Ethics and Values are More than Just Words

For more than 20 years, I was a watchdog on society as a nationally awarded journalist in different newsrooms across the country. My eyebrows would raise, questions would bubble up in my head and many conversations would start with, “How could they let this happen?” Not every story ended up with a valueless villain thank goodness. But many stories could have avoided the headlines all together or had much happier endings if a company’s values and ethical standards were prioritized, upheld and communicated to the workforce as a whole.

Some of the most popular brands in America smartly spend a great deal of time and energy on their guiding principles, their values and their code of ethics. Words like respect, integrity, honesty and social responsibility are featured in publicly posted ethics codes for businesses like Apple, Coca-Cola and Kellogg’s, which even has their code of ethics available in 14 languages online!

Public Relations professionals are key to ensuring organizations lead through honesty and integrity with the greater good of the public in mind. We do this through our PRSA values of advocacy, honesty, expertise, independence, loyalty and fairness.

Remember, you are your organization’s moral compass. So have a voice!

You should have a seat at the table and if you don’t, find what will get you there. I urge you to do an ethical assessment on your organization. Start with the values. Do they make sense? Are they communicated throughout the organization? Is everyone on board?

From there, make sure you are promoting a fair competition among professionals, responsibly disclosing information, safeguarding confidences, avoiding conflicts of interest, and enhancing the PR profession by building public trust.

If your organization is living by the PRSA Code of Conduct, even your stakeholders/customers/publics will all have a sense of trust. Your employees will have a sense of trust. And you will have done your job well. Because you don’t want that watchdog barking at your door.

Judy Palermo, APR, is the Director of Public Relations for the Indianapolis Zoological Society, Inc.