“Ethical practice is the most important obligation of a PRSA member.”
This statement can be found in the preamble of the PRSA Code of Ethics. As members of PRSSA, we hold ourselves accountable for the same ethical standards. We are to always work under the pretenses of advocacy, honesty, expertise, independence, loyalty and fairness. As students, we have discussed these concepts and applied them to hypothetical situations and case study discussions. Many of us may have found ourselves facing ethical dilemmas either in our Chapters, internships or classes. But for the most part, the application of ethics has remained in the hypothetical.
A New Definition of Ethics
The theme of this year’s Ethics Month, Ethics Every Day, asks us to think of new ways to incorporate ethics into our daily lives as aspiring public relations practitioners. There can be several interpretations of this, and I would like to offer mine: that of “proactive ethics.”
Instead of waiting for a dilemma to arise and cause reason for us to put our white hats on (any Scandal fans out there?), I want to talk about ways to act ethically in the absence of an immediate problem. If ethics means doing the right thing, it can mean doing the right thing when the right thing might not be necessary.
Ethics in Action
A great real-life example of this would be the practice of corporate social responsibility (CSR). Though CSR isn’t strictly ethics, there has been a trend of consumers demanding that corporations be more socially—and environmentally—conscious, and it’s not the type of demand that calls for an immediate crisis response. For example, Starbucks has engaged in many types of CSR, including hiring at risk youth and encouraging them in gaining education, and working hard to ensure that all of its’ resources are ethically sourced.
So how can PRSSA Chapters get experience with this type of “proactive ethics?” Forming a partnership with a local nonprofit that works to address community needs would be a great way to get experience with CSR and strategic partnerships.
For example, in Dayton, Ohio, where I attend school, there is a significant hunger problem. A way to proactively apply a version of corporate social responsibility, or what I call “proactive ethics,” as a Chapter would be to partner with a local food bank, soup kitchen or a similar nonprofit and work to form a long-term relationship. This could include volunteering regularly, holding food drives on campus or working to advocate for the hunger problem. Not only would this give members experience with CSR by helping their Chapter be a good social citizen but it would be a way to do what’s right without being asked to do so.
Lexie Digby is serving as Chapter president at the University of Dayton for the second term. She received her bachelor’s in communication in May and is now pursuing a master’s in communication. Connect with her on twitter @alexandriadigby.