Trust is the essence of public relations. If the public and the news media do not trust a public relations practitioner, public relations efforts will fail. Industry associations such as the Public Relations Society of America (PRSA) and the International Association of Business Communicators (IABC) have created and maintained codes of ethics as industry standards.
Values, Ethics and Moral Behavior
Codes of Ethics are based upon values. The PRSA Code of Ethics states fundamental public relations values are "advocacy, honesty, loyalty, professional development and objectivity structuring ethical practice and interaction with clients and the public."
Serve the employer or client by building and managing relationships that help achieve goals, but not at the expense of the public interest. Be honest, provide truthful and accurate information. Assist others in making the best possible informed choice by maintaining open communication. Protect confidential information and avoid conflicts of interest. Give credit and identify sources for work borrowed from others. Engage in communication that is "sensitive to cultural values and belief," urges the IABC Code of Ethics.
Fair Business Practices
Compete ethically against other professionals and companies using fair business practices. Act in the best interests of the employer, client and public. Disclose sponsors and gifts if representing those interests, and any financial stake in employers or clients. Respect others and their rights to privacy or confidentiality. Refuse work that violates ethical standards. Describe accurately what public relations can accomplish to clients and employers. Charge fair prices for work performed.
Overstating charges or compensation, non-disclosure of pay-for-play journalism or payment of expert commentators and anonymous Internet postings on behalf of clients are examples of unethical business practices, according to the PRSA Code of Ethics. Maintain transparency and report violations or illegal practices to appropriate authorities.
Learn about restrictions on public relations practices if working for government. Restrictions on expenditure of federal funds on agency communications include campaign financing. The “publicity or propaganda” prohibition incorporates puffery, purely partisan activities or covert propaganda, notes the Congressional Research Service Report: Restrictions on Executive Agency Activities.