Ethics, The Law, and Research in PR

This week, I will touching the core of PR. I will talk about three very important topics just as the tittle mentions. Those three elements are very important for the PR practitioner.

The practice of public relations is all about earning credibility and it must be based on doing the right thing, or acting ethically. Credibility begins with telling the truth.

Ethical decisions are based on:

  • Our moral choices
  • Norms of society
  • Legal principles
  • Organizational values
  • Professional values
Ethics should be the great differentiation between public relations and other professions.Public relations practitioners must emulate the highest standards of personal and professional ethics. Public relations practitioners must always counsel their organizations and clients in an ethical direction.
When it comes to law, public relations counselors and lawyers should work together to achieve a client’s desired outcome. This is often the case but there is also a fundamental difference in legal versus public relations advice.
  • Lawyers correctly advise clients on what they must do, within the letter of legal requirements to defend themselves in a court of law.
  • Public relations practitioners, advise clients on not what they must do but what they should do to defend themselves in the court of public opinion.

In an article entitled “How to maintain your credibility during a PR crisis” we find the following advise:

So, what can you do to maintain your credibility during a PR crisis?

Public relations practitioners must be aware of situations involving libel and slander. Many public relations professionals create, write and edit internal print and online newsletters. In this context, they must be careful not to defame fellow employees or others in what they write. The same rule applies for public relations professionals who make statements to the media on behalf of their organizations.

Public relations advisers depend on “buy-in” from others in management. Lawyers are among the most influential of these associates, therefore, forming an alliance with legal counselors must be a front-line objective for public relations professionals.

Research is essentially the first step with the client. Every public relations program or solution should begin with research. This is because the PR professional should have “proof” that what they advise is based on logic and clear thinking.

A firm must acquire enough accurate, relevant data about its publics, products and programs to answer the following questions:

  • How does this knowledge relate to the design of our message?
  • How does it relate to the design of our programs?
  • How does it relate to the media we use to convey our messages?
  • How does it relate to the schedule we adopt in using our media?
  • How does it relate to the implementation tactics of our program?

There is different types of Public Relations Research, among the ones used by PR professionals are:

  1. Applied research: strategic or evaluative.
  2. Theoretical research: More abstract and conceptual than applied research.
  3. Secondary Research: Allows to examine or read about and learn from someone else’s primary research.

On another article, entitled, Importance of Research in Public Relations we find the following explanation on the importance of research in this field.

Public relations professionals often find themselves in the position of having to convince management to fund research, or to describe the importance of research as a crucial part of a departmental or project budget. Research is an essential part of public relations management. Here is a closer look at why scholars argued that conducting both formative and evaluative research is vital in modern public relations management:

  1. Research makes communication two-way by collecting information from publics rather than one-way, which is a simple dissemination of information. Research allows us to engage in dialogue with publics, understanding their beliefs and values, and working to build understanding on their part of the internal workings and policies of the organization. 
  2. Research makes public relations activities strategic by ensuring that communication is specifically targeted to publics who want, need, or care about the information.Ehling and Dozier (1992).
  3. Research allows us to show results, to measure impact, and to refocus our efforts based on those numbers.Dozier and Ehling (1992). 

My advise would be as well that, before recommending a course of action, public relations professionals must analyze audiences, assess alternatives and generally do their homework.

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