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Did anyone read the PR ethics code? A discussion about the PR ethics with Mary Beth West and Trevor Morris

Credit: Mary Beth West and Trevor Morris

Welcome to the PRmoment Podcast.

Today, we’re talking PR Ethics, basically because Mary Beth West, who is a senior strategist at Fletcher Marketing PR in the US, has funded research by the Institute of Business Ethics (IBE), which compares and contrasts 24 global ethics codes of PR.

On the show today, Mary Beth is going to talk through some of the themes of this research.

Today’s podcast also sees the return of the finest voice radio voice in PR - Trevor Morris, who I suspect will bring some practical thoughts on the real-world implementation of PR ethics codes. Trevor and his co-author Simon Goldsworthy wrote the book Public Relations Ethics.

A quick mention about the relaunch of PRmoment. If you take a look at, you'll see a brand new design with lots of new features, hopefully easier navigation and also the launch of our new subscription training service for senior folks within agencies' PRmoment Leaders. Do take a look and let us know if you like it.

Thanks also to the PRmoment Podcast sponsors the PRCA.

Here is a summary of what Trevor, Mary Beth and PRmoment founder Ben Smith discussed:

2 mins Do published ethics codes serve a critical role in public relations?

Of all the ethics codes in PR…accuracy and honesty were the values that were universal.”

“There are other elements of codes that are not universal. “

“AI is another one that is not dealt with in codes.”

“PR ethics codes are an important benchmark. You have to have them… But the reality is that very few people have read them.”

“When they do get used, it’s often after the event. When something has gone wrong.”

“For the codes to be effective, they need to be memorable. Shot, sharp and memorable.”

6 mins Mary Beth talks us though the differences in PR ethics codes globally.

“Another element of this white paper was to determine how old some of these codes are. There is a prominent code here in the US, which is a very good code. But it hasn’t been updated in nearly 25 years.”

9 mins What are the compliance gaps in global PR ethics currently?

Of the 24 ethics codes we evaluated, 20 of them had an order to comply with the code to be a member. Only 13 of the codes, however, say that they are enforced.”

“Only 6 of the codes made it easy to submit a complaint.”

“Only 2 of the 24 codes offered whistle-blower protection mechanism.”

11 mins “Very few PR people have ever been prosecuted for anything related to their work. There are far more lawyers and accountants that run into those kinds of problems.”

13 mins “Trust is fundamental to the career of a PR person. If you lose that trust, it is potentially career-ending.”

14 mins To what extent does PR have an ethics problem?

“I think we have a lot of ethics problems in this industry. When you look across the full scale of all of the different acres in which communication can be manipulated to mislead.”

“There is a danger that the codes start to behave like a priest, that you must never say anything that is not 100% transparent. And I don’t think that is possible.”

“Ethics codes are not a silver bullet. If a public relations professional suffers from an appalling lack of curiosity…”

“Any PR person worth their salt should be asking the very same questions that the journalist will ask internally that the journalist will ask with the external viewpoint. That’s how you earn respect.”

23.30 mins How significant is PR’s unethical fringe?

“Ask yourself: would you be happy to tell your mum that you did that?”

“People bandy around: ‘Oh, they’re being unethical.’ They are not necessary - they are just disagreeing with you.”

“The Rubrik on ethics is: What are you prepared to resign your job over?”

If you enjoyed this podcast, you might like this one on “Does PR have an ethics problem?” we recorded a few years back. All the themes are still relevant.

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