Developing an Ethical Profession

In efforts to unify the profession, create standards of ethical behavior and reasoning, and to support trust from society and clients in the profession itself, public relations associations and codes of conduct have been developed. Associations like the Public Relations Society of America, the International Public Relations Association, and many others have developed standards of practice for those in membership. In addition, codes of conduct have been created to help guide professionals in the process of ethical behavior and practice. As mentioned previously, it has been argued that the profession may be reaching a point where a universal code of ethics could be adopted.

While associations and codes of ethics have provided a strong foundation toward helping the profession, there are limits to these efforts. For example, public relations is not an industry that is regulated by any group. In other words, a person may practice public relations without joining any of the professional associations or agreeing to abide by any code of ethics. In addition, even among those who do join the associations or sign on to codes of conduct, there is very little consequence when ethical behavior contradicts the association’s standards or code of conduct. There is no revoking of privileges that would prohibit continued practice in the profession, like there may be in the medical or legal profession.

Despite these limitations, associations and codes of conducts provide valuable education for professionals who are committed to the profession and ethical behavior. In addition, these associations are incredibly valuable in helping society understand what the practice of public relations should be and how it should function in ethically ambiguous situations. As we continue to grow as a profession, we may see continued emphasis on a universal code of conduct or ethical standards that ought to apply to all professionals in public relations.

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