PR Professionals on Ethics

One of the classes I’m currently taking in my 2nd year Public Relations program is a course on Ethics of Communications, taught by Ange Frymire-Fleming. So far we’ve learned that nothing in ethics is black and white; as our class is fond of saying, “It’s all grey.”

As one of the final classes in Ethics, Ange arranged to have a panel of PR professionals come in and discuss ethics with us on Februray 22nd, 2011. We were fortunate enough to meet James Hoggan of Hoggan & Associates, Deborah Folka from DLF Communications and Don MacLachlan who is the Director of Public Affairs and Media Relations at SFU. It was amazing to talk to them and hear some of their tips and words of wisdom when dealing with, or encountering, ethical situations in PR.

One common point I heard from all three speakers was the fact that as you learn more and grow as a person, your opinions and ethics change, or shift. Your personal and professional ethics grow as your awareness changes or is heightened.

One thing that rang true that I heard Deborah say was along the lines of us living in such politically correct times that we seemed to have been robbed of the ability to joke without someone becoming offended. We worry so much about what we say that sometimes we simply don’t say anything! Her biggest piece of advice was that once you give your word to do something, do it. However, if it goes against everything you believe in be honest and if you still can’t avoid whatever it is…resign.

Don MacLachlan comes from an extensive journalism background, so some of his stances were a little different however it was excellent to hear because as PR people we may be required to deal with journalists frequently. His biggest piece of advice when dealing with media is to NEVER lie, but with that said you don’t need to tell the entire truth either. While in an interview with media Don said a common mistake of people is to give answers to questions that haven’t been asked, and give too much information away. So always be wary of answering questions that haven’t been asked. Additionally if you find the questions getting off topic, try and find a way to steer the questions and answers back to what you’d like to talk about, to serve your own agenda. Don also mentioned that the biggest mistake someone can make when in an interview with the media is to not actually consider the answer to the number one question you do NOT want asked. What is the question you would never want media to ask you…and how will you deal with it if it is asked? How can you answer this question without seeming to give anything away so you can steer the conversation back on topic? It was something I had never thought of before and really made me think!

James Hoggan was very interesting to talk to considering how influential he is in the PR world. His biggest piece of advice was to do the right thing, and to be seen doing the right thing. However you need to not get those two things confused and you have to make sure you do them in the right order. Another piece of advice was research, research, research. Learn ALL relevant information before you begin forming opinions or talking about something. We all know what it’s like to encounter someone who is actually wrong in what they’re saying…and in the PR world you really don’t want to fall into this trap. He said the biggest mistake of newbie to the PR world is that they don’t fully know their subject material! When dealing with huge issues like climate change and poverty, you can just go spouting information. You need to know the facts and the information to back your opinion/argument!

All in all it was a very interesting class! I learned some new things and had a chance to hear them from some very experience professionals!

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