When discussing what PR is, one of my readers made a comment that PR practitioners must possess “superior ethical behavior” and be transparent, genuine, and honest in their work.
I thought this was an interesting thing to point out since I have heard many people that are not involved with PR say that PR professionals must manipulate the public into believing their client is something they really are not – making a client seem better than they really are or covering up/hiding anything that may be deemed as bad publicity. This is absolutely not true.
Being manipulative, deceitful, and secretive will cause the cycle of bad PR to continue.
It is of utmost importance to be ethical, transparent, genuine, and honest. While incidents of bad publicity often stem from unethical behavior and actions, they are corrected by ethical decisions by ethical PR practitioners. Bad publicity will happen, and when it does, it is the role of the PR professional to:
- Acknowledge what happened
- Take responsibility for what happened
- Figure out how to prevent it from happening again and take action to ensure it does not happen again
- Let the public know that you have completed the above three steps – Depending on the severity of the issue, this can be done by issuing a press release or through a campaign.
As a PR student, I can cite many examples of things gone wrong that have been fixed in an ethical way, instead of the company trying to lie about it, avoid responsibility, or cover it up. (One of the best examples: Tylenol). On the other hand, we can also examine cases where companies do not acknowledge or take responsibility for what happened, try to keep it a secret, and hope that it will just “go away.” (One of the worst examples: Exxon).
A recent incident I would like to note as an example involves the quick service food restaurant, Chick-fil-A. Two Asian customers received racist receipts that named them “Ching” and “Chong” at a Southern California Chick-fil-A location. Immediately after the incident, the company acknowledged it and took responsibility for it. They apologized and released a statement to the public, and the employee was terminated.
Chick-fil-A did not need to address this issue to all of their customers. They could have tried to keep the incident secret and only addressed the parties involved. They also could have chosen to only address customers in Southern California, but they chose to release a statement to their entire customer population all over the United States. This is an example of a company being transparent and honest with its publics.
What’s next? Chick-fil-A should create a diversity training program for its employees, further acknowledging and citing this incident as one that does not reflect the company’s beliefs, and emphasizing the importance of employees to share the company’s acceptance and respect for diversity.
What else do you think Chick-fil-A could do? What other cases can you cite of ethical PR behavior gone right or non-ethical behavior gone wrong?
- What Paterno Teaches Us About Ethics (forbes.com)
- Chick-Fil-a Restaurant Employee Shows Poor Diversity Judgment (forbes.com)
- Chick-Fil-A Fires Employee For Expressing His Racist Beliefs (lezgetreal.com)
- Chick-fil-A cashier fired for mocking Asians (abclocal.go.com)
- A Lesson in Public Relations & Ethics – Source: Wikipedia (pr-squared.com)
- Chick-fil-A: Employee mocking Asians no reflection on company (latimesblogs.latimes.com)
- Egregious Breach of PR ethics (techaffect.com)
- Follow the Leader: Ethics and Responsibility (prsa.org)
- Flashback Friday: Public relations ethics – in 5 minutes (toughsledding.wordpress.com)
- Crisis Management as Ethical Improv (businessethicsblog.com)
- Another Bad PR Episode Goes Viral (marketingvox.com)
- How to be ethical in social media (publicrelationssydney.com.au)
- Time for PR to Cleanse Itself of Ethical Transgressions (prsay.prsa.org)
- The Importance of Being Ethical in PR (socialrelationsblog.wordpress.com)