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I wonder if Rosanna Fiske thought this one through.

While she makes some great arguments about the debacle involving Facebook and Burston-Marsteller, one section of her article really bothered me. She wrote:

One of the six core tenets of our code—only 14 of B-M’s 2,200 global employees are PRSA members and, as such, have agreed to abide by the code—is honesty. Specifically, PRSA members must “reveal the sponsors for causes and interests represented—for instance, a client whom the firm is operating on behalf for a specific campaign—and should “avoid deceptive practices.” Under the PRSA Code, B-M would be obligated to reveal its client and to disclose the client’s intentions, which appear to amount to an attack upon Google’s practices.


Interesting causal logic at play here.

Fiske not-so-tacitly suggests that PRSA membership is a predictor of better ethical behaviour. Even if it is, absent hard evidence to back up this dubious assertion, the article comes off as at least slightly self-serving and perhaps rather sanctimonious. It’s unfortunate because she makes a number of great points throughout the rest of the piece.

What do you think? Am I off base here? Do you believe that membership in organizations like the PRSA is a predictor of ethical behaviour?

Join the discussion 7 Comments

  • I thought that was a bit odd too, and you know how much work I do with PRSA & various chapters (as a speaker, they’re not a client), so I have a good relationship with them. It felt to me like they took the opportunity to ding BM a bit on their lack of membership. But you don’t have to be a member of PRSA (or IABC, or any other group, for that matter) to behave ethically.

  • Thanks Shonali. Totally agree. Seemed a bit misplaced to me.

  • My interpretation of the piece is different. PRSA members understand there is an ethical code that guides our professional practices. As members we annually “sign” and “agree to adhere” to that code when we pay/renew our dues.

    I commend PRSA for taking a stand on this issue and for doing so quickly. PRSA is committed to helping change the negative perceptions some have to our profession. It is only by working together to get the positive messages out that we can improve the image. The Code of Ethics has been a guiding principle for 50+ years. The Business Case for PR is another, newer, tool for everyone to use in telling the story. You can find it here:

    Increasing the number of PRSA members at “big agencies” has been a challenge for years but it’s also something staff and volunteer leadership are working hard on. If you know folks at B-M or other big agencies, maybe encourage them to join so we can all work together collaboratively.

    Speaking of membership…it would be wonderful if you would join us. You can apply online (and agree to adhere to the Code of Ethics) at I think you would find a tremendous network of committed professionals working together to improve the image of our profession.

  • Thanks Mary. My issue is not with the idea that the PRSA espouses ethical behaviour, rather with the suggestion that non-members are somehow less likely to behave properly.

  • I don’t think that is what’s implied though in this single paragraph that’s part of a much larger and longer post about the unethical behavior of Facebook and Burson’s public relations teams.

  • Arthur Yann says:

    Hi Jackson,

    Appreciate your raising this issue. Rosanna is not suggesting, as you infer, that “PRSA membership is a predictor of better ethical behaviour.” I’m not aware of data that would support that claim and, if such data existed, we’d certainly be talking about.

    Rather, you have to consider the greater context in which her statement was made. When ethical missteps in the public relations profession occur, PRSA is the body most called upon to “sanction,” “de-certify,” “black list” or [insert punishment here] the offending firms and individuals. But, PRSA has no legislative or regulatory authority to pursue recourse against anyone other than the 32,000 men and women who, in joining PRSA, pledge to abide by our code. That’s the point she was attempting to make.

    Arthur Yann is vice president of public relations for PRSA.

  • Thanks Arthur. Understand your point. There was much to like about Rosanna’s article, I just found the bit of poor communication that I cited rather off-putting.

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