Integrity in Public Relations For our Clients, the Media and the Profession

Jun 13, 2018

Recently, I heard someone speak about Integrity and the importance of having it in all aspects of your life. It might sound like a simple concept, but when someone, especially someone in a leadership or advisory role, doesn’t apply integrity in their life, there seems to be a great deal of fall-out. And let’s face it: it can be news-making in the worst conceivable way.

Integrity is “a firm adherence to a code of especially moral or ethical values; soundness of character; honesty or a state of being whole.” Another definition is a “concept of consistency of actions, values, methods, measures, principles, expectations, and outcomes.” I like to define it as always doing the right thing when nobody is looking.

I began thinking about how essential integrity is in business and certainly as a part of public relations. When we as PR people are responsible for building our clients brands and reputations, integrity is most certainly an important attribute. To support this belief, the Public Relations Society of America (PRSA) has developed a Code of Ethics as part of its commitment to integrity and expects its members to adhere to this Code.

There are many examples of how important integrity can be in public relations. Here are just a few examples of where I find integrity to be especially critical:

With our clients

It is our role as PR practitioners to advocate on behalf of our clients and advise them on what is in their best interests. Sometimes those interests contradict what we know to be right or perhaps goes against our own best business interests. This is where integrity is essential.

PR practitioners tend to be people pleasers. We want to make our clients happy. However, our clients engage us to provide more than just a service, they retain us as advisors who get results. Sometimes saying “No” and explaining why a client request is not in their best interest is part of our role.

With the media

I have heard two theories throughout my career. The first was “He who has the gold, makes the rules.” The other was, “Clients change. It’s your relationship with the media that you need to hold sacred.” I personally adhere to the second theory.

Don’t misunderstand, I truly value my clients; but they generally hire me because I can obtain coverage for them in the press. Honesty, providing accurate information, meeting deadlines, and pitching appropriate information to the press is the foundation for a great relationship with the media. What good am I to any client (present or future) if I have burned a bridge with one of the key healthcare editors at a tier one publication because I conducted myself unethically or if I have a reputation for supporting fake news?

Within our profession

Of course, we should treat each other with fairness, respect and pursue honest competition. Unfortunately, that is not always the case. As we seek to impress clients, build new business and grow profits, it is sometimes too easy to drift away from doing the right thing.

I could share multiple examples of backstabbing, bad-mouthing, and undermining colleagues that I have witnessed throughout my career. But more frequently, I get to see colleagues supporting each other, providing meaningful honest feedback, helping peers to grow and learn new skills, and working as a team towards success and to support our clients communications goals.

There is a truth in six degrees of separation. It is a big, wide world, but the PR community can be small, and reputations follow us. At the end of the day, all we have is our reputations which rely heavily on the integrity we exhibit consistently.

In the time that I have been with Amendola Communications, I have seen the highest levels of integrity demonstrated from management, to the account teams and with the administrative staff. Not only are my colleagues extremely knowledgeable and talented, but they consistently work in the best interests and to the highest standards for our clients, our media contacts, with each other, and the profession as a whole. I’m pleased to say that I work in an environment where complete integrity is one of the agency’s four key principles.

The trust of clients, colleagues, the public, the media and the wider community is fundamental in maintaining a positive reputation in the PR industry. The subject of integrity might not seem the most interesting of topics, but it’s often misunderstood and something that we could all give more thought to.

Linda Healan

For more than 20 years, Linda has provided strategic PR and marketing communications services to B2B national and multi-national clients in the technology, healthcare technology, real estate, travel & tourism, and professional service industries. In 1999, she established Healan PR following a successful career as an account and client services manager for several PR agencies. Notable clients included Craneware, ReachHealth, Oneview Healthcare, Flo Healthcare/Metro a division of Emerson and CenTrak, among others. Prior to entering the public relations field, Linda earned a bachelor's degree in Journalism/Public Relations from Georgia State University in 1993. She is a member of the Public Relations Society of America (PRSA) and active in the PRSA Georgia Chapter. She is also a member of the Technology Association of Georgia (TAG) and served on the public relations committees heading Georgia Technology Forum 1998 and 1999, and Georgia Technology Celebration in 2003.