Public relations practitioners, like advertising specialists, work closely with clients. Through these associations, legal and ethical decisions often arise as clients and publicists discuss information-gathering strategies. For example, the Securities and Exchange Commission monitors the way corporations report their financial affairs, scrutinizing information about stock offerings and financial balance sheets for accuracy and omission of important facts. Their objective is to ensure that investors and stock analysts can get accurate information about the companies that are offering securities.
Increasingly, legal and ethical standards are holding public relations practitioners, along with stockbrokers, lawyers and accountants responsible for the accuracy of information they communicate to the public. When public relations professionals find themselves on the losing side of an important ethical question with a client, it is not unusual for them to resign their positions as a matter of principle.
The Public Relations Society of America’s Code of Ethics emphasizes honesty and accountability, in addition to expertise, advocacy, fairness, independence and loyalty. The public relations code, like those for advertising and journalism, reflects the concerns of society as well as the practitioners who adopt the codes. Provisions of all the codes are designed, at least in part, to provide the public with reasons to have confidence in communicators’ integrity and in the messages they create. Of course, the codes are also there to help keep communicators out of court.
For example, a large multinational PR firm resigned its account with a major tire manufacturer just months after landing the account. The reason was that the tire manufacturer failed to disclose to the PR firm that it knew about defects in its tires that had caused a number of fatal accidents. The PR professionals decided they could not ethically represent the tire manufacturer to the public under such circumstances and ended their relationship with the company. The PR firm’s adherence to professional and organizational standards was more important than the income that would have been generated from the account with the tire manufacturer. (Miller)