The head of the public relations team for Status Labs Image Management drafted an ad to be sent out to hundreds of reporters and news bloggers asking them to include their client’s names in news stories online or in print. The ad asks reporters to mention Status Labs by including a “discussion of our clients in a natural, organic way”. The ad also includes a brief statement that mentions that they will pay the reporter who makes a quality story that mentions their client, Status Labs Image Management. This portion of the ad reads, “What we’re paying varies wildly depending on quality of the secured hit. We’ve paid up to a dollar per word for great placement. What payment structure would you be comfortable with?”
Bribing reporters and their news organizations to mention the client’s name is unethical. If this alert is released, the reporters may face negative consequences, and the client and public relations team might lose credibility and trust. The central ethical question is, “will we post this bribe for our clients?”
The values in conflict can be identified as loyalty to client vs. honesty and independence. PR and advertising professionals have a duty to their clients. Because of this, posting the alert will make the clients happy and help them gain recognition. Posting the alert also means that the PR firm will use dishonest methods to get their clients name out there.
The teleological theory examines the outcomes and consequences, the greatest good for the greatest number of people, and states that the ends do justify the means. Sending this alert to journalists could negatively impact their news organizations if they do choose to accept the bribe and name drop the client’s name. Journalists would be violating their SPJ code of ethics because they would not be transparent and independent in their reporting. Sending this alert would also harm the reputation of the public relations team. The public relies on journalists to provide an unbiased view of events, and the public might not be able to trust the reporters after the alert is sent out. This is because the journalists are accepting money from a PR team by dropping a company’s name (which the PR team represents). The only group that has the potential to benefit from the alert is Status Labs because they might gain more recognition. Sending the alert out would not benefit the majority of the groups involved, and the negative consequences outweigh the positives. The PRSA code of ethics mentions that a member should “preserve the free flow of unprejudiced information when giving or receiving gifts by ensuring that gifts are nominal, legal, and infrequent”In other words, the PR team would not be acting independently or honestly if it bribes journalists with the gift of money. Legally, the PR team is not breaking any rules, but ethically the team would be violating some of their of the codes of ethics such as honesty and independence.
The PRSA code of ethics also states that “We must maintain the integrity of our relationships with stakeholders, including the media, by ensuring stakeholders can readily discern between sponsored content, news reporting, and editorial content” The public might not realize the journalists were paid money to mention the client’s name and they may make uninformed decisions based off the stories and articles published. The stories published in mainstream news would be considered sponsored content, but the public may not be able to discern this. If the ad is sent out, the PR team is violating the value of honesty in the PRSA code of ethics. The PRSA code states that “We adhere to the highest standards of accuracy and truth in advancing the interests of those we represent and in communicating with the public”
By sending out the alert to journalists, the PR team is violating the PRSA code of ethics because they are paying for content which may confuse the public, may be viewed as editorial news rather than native advertising, and because they are not being truthful in their methodology of gaining recognition for their client. Even though PR professionals have a responsibility to their client, they also have a responsibility when it comes to communicating with the public. Resolution of case with supporting argumentsIn order to resolve the case and to answer the ethical question, the PR team should not send out the alert. If the PR team wanted to send out a revised version of the alert, they should reword the first portion of the press release and provide information that makes Status Labs newsworthy and prominent. An example would be statistical information regarding the reputations of Status Lab’s clients before and after hiring Status Labs.
The PR team should represent their client in ethical ways and should not use bribery to get their clients name out there. By sending out the report, they would be jeopardizing the reputations of all parties involved (the news organizations, the PR team, and the client) for a quick publicity stunt. They would be sponsoring content that the public might confuse with news. The PR team would be using dishonest methods in order to gain recognition for their client. They would also not be acting independently by utilizing the journalist’s power in order to have their clients name be including in a news report or editorial. By not sending out the alert, the PR team would be adhering to the value of honesty and independence.
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