Accreditation: Past, Present And Guiding The Future

APR White Paper And Timeline Now Available

It’s early morning during the last full week of March, and it’s snowing outside…in Virginia! It’s a gentle snow, and undoubtedly one of winter’s last gasps before the full emergence of spring.  I know spring is right around the corner, because the crocuses are in bloom and the flowers always seem to know.

It’s a perfect time to reflect upon my career, where it’s taken me and how satisfied I’ve been with the journey.

It’s been more than 40 years since I started along my path, and I still love this work that I do. In that time the field of public relations has grown and flourished.

APR 50th Anniversary Logo Outlines

 

Yet in some ways, our field is still in its infancy. We struggle to emerge as a profession in the cla

ssic sense of the term. For example, there is no licensing authority. We are making progress, however.  We have built a credible research basis for the field and we engage clients—be they internal or external clients—as professionals. We also have professional organizations, each with their own codes of ethics to guide our practice.

The field also has a recognized credential program. It’s called Accredited in Public Relations. The APR. And, it’s celebrating its 50th anniversary this year. And, April is APR month. As the snow falls and the seasons are about to change, it seems an appropriate time to reflect on the credential and look forward to the promise it provides.

I’ve never been able to figure out why the APR has had such a hard time gaining traction. I’ve heard some feel it doesn’t measure what they do in the office. I’ve heard it takes too much time. I’ve heard people would rather get a master’s degree. APR measures why you do what you do. It measures what you should know in order to do what you do well. It takes as much time as you want it to take, and it is not a master’s degree. It is a credential that must be maintained, not point-in-time learning, but continual refinement, sharpening and adjustment of knowledge, skills, and abilities.

I better understand those who wonder what’s in it for them. What does a Readiness Review accomplish? How does a Computer-based Examination apply to my work? Why is maintenance required?

Today, the Universal Accreditation Board shares with you a White Paper and historical timeline of APR. These documents present an honest self-look at the evolution, management and state of the APR today and answer the questions I pose above. They arrive at an important time as PRSA, a UAB participating organization, examines the credential in light of the OPG study.  I encourage you to read this White Paper, the timeline and the OPG study. Think about these critical documents. And, act on them for the betterment of the field.

(Note: The original content can be found on PRSAY.)

Mitchell Marovitz is president-elect of the National Capital Chapter and a member of the Universal Accreditation Board.

 

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A Neat App to Help Us Act Ethically and Carry On!

PRSA Mobile App

September is ethics month at PRSA. Every September we are asked to think about what ethics means and to participate in activities designed to inform and educate us about PR issues in the field.

This is a good thing. We work in a field that is entrusted with developing and maintaining relationships between our organizations and their stakeholders. It is a sensitive position, bound by concepts of trust and responsibility to do the right thing. Relationships, after all, are based on trust, and trust, which is hard to earn in the first place, is too easily lost by unethical behavior.

Many of you know that I do not think once-a-year training in ethics is enough. In my experience, ethical issues don’t usually smack us in the face and announce their presence with a note to check out the ethics pages at PRSA. Rather, they build slowly over time. Little things that we let slide, or just don’t think about, eventually grow to become big things. And then they smack us!

To really deliver for our clients, leaders and managers, we need to be thinking about ethics all the time and weighing the impact of organizational decisions against our professional standards.  But who’s got the time? PRSA offers a variety of tools to help you. If you follow my quarterly musing on the PRSA-NCC blog, I’ve been taking you on a tour of the PRSA Code of Ethics.

This quarter, I’m going to take a little detour from my tour and introduce a neat little app that can help you keep ethics on your mind all the time.

The app, developed by PRSA, in partnership with MSLGROUP, has a distinctive “PRSA Ethics” icon that looks good on your mobile device and can serve as a daily reminder to “think ethics” every time you use your smartphone.

The home page (displayed above) welcomes you to a well designed and easy to navigate app that allows you to quickly (and painlessly) check up what our Code of Ethics has to say about a variety of situations.

A quick touch of the “Professional Values” button will provide you with insight into our values of advocacy, honesty, independence, loyalty and fairness, and “provisions of conduct,” such as being honest and accurate in all communications, revealing the sponsors of interests represented, safeguarding client confidences and avoiding conflicts of interest. Topics I discussed in my June blog.

The “Code Provisions” button provides insight into what I think is the real meat of our Code of Ethics. Here you find the core principles upon which our Code of Ethics is based: free flow of information, competition, disclosure of information, safeguarding confidences, conflicts of interest, and enhancing the profession.

You can also check into the PRSAY ethics blog, take an ethics quiz, look into the latest professional standards advisories, and send an email PRSA’s Board of Ethics and Professional Standards (BEPS), the committee responsible for developing recommending refinements to PRSA’s ethical standards.

PRSA Chair and CEO Mickey G. Nall, APR, Fellow PRSA, says,  “The app will give professionals at all levels, who are committed to upholding the principles of ethical communications, easy access to real-time guidance to know that what they’re doing is right and, if they face questions, the support they need to justify their counsel…”

This little app goes a long way to making ethics awareness an everyday activity. Please download it and take it for a spin. I hope you find it as easy to use and as valuable as I do.

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Mitch Marovitz is the Treasurer and Ethics Committee Chair for the Public Relations Society of America’s National Capital Chapter. Follow him on Twitter at @mitchmarovitz.

Okay, We’re All Busy. Is That Really a Good Excuse?

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In my April 9, 2013 blog, I spoke of how Mickey Kennedy, founder of eReleases, commended the field for its embrace of codes of ethics. What I hope didn’t get lost in his message is that he also suggests we actually use those codes in our work. Our own organization’s Code of Ethics is one of the most widely recognized in the industry. Our website’s ethics area is expansive and includes case studies, professional standards advisories and a rich resource area.

Kennedy suggests the vast majority of us are good, ethical professionals trying to help our bosses and clients tell their story. I agree. I think the vast majority of us are good people. However, as Alison Kenney recently blogged, there are shades of gray in the ethical lifestyle we lead as PR professionals.

The problem I’ve always had figuring out “ethics issues” is that I don’t always see the ethical dilemma until its almost too late. At that point, all I can say is, “I’m sorry,” which of course is never good enough. At what point am I supposed to say, “That’s it! That crosses the line!” How am I supposed to know I’m there? And, once I’m there how do I know what I am supposed to do about it?

What conditions existed that allowed Penn State to cover-up the Jerry Sandusky scandal for so long? How could leaders at the IRS not see the impact their operational decisions would have on public opinion about their organization?

Can the resources we have available to us at http://www.prsa.org/ethics (and other places) help us? Let’s start with our Code of Ethics. Have you looked at it lately? It’s not really all that long and boils nicely down to six concepts called our “Statement of Professional Values:”

  • Advocacy
  • Honesty
  • Expertise
  • Independence
  • Loyalty
  • Fairness

Six concepts that are easy enough to remember.

I’ve had many discussions over the years about the concepts of advocacy and loyalty. Don’t they contravene the other four points? In my mind, there is not an inherent conflict among these six values. We are charged not just with advocating on behalf of our organizations or just being loyal to them. Rather, our Code charges us to advocate in a responsible manner and to be “…faithful to those we represent, while honoring our obligation to serve the public interest.” The information we provide into the marketplace of ideas is supposed to be accurate and truthful and further public debate on the issues. And, sometimes, loyalty to our organization means admitting we can do a better job of serving the public interest. Look to the Coca-Cola Company’s recent campaign about their—and their competitor’s—efforts to introduce reduced calorie soft drinks in schools. The campaign has taken some hits for being disingenuous, but if you take a look at the likes and dislikes and the comments at the YouTube page where the commercial resides, I think you will conclude that the campaign is furthering honest debate on the issue.

While the “Statement of Professional Values” is important, it doesn’t really provide the kind of guidance that can help you recognize when an ethical issue is about to hit you. I think the real meat of the Code lies in the next section, the “Code Provisions of Conduct.” It is here that you find the core principles upon which the Code of Ethics is based. These principles are:

  • Free flow of information
  • Competition
  • Disclosure of information
  • Safeguarding confidences
  • Conflicts of interest
  • Enhancing the profession

I will be discussing these code provisions in upcoming blogs. Hopefully, we can discuss them in a way that helps us find a way to internalize them and use them as triggers that will better arm us to recognize ethical dilemmas before they become ethical issues.

 

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Mitch Marovitz is the Treasurer and Ethics Committee Chair for the Public Relations Society of America’s National Capital Chapter.

Why Do We Get Such Bad Press?

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I was reading an article by Mickie Kennedy, founder of eReleases, the other day. He wonders why we PR pros are often reluctant to tackle our own industry’s bad ethical reputation.

He speculates we earn this reputation due to our seemingly unending “…habit of spinning bad actions into a positive light…”

While the really bad decisions some of our so-called colleagues have made headlines, Kennedy says the real problems causing our bad reputation are the more common “…PR stunts such as pay-for-play television programming, where businesses pay to appear in news casts, blurring the line between editorial content (i.e. hard news) and advertisement.” Also hurting our reputation are “…anonymous internet postings where PR pros attempt to create fake word-of-mouth campaigns to promote products…[and]…’astroturfing,’ where corporations advance an agenda while trying to appear as if the effort were merely an astounding grassroots movement.”

If Kennedy has good news, it’s that he feels most of us are good people just trying to do our jobs. He says, “If the honest PR pros continue to uphold their ethics while denouncing PR pros that cross the line, then the industry can eventually shed its bad reputation.”

I agree. I’ve been in this business about 20 years, if you don’t include the time I spent in broadcasting. In all that time, I can count the number of people I wouldn’t do business with again on one hand.

Despite the reputation we carry as “just so much fluff” from some organizational middle managers, senior leader continue to hire us because they understand the vital role we play in the success of their organizations. These senior leaders understand we’ve got a tough job. We have to keep one foot in the organization and one foot with the organization’s stakeholders. Our bosses depend on us to know what’s going on inside and outside. And, they depend on us to give them good counsel.

Giving good counsel means tackling the tough problems, and tough problems often have an ethical component.

Kennedy commends the field for its embrace of codes of ethics and suggests we use them. I agree. Our own organization’s Code of Ethics is one of the most widely recognized in the industry. The PRSA website’s ethics area includes some great resources, including case studies, professional standards advisories and a rich resource area.

All of these resources are only as useful as we make them, of course. That means that in the heat of our busy days, we must recognize when we are facing an ethical situation, if we are ever to hope to resolve it. I think that’s the hardest thing to do of all and I’ll be talking about that in my next blog post.

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Mitch Marovitz is the Treasurer and Ethics Committee Chair for the Public Relations Society of America’s National Capital Chapter.