After listening to Doug Newsom, grande dame of public relations, speak about the ethical situations in which a public relations professional can become mired, I was surprised to hear her tell of how she resigned a position because she was asked to do something unethical. And in her words, she had four children to support at the time. The show-and-tell of that kind of moxie is really needed so that those of us in the public relations profession understand that, where the stakes are high, resigning just might be the appropriate action.
Newsom delivered several powerful lessons from her 40 years’ experience at the Nov. 13 Greater Fort Worth/Dallas PRSA meeting. Chief among them:
1. Stand your ground. When dealing with senior execs, more than likely you’re dealing with strong opinions and strong personalities. You have expertise in your field – expertise that the CEO counts on hearing.
2. Understand the culture of the corporation. As Newsom pointed out, when it comes to communication, companies range from closed to open. Know where the company/client falls on that continuum, and decide if your personal values fit that culture. If not, you’ll likely encounter some conflicts when sensitive issues arise.
3. Adhere to an ethics model. She specifically discussed a utilitarian model, which supports decision-making of doing the greatest good for the greatest number, or a communitarian ethics model, which stresses morality in the community and being a good “corporate citizen.” She mentioned Mitch Land’s book, Contemporary Media Ethics, which I highly recommend. Land and co-editor Hornaday present multiple case studies of PR ethics problems, considering them from both perspectives, so the reader can see the difference in the two models.
Newsom also discussed two likely ethics dilemmas with the audience and then stuck around to answer questions.
Her message, so needed in today’s transparent world, was timeless and a good reminder to anyone in the communications business.