Below is a guest post from Vice President of Advocacy Janelle Huelsman.
In the most recent PRSSA blog post, Nick Lucido writes about a recent ethics scandal involving a public relations firm that allegedly used its interns to post positive reviews on the iTunes app store for its clients. As Nick mentions in the post, the practices described are called astroturfing and violate PRSA’s Code of Ethics. What the Techcrunch article did not address was how public relations professionals-in-training, like the firm’s interns, avoid and handle ethics problems. If you find yourself in an ethical dilemma at the workplace, remember the following:
Know the PRSA Code of Ethics — Consider the code your the encyclopedia of everything ethical in public relations. You should hold yourself and other professionals with whom you work to its standards, and if a colleague asks you to do something that violates the code, remember that it requires professionals to “Counsel subordinates in proper ethical decision making” and to “Require that subordinates adhere to the ethical requirements of the Code.”
Ask questions — Although it might be intimidating, an internship is the perfect time to question a task your supervisor has assigned you. If you don’t understand the assignment or think it might violate the PRSA Code of Ethics, you should let your colleagues know. You might have caught an honest mistake, or they might be able to explain how the task is in line with the code.
Counsel with a mentor — Feel uncomfortable questioning your boss? Ask another public relations professional you respect. Chances are he or she has been in a similar situation.
Remember that it is okay to say “no” — If you review the situation closely and still feel you have been asked to perform unethically, ask for a new assignment. Explain to your colleagues why you think the task is unethical and that you would not be able to complete it. Remember that internships are your first steps toward becoming a professional, and you should not jeopardize your reputation for anyone.
What other tips do you have for interns to learn about ethical behavior? Any tips on how to avoid these situations in the workplace?