PRSA Ethics Minute – June 2016

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June 7, 2016

PRSA has convenient resources to help members ensure they’re following the PRSA Code of Ethics while on the go. One of these resources is the PRSA Ethics Mobile App, which provides you with the Code of Ethics in an easy reference form that can be used as part of your daily practice. Other features of the app include an ethics quiz; ethics-related blog posts and access to PRSA’s Board of Ethics and Professional Standards.

We encourage you to download the app and take the quiz. As part of our ongoing Ethics on The Go challenge, which you can find on the PRSA Nebraska website, by doing this you could win a gift card for following these simple steps to get acquainted with the app.

Congratulations to our latest winners of the Ethics on the Go Challenge who are: Kathy Broniecki and Shannon Stawniak! We will get your gift cards to you this week, so enjoy some coffee on us!

Another great resource you can find on the app to help refresh your Code of Ethics knowledge are many published Ethics Case Studies.

Today, I am going to highlight one of these Case Studies on one of the ethical use of interns. You can read the full study on or the mobile app.

An increasing issue in our industry is unpaid internships and the ethical implications regarding PR internships as employers value work experience when hiring and job candidates who wish to be competitive willingly accept unpaid positions to gain work experience. With this issue, at least three Code provisions – disclosure of information, free flow of information, and enhancing the profession; along with four professional values – honesty, expertise, advocacy and fairness; are related to this issue. To help you understand this issue, two examples of improper practices include:

  • You are a sole practitioner and have five clients. You contacted a local university’s public relations department and agreed to hire two interns over the summer. While the internships are unpaid, the student will get credit. You charge the clients for the work these interns do.
  • A for-profit company hires unpaid interns to help them get college credit for their graduation requirement. The interns perform work generally done by employees. In lieu of payment, the students receive “opportunities and connections” as compensation.

To ensure we’re following the PRSA Code of Ethics, recommended best practices for unpaid internships are to ensure:

  1. The internship complies with federal and state requirements.
  2. All internships are paid if “real” billable work is accomplished.
  3. If an internship is unpaid, it meets all Department of Labor guidelines.
  4. The ingredients of a successful intern experience are built into the process from the start, which includes:
    • The work is an integral part of the student’s course of study.
    • The student receives experience relevant to a career in PR
    • The student prepares a report of his or her experiences and submits it a faculty supervisor.
    • The intern is supervised by a knowledgeable staff member who provides a productive learning experience.

If you’d like to read the full case study, along with a short discussion guide, the Ethical Use of Interns case study can be found on the website under the Ethics session.

PRSA Nebraska Ethics Minute – April 2016

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The PRSA Nebraska chapter places a high emphasis on assisting all members in increasing your knowledge of the PRSA Code of Ethics through our Monthly Luncheons and other programming.

As you may know, the PRSA Code of Ethics defines how PRSA members carry out our ethical responsibilities through professional values and code provisions.

To help you gain familiarity and professional application of the Code of Ethics, we are challenging all members to the Ethics on the Go Challenge.

This quick challenge is aimed at helping members and nonmembers, learn or brush up on the Code of Ethics in an easy and convenient way by downloading and using the PRSA Ethics App.

For the challenge, you’ll:

  1. Download the PRSA Ethics app in Apple’s App Store or the Google Android Market(1 entry)
  2. Review the Professional Values and Code Provisions.
  3. Take The Ethics Quiz, which is 10 questions. (1 entry)
  4. For a bonus entry (+1 entry), when sending confirmation of the other items, let us know what PRSA Code of Ethics questions you have or any Professional Values or Code Provisions you’d like to see covered at future Luncheons.
  5. Once completed, you’ll send an email to confirming that you downloaded the app and your score on the Ethics Quiz to be entered in the monthly drawing for a gift card. Please note that your score on the Ethics Quiz does not matter when entering the challenge.

Our first winner of the Ethics on the Go challenge is Magdalena Axtell, field marketing manager, J. Herzog & Sons, Inc. – Nebraska Dining – Noodles & Company, who earned herself a gift card to Starbucks!

Congratulations Magdalena!

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PRSA Nebraska Ethics Minute – March 1, 2016

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PRSA Ethics Challenge

PRSA Nebraska Ethics Minute – February 2016

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PRSA has convenient resources to help members ensure they’re following the PRSA Code of Ethics while on the go. One of these resources is the PRSA Ethics Mobile App, which provides you with the PRSA Code of Ethics in an easy reference form that can be used as part of your daily practice.

Other features of the PRSA Ethics app include a communications ethics quiz; an RSS feed for PRSA ethics-related blog posts and email access to PRSA’s Board of Ethics and Professional Standards.

Another great resource you can find on the app to help refresh your Code of Ethics knowledge are many published Professional Standards Advisories also known as Ethical Standard Advisories, which are timely guidance on emerging ethics issues.

I am going to briefly touch on one of the advisories related to disclosure and transparency in native advertising and sponsored content. You can read more about this Ethical Standards Advisory on or the mobile app.

An increasing issue in our industry is the blurring of lines between editorial/news content and advertising/promotional messaging, which potentially threatens the ability of consumers to develop informed opinions and to make rational decisions. With this, it’s critical that a clear distinction between editorial content and sponsored content be apparent to the consumer.

When posting content, the sponsor of the content should always be clearly identified. However, in some instances, sponsorship is hidden or left off altogether.

At least five Code provisions – disclosure of information, free flow of information, competition, conflicts of interest and enhancing the profession; along with three professional values – honesty, advocacy and fairness; are related to this issue.

The range of improper practices includes:

  • Failure to clearly identify the source or sponsorship of content or advertising.
  • Blending sponsored content or advertising into editorial, news, or entertainment content so as to obscure the identification of the paid or in-kind transactional relationship between the media outlet and a brand/organization.
  • Hiding disclosures in small font size.
  • Intentionally displaying disclosure information at the end of the document or conclusion of the story.

To ensure we’re following the PRSA Code of Ethics, recommended best practices for use of sponsored content are:

  1. Public relations professionals must work to ensure that the sponsorship of news, blog posts, and other social media platforms for advertising is fully disclosed within the context of the content and made consistently clear to readers/viewers/users.
  2. Such disclosures should be clear and appropriate to the medium.
  3. Clear disclosure throughout a paid placement facilitates transparency and is strongly recommended.
  4. In social media, sponsored content should be made transparent within the requirements of the platform.
  5. Public relations professionals can take advantage of the opportunity to promote their client and support media partners through sponsored content advertising while preserving, protecting, and enhancing the media partners’ objectivity and credibility. By clearly and readily disclosing sponsorship to the audience/consumer public relations professionals provide a beneficial service for both their clients and the resources being used.

Why Quality PR Promotes Ethics and Addresses Concerns

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PR News recently reported its five most-read stories from December. Third on the list was an article titled “5 of the worst PR scandals of 2014.”

Matthew Schwartz
@mpsjourno1 wrote that the “year had a robust number of meltdowns, PR debacles and downright embarrassing episodes among some of the globe’s most recognizable brands.”

Unlike our December showcase of amazing public relations at #PRSAGala this list is loaded with crisis communication and missed PR opportunities.

The Sony hacking story featured more of a journalism ethics problem in reporting email contents, as the media company was unable to frame the news from a privacy perspective.  The Ray Rice scandal is mostly a tale about viral video and domestic abuse.  There is no doubt that no amount of PR will overcome real issues facing the NFL.

When Microsoft’s CEO failed to recognize the tech industry has a problem with women and pay, PR came to the rescue with a well-timed backpedal and apology.

GM’s delayed recalls linked to at least 13 deaths turns out to be partially explained by failure of managerial and organizational communication.  No amount of PR can solve a cover-up.

Rounding out the PR News list is the Donald Sterling “fiasco.”  We talked about this at the professional development conference last year.  A surreptitious audio recording leaked to TMZ and an inability to align comments with 21st Century norms spelled doom for the former NBA L.A. Clippers owner.  Again, this story demonstrated more about what not to do.

On the other hand, PRSA remains one of the strongest professional advocates for how to help clients and remain true to ethical principles.  Unfortunately, our industry has a long way to go to overcome its own negative PR about public relations practices.  Our best hope is to remain focused on doing the daily work that produces positive results, informs stakeholders, influences public opinion and even wins awards.

PRSA Nebraska Ethics Minute, August 2014 – Twitter Is No Place For An Argument

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Actor Jason Biggs – best known for roles in American Pie and Orange Is the New Black (also the voice of Leonardo in Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles) demonstrated an important lesson recently on Twitter.

After a jet was reported down in the Ukraine in mid-July, he tweeted: “Anyone wanna buy my Malaysian Airlines frequent flier miles?”


Obviously, this was no time for a bad joke re-tweeted nearly 500 times, and his Twitter followers told him in explicit terms. Beyond the profanity, one responded with this question: “You’d laugh if your kids died in a plane crash?”

Biggs compounded the problem by calling people “losers” for being angry, and then matched their profanity. In a final part of his public relations nightmare, Biggs wrote: “You don’t have to think it’s funny, or even be on my twitter page at all.”

Hours later, as news reported that the plane had been shot down, Biggs finally apologized in four tweets:

“1). Hey all- ok, so- I am deleting my previous tweets. People were offended, and that was not my intent. Sorry to those of you that were”

“2). This is obviously a horrible tragedy, and everyone-including myself- is sad and angry about it. Sending positive thoughts to the”

“3). victims and their families. P.S. No one is making me send these tweets- I simply understand that my comments might have come off”

“4). as insensitive and ill-timed. For that, I apologize.” (

The apology was re-tweeted more than 150 times, and was favored  about the same number as the original tweet. Biggs has had a low profile ever since, with only two more tweets in July. It’s a far cry from his more than 5,000 previous tweets to more than 467,000 followers.

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