PR standards are a moving target, accelerating at the speed of innovation

This is number 3 of an 8 part series of observations following a study of  ethical, moral and codified guidance provided by a variety of respected Public Relations Associations from the United States, Europe and the Middle East.

As observed in an earlier post, each of the organizations studied have attempted to implement their own individual ‘glass slipper’ code. However, in recent years it is clear that some associations have identified a need for more specific guidelines to cover practices such as: public affairs (Code of Brussels, IPRA 2009); financial communications (Principles of good practice for handling inside information); social media (CIPR Social Media Best Practice Guide, 2011); measurement/evaluation (Barcelona Declaration of Measurement Principles, 2010) and healthcare (Professional Charter, PRCA 2011).

It is significantly faster and easier to identify new ways of exploiting a loop-hole, than to gain the consensus required to plug it.

New technology, changes in national government structures (fuelled by the Arab spring for example) and the current era of austerity, is arguably placing public relations at the forefront of corporate strategy as never before. This would place practitioners under greater pressure and potentially to tread the line of what is morally acceptable and maybe even to test the legislative system itself.

Fortunately some organizations such as International PR Association and Public Relations Consultants Association for example, have undertaken a series of exercises producing new codes.

IPRA has recently developed and updated three major Codes governing its members – Athens (IPRA, 2009), Venice (IPRA, 2009) and Brussels (IPRA, 2009), whilst the PRCA has developed a specific charter for Healthcare and Public Affairs practitioners within its Charter (Professional Charter, 2011).

However, in 2011 IPRA (IPRA, 2011) has revised and published a new, consolidated code, which reflects the majority of the themes and articles in the three individual commitments. This has made a more accessible and succinct Code especially as a number of clauses were repeated verbatim throughout each of the earlier documents and were possibly ‘confusing’ (IPRA Code of Conduct: Frequently Asked Questions, 2011).

Many of the associations have also attempted to produce new documents (see ‘Guidelines For Specific Industries or PR Tactics’ below) tailored at new disciplines or to counter aggressive use of traditional communications tactics  (Media Spamming Charter) (Barcelona Declaration of Measurement Principles, 2010). However, these are not positioned as obligatory codes of conduct, but rather optional guidelines and additional support to the central Code.

(i)                Guidelines For Specific Industries or PR Tactics

  • Charter on Media Transparency (International PR Association – IPRA)
  • Barcelona Declaration of Research Principles (Institute for Public Relations, Global Alliance, ICCO, PRSA, AMEC U.S. & Agency Leaders Chapter, 2010)
  • Advice for financial professionals / those holding confidential information (Public Relations Consultants Association – PRCA)
  • Media Spamming Charter (Public Relations Consultants Association – PRCA, CIPR, IRS & NUJ)
  • Social Media Best Practice Guide (Chartered Institute for Public Relations – CIPR, 2011)

It is observed that the decision of these associations to issue non-binding guidelines instead of adapting the Code of Conduct is a reflection that to do so, would require significant time and contributions from their membership in research and obtaining consensus.

Issuing optional guidelines is a band-aid fix to help provide some protection to their Members, but greater investment and research is required if the credibility and reputation of the industry is to be defended in the long-term.

One organization which may have a significant contribution to make in this regards is the Arthur W. Page Center which will award grants to support scholars and professionals making important contributions to knowledge, practice or public understanding of ethics and responsibility in public communication or other principles of Arthur W. Page.  Most recently, a Professor at the Pennsylvania State University launched a study on the use of Wikipedia, which was widely supported by associations such as the IABC and MEPRA. The results were published earlier and are reported on this site.

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About stephenking2012

In 2012 I volunteered to hold the position of Chair - Standards & Ethics Committee for the Middle East PR Association (@MEPRA_org). I have set up this account to assist in this effort. You may also like to follow my Blog or connect with me on LinkedIn. In any case, please do visit, and if you are not yet a member, please do sign up!
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