Rev. October 2008)
- Overstating Charges, Fees and/or Compensation (rev. August 2007)
- Disclosure by Expert Commentators and Professional Spokespersons of Payments or Financial Interests (April 2005)
- Telling the Truth, Especially in War Time (January 2005)
- Reporting Unethical Behavior or Unprofessional Performance (Nov. 2004)
- Disclosure of Employment Status of Client-Based PR Agency Staff (May 2004)
The BEPS Handbook includes the Application to the Board of Ethics and Practice Standards (BEPS) and additional ethics information:
The History of BEPs
- Eight Ethics Questions to Ask Yourself Before Acting
- Six Statements That Should Warn You of a Potential Ethical Violation
- Six Indications That Your Company Has an Ethical Culture
- Eight Ethics Quotes
- Six Practical Recommendations for Building Employer Branding
- Board of Ethics and Professional Standards
Download the full BEPS handbook
The PRSA Code of Ethics exists to inspire ethical behavior, clearly identify improper public relations practices and teach members how to avoid them.
As a voluntary organization, PRSA can:
- Establish voluntary practice standards, codes of conduct and practice guidelines.
- Inspire, educate and motivate best practice through a wide variety of educational programs and interactive dialogue with practitioners who inspire others to the highest levels of ethical practice.
- Promote voluntary compliance.
- Establish that ethical practice is the most important obligation of a PRSA member.
- Establish reasonable, sensible and very limited procedures and regulations for becoming a member and removing individuals from membership.
- Establish what is unethical and improper:
- A threat to the ethical practice of public relations;
- Behaviors inappropriate or inconsistent with the Code;
- Behaviors disruptive or that undermine ethical practices;
- Practices and behavior destructive to the reputation of practitioners, our profession or PRSA.
- Teach members how to avoid improper behavior.
As a volunteer organization, PRSA’s enforcement authority is limited.
Organizations that have enforceable regulations, rules and procedures are empowered by higher authorities such as government or quasi- government organizations who can license or delegate the power to enforce and sanction. Some organizations with enforcement power gain that power from legislation or government executive authority. PRSA has no such legislative or government authorized sanctioning power nor is it likely to gain or seek such power.
For additional information about the Code of Ethics and PRSA’s stance on ethical communications, email the PRSA Board of Ethics and Professional Standards at firstname.lastname@example.org.
If you would like to inform BEPS about a particular concern, complete the following form. BEPS is a volunteer group of active public relations professionals. We will make every effort to respond to you in a timely manner.
Please allow three weeks before re-contacting BEPS.