Defining Ethics and Why They Matter

Posted by PRSA_MelissaMY on 03/19/2020 11:11 am  

By Melissa May, MA, APR

We all know that PR pros should serve as the ethical conscience of the organizations they serve. So having a clear definition of ethics is foundational to our success. 

Helio “Fred” Garcia, president of the crisis management firm Logos Consulting Group, has described ethics as “values in action.” This of course begs the question, what are values?  We can consider values as moral principles, beliefs or accepted standards that a person or social group has concerning right and wrong behavior. Values are the standards or ideals with which we evaluate actions, people, things, or situations.

While we may find the term hard to define, we know what “values” mean to us. Dozens of times over the years I’ve asked professionals and students: “What do you value?” Typically I’ve heard the words: family, friends, faith, health, education, kindness and honesty. Many of those same values are important in relationships with organizations: integrity, trust, accountability, honesty, humility, quality, teamwork.

When I taught in the PR graduate program at NYU, Fred Garcia was one of the colleagues I most respected. He would point out the many organizations “doing well by doing good.” An October 2017 Logos Consulting Blog post stated, “genuinely maintaining the ethical high ground provides opportunity for [an organization to have a] lasting and substantial competitive advantage.”

Many of our moral compasses are grounded in our family’s guidance or our faith. PRSA’s Code of Ethics serves as a constant reminder to “do the right thing.” But in truth, even people with high morals sometimes make unethical decisions, choosing to ignore possible ramifications. I’ve often advised employers and clients to consider this simple moral measuring stick before making decisions: would your grandparents, children or faith leader be proud of the action you took?

If you’re ever asked to “look the other way,” take a moment and think about how you’ll explain your decision to someone you love and respect. Will your conscience be clear? You and your organization will benefit from acting ethically. And while everyone will sleep better at night, you’ll be proud of the brand you’re building.