A Resolution We Shouldn’t Have To Make

“Many people perceive public relations as something less than respectable – as clever strategies to convince the public that what’s wrong is right. Some see public relations professionals as manipulators of the public mind, rather than conveyors of the truth.” – Steven R. Van Hook, PhD

In the new year, many of us have made resolutions for 2014.  As communicators, we are well-versed in providing brand and image guidance to our clients and striving to do our best for them. But what are we to do about the perception of ourselves and our industry? Too often, we are referred to as "spin doctors," responsible for the overt deceit of the publics we should be serving. How did this happen, and how do we combat it?

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For one thing, this perception of communicators simply isn't true. A recent study by Lee Wilkins and Renita Coleman, of the University of Missouri School of Journalism and the University of Texas-Austin School of Journalism, respectively, in the Journal of Public Relations Research found public relations professionals to be among the most ethical groups of business professionals ever subjected to a standardized test of moral development. Using the "Defining Issues Test," which has been administered to more than 30,000 professionals in various walks of life, Wilkins and Coleman found that PR professionals ranked seventh-highest in ethical and moral development among relevant professionals. Their findings probably didn't come as a surprise to those in the industry. The Public Relations Society of America Member Code of Ethics is available online and constantly ready for consultation. As a field that prides itself on being on the cutting edge of trends, we know that ignorance is not an excuse for inappropriate behavior. Of course, we are fortunate enough to work with people who share our passion for transparency and integrity. However, it never hurts to sit down with your coworkers and clients to discuss your ethical expectations. Let them know the rules you follow and are governed by and what you do and do not consider appropriate behavior. 2014 could be the year that we banish "spin doctors" and "hucksters" from the collective lexicon when our profession is mentioned. After all, isn't advocacy one of our areas of expertise?

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