It’s weird talking about ethics

I don’t talk about PR ethics in my speeches. Nor do I cover the subject in these posts.

Never made a conscious decision not to. I guess I tend to view ethics as something that is “lived” and not spoken. Anyone can talk a big game about doing the right thing, but the real test is how they act.

And then I got asked to be a guest in a podcast about PR ethics :).

Mark McClennan is an experienced PR executive, a former national president of PRSA, and someone I respect immensely. (I once saw him fulfill a speaking commitment to a bunch of college students and then drive himself straight to the hospital to treat a serious infection.) His podcast “Ethical Voices” is a great resource to our profession and a project I really admire.

But my first reaction was to politely suggest that I might not be a great guest for him. Off the top of my head I couldn’t think of any ethical dilemmas I’d confronted that would be helpful for others to learn from. And like I wrote above, I feel kinda weird talking about my own ethics.

But like the veteran PR pro he is, Mark persisted :).

I listened to a couple of the other interviews he’s done, and I felt really grateful to those PR vets who shared their thoughts and experiences. Because, I realized, if all of us are reserved about ethics, how can we all as a profession develop ethical frameworks for our decisions? How can we evaluate our ideas about emerging dilemmas posed by advancing technology?

So I did the interview. And doing so surfaced some real and lasting ethical lessons I’ve learned over the years. I really should have thought more deeply about this sooner, and gotten over my reluctance to participate in the dialogue about this important topic.

During the podcast, we discuss:

– the ethical lapses I see from media relations professionals, and how these missteps hurt their outcomes and the industry
– how I handled the age-old question of “What do you do when someone asks you to promote something you don’t believe in?”
– why every PR pro (even – and especially – entry-level professionals) needs a “freedom fund”
– my hypothesis on why most of the ethical dilemmas I faced happened early in my career, and how you can apply this yourself
– a crazy-flukey positive outcome that resulted from an ethical decision I made years before (I never connected the two until preparing for this interview. Karma is real!)

You can listen to the interview here (and check out the great other interviews Mark has assembled). And let’s all talk more about ethics.

This article was originally published on June 13, 2019

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