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.

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