PRSA OKC Luncheon: A Profession in Crisis: Public Relations in the Era of 'Alternative Facts'

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On September 20, a group of our PRSSA chapter's members attended the PRSA OKC luncheon to network with professionals and listen to a speech by Robert Sheldon. 

Robert Sheldon has been in PRSA for more than 40 years and has a BA in journalism from the University of Minnesota. He spoke to all of the luncheon attendees about ethics in the PR industry.

Sheldon talked about what PR plays a key role in, including maintaining a few flow of ideas, reading and sustaining markets, helping a democratic society function and earning trust in business and government BUT there is still a deep distrust of PR. Although PRSA created the Code of Ethics in 1950 to counteract public distrust of PR and business, the distrust is still there and is being made worse due to the "fake news" claims.

Overall trust in government organizations, businesses, media, and NGOs has declined. An example Sheldon gave was that we are "getting some version of the truth or alternative facts from government spokespeople." Sheldon continued by telling us "the truth doesn't have versions." 

Proper PR is supposed to increase public trust. Our job as PR professionals is to make sure that what we are doing, writing and saying every day adheres to the ethical standards in the PRSA Code of Ethics and that our client or employer is also conducting its business in the public interest in accordance with high ethical standards. 

Now you're probably wondering why it is important to be ethical! Sheldon stated that it is important "because the reputation, success and even survival of the organization or client you represent can depend on what you do/say and how you do/say it each and every day."

To be able to follow the PRSA Code of Ethics, you first need to know the core values. 

  • Advocacy
  • Honesty
  • Expertise
  • Independence
  • Loyalty

Second, you should know the Ethical Principles of Conduct.

  • Free flow of information
  • Competition
  • Disclosure of Information
  • Safeguarding Confidences
  • Conflicts of Interest
  • Enhancing the Profession

To conclude the luncheon, Sheldon gave us a list of the "Top Ten Rules for Conducting Ethical PR."

  1. Know the difference between fact and opinion.
  2. Be loyal to your client, but act in the public interest.
  3. Write as if three people are looking over your shoulder: your client's competitor, a news editor and your mother.
  4. Never send out a finished product until it has been critically reviewed by at least three very picky people.
  5. Bad news doesn't keep. Get it out, explain it and move on.
  6. Acknowledge what you borrow by attribution or permission.
  7. Emails, tweets and Internet postings are forever. Act accordingly. 
  8. You're always "on the record." If you don't want to be quoted saying something you might regret, don't say it. 
  9. When in doubt, sticking to the absolute truth works best. 
  10. Always take the high road. You're in charge of your own integrity.

Our chapter's members are very grateful to have been invited to visit the PRSA OKC luncheon. We met some amazing professionals and had a great time!