Ethical public relations to save the world

I believe I can change the world. Overdramatic? Possibly, but I believe it. After studying several social enterprises, I’ve seen how a single amazing individual can create something that has far-reaching, sustainable impact on thousands of people. As a public relations professional, I want to spread the noble work of these organizations and enable them to achieve their missions.

Jayson Blair fabricated facts and plagiarized in over 600 stories at The New York Times.
Photo courtesy of

Unfortunately, I’ve also seen how a single unethical individual can ruin an entire organization. Dorothy Bowles and Diane Borden in “Creative Editing” have outlined many of these instances. Take Jayson Blair for example, a The New York Times reporter who plagiarized and fabricated people and situations in more than 600 stories during his four-year tenure at the paper. He violated the trust between The New York Times and its readers, and the newspaper had to work hard to regain it.

As a public relations professional for mission-driven social enterprises, such as TOMS Shoes or Ten Thousand Villages, I would spread awareness of the organization’s mission and galvanize the public to take action. However, there are still ways to fall into the ranks of Jayson Blair, which is why it’s extremely important to know and review the Public Relations Society of America Code of Ethics. For my career, I need to be aware of the following ethical considerations.

Minimize harm

Toms Shoes has to be careful to use powerful, but not unethically gruesome photos to depict their mission.
Photo courtesy of

The PRSA Code of Ethics says to “be sensitive when seeking or using interviews or photographs of those affected by tragedy or grief.” In my profession, I’ll likely have the opportunity to conduct interviews and take photographs of disturbing situations that depict the plight of people affected by different issues. For example, TOMS Shoes is an enterprise that gives a pair of shoes to a child in need every time a pair is purchased. As a public relations professional for Toms, I would want to spread awareness of the children in Africa in need of shoes. To do so, I could publish a gruesome picture of a child’s blistered feet, but I would have to decide whether exposing the public to such a disturbing image is an ethical way to spread awareness.

 Disclosure of information

Another stipulation of the code is to “build trust with the public by revealing all the information needed for responsible decision-making.” For my profession, I will promote the good work of organizations in the hope that people support the organization through donations and merchandise purchases. It is vital to be open and honest about what exactly people are supporting, so that the public can be informed in their decision-making.

Enhancing the profession

Finally, the code says that we have the responsibility to “build respect and credibility with the public for the profession of public relations.” Although I want to promote the good work of mission-driven enterprises, I have to be aware of the organization’s intentions. If the organization were to ever steer away from their mission and conduct unethical practices, it would be my duty to resign from my job to protect the field of public relations.

In public relations, it is essential to uphold a code of ethics and act responsibly. I believe I can change the world, but change can only be achieved through ethical actions.


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