Mind the Gap

“Mind the Gap,” it’s a common phrase for those on the northbound platform at the Embankment underground station. The recorded voice reminds London travelers to carefully cross the space between the train and the passenger platform.  The message “mind the gap,” repeats as the train slows for passengers to embark or disembark at the station. No other words of wisdom follow. The message offers no advice on how to cross the gap. It simply alerts travelers to its presence, to “mind the gap.”

Public relations professionals are also being urged to “mind the gap” due to ethical organizational scandal. Practitioners have encouraged other professionals to reread PRSA’s code of ethics and consider its application, to create a chief ethics officer position in their organization, and to promote ethical behavior. In fact, “Mind the Gap” was the 2015 PRINZ conference theme that encouraged attendees to be aware of, eliminate, or minimize any gaps between clients and organizations in issues of transparency, trust and leadership. In her conference keynote address, Dr. Elspeth Tilley offered a similar message for public relations professionals, highlighting the need for ethics integration throughout the public relations process.

Each of these initiatives offer important advice and insight into the practice of ethics in public relations; however, they assume that public relations professionals recognize that an ethical gap exists. The London “mind the gap” message makes no assumption and neither should the public relations profession. Before practitioners can avoid the gap or close the gap, they must recognize the presence of an ethical gap. In an interview with the sports public relations director in the opening scenario, the sports public relations director did not consider the ethical dimension of his action. He did not “mind the gap,” because he did not recognize that a gap existed. He is not alone.

Many public relations professionals do not recognize an ethics gap in their personal practice; yet, they recognize the presence of an ethical gap in the behavior of others. According to a survey by Princeton Survey Research Associated International, 96 percent of Americans say it is important for companies to ensure employees behave ethically, but only 10 percent have confidence that major organizations will do what is right.  In fact, only 7 percent of Americans think top-ranking organizational leaders are highly ethical. Clearly, the public identifies an ethical gap in their expectation of ethical action and in their confidence that ethical action will occur. But before considering the ethical gap collectively, let us develop a personal ethical literacy by first “minding the gap” from an individual perspective.

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