Ethical dilemmas faced in public relations

Every day, public relations practitioners face ethical dilemmas from their clients, the media and/or coworkers. Knowing how to handle these ethical issues with poise and grace elevates a PR practitioner’s professionalism and expertise. In my area of interest, media relations, the ability to quickly identify and solve ethical issues is vital to succeed in public relations.

Got ethics ?

Understanding ethical guidelines is very important in public relations


In media relations, a public relations professional works with media outlets to inform the public about an organization’s mission, policies and practices. However, a media relations specialist also handles his or her client’s crisis communication by erasing any negativity surrounding the client through mass media. An example of this may occur if the client deceived the public about his or her organization or product, and the PR specialist must now work with the media to improve his or her client’s image.

Deception may also occur when a reporter uses undercover tactics to reveal personal or corporate information. A reporter should only use deception if there is no other alternative to getting the information, no innocent people are put at risk and the information has overriding public importance (Rich, 310).


In media relations, public relations professionals may be tempted to give news outlets gifts to ensure their client’s stories are printed or broadcasted. Likewise, media outlets may also give a PR professional gifts to ensure that he or she will exclusively bring stories to that particular station or publication before others. According to PRSA ethics code, gifting is unethical because “we must not allow coverage to be bought or influenced by favors” (Bowles, 155).


PR professionals should not participate in gift exchanges with clients and/or media to avoid unethical practices

Conflicts of Interest

It is important that a PR practitioner does not have conflicting viewpoints or opinions with the organization he or she represents. Conflicts of interest can affect the quality of work produced by the PR professional. For example, if a media relations specialist has liberal political views and works for a conservative politician, he or she may not promote his or her client’s campaigns to decrease that politician’s success (Bowles, 157).