In Defense of PR

Vladimir Putin’s op-ed in The New York Times on Thursday spurred plenty of commentary and response. One thread is questioning the potential ethics of such an article and the PR firm representing Putin is taking some of the fallout. Who actually wrote it? How much is Putin getting paid? Why would The New York Times publish lies? Aren’t they “aiding and abetting a long-term foe of the United States?”

There are several articles that review the facts of the Putin op-ed and I would encourage you to review them to form your own opinion.

The issue, however, has me harking back to a communications ethics class in college and remembering the basic premise for why you sometimes will represent clients in PR that you don’t agree with: We live in an adversarial society. Think of the justice system. Everyone has the right to an advocate. Defense lawyers help alleged criminals put forth their best effort to tell their side of the story. Similarly, shouldn’t every organization be able to receive counsel to help them present themselves in the best light? In a society with freedom of speech where anyone can share beliefs and information based in fact without fear of retribution, shouldn’t everyone have the opportunity for help in putting forth their own best information?

With those ideas in mind, there are certainly some lines to be drawn. Namely, the shared information must be truthful and advice to clients should be objective and expert. Here is a quick refresher on the Code of Ethics for PR professionals as outlined by the Public Relations Society of America (PRSA):


We serve the public interest by acting as responsible advocates for those we represent. We provide a voice in the marketplace of ideas, facts, and viewpoints to aid informed public debate.


We adhere to the highest standards of accuracy and truth in advancing the interests of those we represent and in communicating with the public.


We acquire and responsibly use specialized knowledge and experience. We advance the profession through continued professional development, research and education. We build mutual understanding, credibility and relationships among a wide array of institutions and audiences.


We provide objective counsel to those we represent. We are accountable for our actions.


We are faithful to those we represent, while honoring our obligation to serve the public interest.


We deal fairly with clients, employers, competitors, peers, vendors, the media and the general public. We respect all opinions and support the right of free expression.

Have you ever felt your ethics being compromised? Perhaps your client doesn’t respond to your advice on what is opinion vs. what is truthful. Where do you draw the line? How do you resolve the issue?