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We Walk the Line: Ethics, Brand Reputation, and the Value of Communications

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  • With the recent actions from 5WPR, there’s been an uproar in communication around a need for ethics standards in PR.
  • It’s imperative that PRos remain honest and loyal to brands and their customers all while self-regulating our ethics.
  • As the PR industry continues to grow, we as PRos need to learn how to shift our communication tactics to adapt while also remaining ethically compliment.
  • Tara Parsell is a OnePitch PRo contributing to The TypeBar monthly with how-to and feature pieces. See more of her articles on The TypeBar.

 

The PR Twitterverse exploded last week when actions by 5WPR Founder, Ron Torrosian, resulted in the need for ethics standards in the PR industry.

What happened? Last December, The Daily Beast reported that Torrosian was using a PR News site that he had secretly purchased to publish phony bylines to attack rival PR agencies. Known for his ‘aggressive’ PR tactics, Torrosian has long been connected with politicians including the Trumps, the current NYC Mayor and Girls Gone Wild creator Joe Francis. Following the backlash of the Daily Beast (and subsequent coverage), he resigned as CEO in March, but stayed on with the company as Chairman.

What happened last week? 5WPR posted a new job listing for a COO that would report directly to the Chairman, suggesting that Torrosian’s job change was a PR move more than an actual shift. Adding more fuel to the fire, a new lawsuit alleges his agency was not being honest to reporters about whom they were speaking to: “On occasion, reporters or others have called numbers for a purported MikdGeek spokesperson only to learn they were talking to a person of a different name who was employed by 5WPR.”

How does this affect me? Ethics in communications affects us all. Unlike other professions which have accredited bodies that will hold up standards and ethics in the industry, the communications industry can be the Wild West. While organizations like the Public Relations Society of America (PRSA) have an ethics code, they are not a governing body.

Situations in which communications professionals are engaging in egregious unethical behavior often make the industry as a whole look bad (in addition to how those practices are harming the parties involved).

Even without these major breaches of ethics, communicators can often face ethical issues. We navigate crisis and brand reputation issues in an ever-evolving landscape of communication mediums oftentimes while competing with other businesses. We walk the line of being loyal to a brand, while being honest with those that may be affected by the businesses that we support, and situations like the above example harm that credibility and our field as a whole.

What do I do? As communicators, the information we have is often vast. Yet, we must remember that with great power comes great responsibility. Understanding ethical behavior in our roles is vital. This example serves as a reminder to not lose ourselves as strategic professionals. As technology changes, we need to understand how our communication tactics evolve to meet the demands of the medium, while remaining ethically compliant. 

P.S. I would recommend checking out PRSA’s Code of Ethics for members as a thought-starter on why this matters, and what is important in this field. 

 

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Do you have a PR question you’d love to get answered by Tara? Send your question to info@onepitch.co for a chance to be featured and answered. Also, be sure to sign up for her newsletter, Media Pros(e), to get her unaltered thoughts and recommendations for navigating media relations in today’s world.

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Tara Parsell began her career working as an assistant on a national news desk – where she experienced first-hand what works (and what doesn’t) when pitching media. With more than a decade spent in PR agencies, spanning the fields of healthcare, entertainment, startups, food, etc., Tara focuses on building the story behind the brand. In 2021, she founded Media Pros(e), a bi-monthly newsletter dedicated to media relations strategy and coaching.

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