Trylon Communications  - Volume I Issue 10

Ethical PR

The fallout from the resignation of New York Times Reporter Jayson Blair is still reverberating through the media industry. But ethical problems aren't limited to journalists. The Internet, for example, with its vast amount of information, makes it easier for both journalists and public relations practitioners to plagiarize and appropriate others' work. PR people can in effect push a square peg into a round hole by finding "fact" that achieves a desired outcome. 

The anonymity of the Internet also allows unethical PR people to publish false information about clients - or their clients' competitors - in chat rooms or via Weblogs. Or even to publish true information while posing as an objective expert.

The application of ethical standards to public relations can be best described as taking the "long view" to any situation or objective. In today's world, companies often emphasize the short term in financial reports. Yet, while earnings are up this quarter and investors are satisfied, what about five years from now?

Similar questions should be asked when it comes to public relations. You may see an opportunity to apply ill-fitting statistics to strengthen a story pitch - but what happens if someone takes a hard look at your correlation? And what if reporters do their homework and realize they are being had?

Using Internet discussion groups to sway opinion in an unethical manner is an even worse transgression. Legitimate use of idea-sharing technology is a wonderful new tool for PR professionals. However, the temptation to "plant ideas" through unethical means must be avoided.

Internet "whisper campaigns," anonymous Weblog entries, viral marketing strategies based upon deceit, and other unethical uses of the Internet are easy to undertake, so will undoubtedly continue to be used by some practitioners. But as was the case with Jayson Blair, such tactics and lapses of ethics usually come back to bite.