Ethics in PR: Why Do We Need Them?

Why Have Professional Codes.

Societies usually have set of codes by which they model their lives after. Whether the codes were simple: “Do unto others” or complex, “Survival of the fittest,” these ethical codes have always been a way of life. In a professional world, it is just the same. Doctors, lawyers and even PR practitioners have professional codes. Each code delineates what those in the profession can and cannot do. They act as a guideline of how to practice whatever profession they are representing. In order to determine what these codes should be, the PRSA looked to, “The cumulative behavior of the individual practitioners will determine the ethical standards and perceivedcommitment to ethics of the profession.” This allows the members of the society to help shape the world of PR they work in. By having the input of the different practitioners the professional codes are not set up to be unattainable, but rather to be as practical as possible for the practitioners. The professional codes for PR practitioners outline such things as, “advocacy, loyalty, honesty,” and “maintaining highest levels of standards, integrity and respect.” The purpose of these codes is to ensure ethical practices and to bring together the community of PR practitioners. Both the PRSA and the CIPR insist their members to abide by these codes and to practice PR accordingly. Another purpose for these professional codes is to guarantee accountability.


Professional codes are about the masses just as much as they are about the individual, or who ever is the practitioner. If there were only one PR practitioner in the entire world, there would not be a need for professional codes because they could practice PR in whatever way they see fit and would have no one to answer to. Since this is not the case, accountability plays a huge role in why professional codes are necessary. With these codes in place, the practitioners know exactly what they can and cannot do, and this therefore makes the actual practicing of PR mutually beneficial for all parties involved. PR practitioners

The CIPR and the PRSA are two of the most respected and looked up to communities in the PR industry. They are not only just societies of PR practitioners, but they are societies made up a people who want to further the evolution of PR and, “to ensure public trust and confidence is gained.” Gaining public trust and confidence is not an easy task and once it is lost, it can be hard to regain that trust. By setting forth professional codes that members of the CIPR and PRSA have to abide by the PR industry is establishing standards that not only help unify the practitioners but also keep them accountable to not only themselves, but also to each other and to society as a whole.


The PRSA and the CIPR have both been established institutions for a long time and their codes have been as well. Both operate by constantly updating and changing their codes in order to be in alignment with societal norms. The codes are set up to work and in theory are great on their own, but in theexecution of them, they fall short. The PRSA and CIPR are both organizations that are funded by dues that an individual has to pay in order to become a member. This, of course, will hinder the effectiveness of these codes. While it is always considered better to be a part of a prestigious group like the PRSA and the CIPR, if one chooses not to be a member, one can still practice PR. Outside of the organizations that put forth these codes, there is no watchdog system that will ensure that the codes are being upheld. Another way these codes are virtually ineffective is the way they are regulated. Anyone can contact either one of these groups to file a complaint against a member, but how they are handled are a bit different. Both societies have many loop holes to get around getting in trouble with the society. Within the both societies, if one had a complaint brought against them and did not want to face the consequences that member could drop their membership and they would no longer have any jurisdiction over that person any more.

Other examples of the codes ineffectiveness are the ways that the organizations implement them. The essence of the PRSA code is one of inspiration, rather than punishment. In order, to find what the punishments might be for violating the codes, one must search the website thoroughly and is still unclear of the punishments. The only punishment that the PRSA states that they will enforce is, “PRSA the right to expel a member found guilty of

misconduct in a court of law.” While this is a fair rule and should be enforced, it is the only example of the PRSA enforcing punishment on those who violate the code of ethics. This will only come after a member has violated a law and found guilty in a court of law. It seems as though the PRSA will only prosecute once the law has stepped in and prosecuted first.

The CIPR operates much like the PRSA in instances of people violating the code of conduct. Punishments for people who do not adhere to the code are not listed on the website for the CIPR ( The Code does, however, address how it handles complaints, “The CIPR can investigate complaints made against only its members. If a PR practitioner is not a member, then they are not accountable. All complaints remain confidential. Announcement of a complaint outcome is at the discretion of the Professional Practices Committee.” Without having a structured way of dealing with members who do not uphold the codes and standards of the society the codes are virtually ineffective.

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