Monday, January 28, 2013

Duality of Conscience and Credibility for the PR Pro

Public relations professionals who provide ethics counsel to senior management do so out of an understanding that they serve their organizations as well as the public interest. Advocacy of truth and honesty from within the organization should be among the primary functions of senior PR pros. A recent study takes a look at some how's and why's of this PR role as organizational conscience.

The study, "PR Professionals as Organizational Conscience," published in the Journal of Mass Media Ethics, was conducted by Marlene S. Neill, Ph.D., APR a lecturer in the department of journalism, public relations and new media in Baylor's College of Arts & Sciences and Dr. Minette Drumwright, an associate professor of advertising at the University of Texas at Austin. The authors conducted in-depth interviews with 30 senior PR practitioners from 10 states in the U.S. and Australia, who had an average of 27 years of experience.

Their findings indicate that being an effective PR practitioner and being able to provide ethics counsel work in tandem due to the similarities in skills and competencies required for each. In fact, PR professionals willingly embraced an ethics counsel role even it was not specifically outlined in their job descriptions. The authors note,
"Their duty to the public interest was not an option; it was a mandatory professional obligation, and they were at least as fervent about it as they were about their obligations to their organizations, perhaps even more so." [emphasis added]
This research points to the need for PR pros to view themselves as independent voices in senior management which can cause uncomfortable situations when the practitioner must ask critical questions and address sensitive topics. Essentially, a PR person cannot be a "yes" man/woman. Also, situational awareness (being counted on to identify, analyze, and articulate issues before they become problems) is an important talent to foster.

Another major aspect of the study was how their respondents avoided the "kill the messenger" predicament when they had to provide ethics counsel to senior management. From mock news conferences, the headline test, and offering ethical alternatives to actions and playing devil's advocate, the study responders found ways  to attempt to persuade leadership from taking undesirable steps.

I recommend PR pros take some time to review this study for these and other important themes that have an impact, both positively and negatively, on a PR pro's ability to serve as organizational conscience.

Additional Reading:
Photo credit: peskylibrary