April Five: Ethical Decision Making

When you reach a fork in the road, will you know which road to take?

When you reach a fork in the road, will you know which road to take?


It’s hard to believe my college career is almost over! I have been taking my last required course this semester, which is Ethics, Law and Diversity in Strategic Communication, the inspiration behind many of my blog posts this year. Although this class is my last required course, it’s definitely not the least. Although it’s important to be experienced and educated on topics in public relations to have a successful career, ethics is the only facet of any industry that can make or break a career in a matter of seconds. This class has taught me lifelong methods for making ethical decisions and has equipped me with resources I know will refer to many years from now.

Here are five resources and decision-making tools that I have used in-depth this semester:

1. LEAP is a decision-making model that I learned at the beginning of the semester that I plan to keep handy as I “LEAP” into my first job. This is a great model to use for any decision, as it is thorough and asks a few really great questions.

L- Learn everything you can

  • What are the key facts and data?
  • What outcome is important?
  • Which laws/policies/codes apply? (Always keep the PRSA Code of Ethics handy)
  • What raises an ethical red flag?
  • Who are the stakeholders?

E- Evaluate your options

  • Level 1: If all stakeholders agree, move ahead
  • Level 2: When it’ s not that simple…
  • Consult a mentor for a fresh perspective
  • Identify key consequences

A-  Access your intuition

  • Can you sleep at night knowing you made a certain decision?
  • What would your mother think about said decision?
  • As my professor says, “how would you feel if your decisions today were tomorrow’s headlines?”

P- Put your decision into action

  • Time to act
  • Evaluate

2. The Potter Box is a decision-making tool created by Harvard’s Ralph Potter that helps break down an ethical dilemma into a definition, list of values, principles and loyalties that help the user make a final decision. This model is useful in seeing the bigger picture when making important choices that will have consequences, good or bad.

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  • Definition: What took place?
  • Values: What values come into play in each decision you could take? (Values can be professional, logical, moral, sociocultural or religious).
  • Principles: What moral principle is applicable to this situation?
  • Loyalties: How will your decision affect those who you are loyal to?

3. The PRSA Code of Ethics has basically been my Bible throughout this course. Even before taking this ethics class I have used the PRSA Code of Ethics at PRSSA conferences and events, but I know this will always be a helpful tool and reminder of the important values each professional should exercise

4. Case Studies- How can we ensure the past wont repeat itself if we don’t know the history of ethics in public relations and advertising? I enjoyed participating in four case studies this semester that helped me understand applied ethics on a deeper level and examine how an understanding of ethics can help professionals avoid major consequences. More importantly, conducting ethical business is much more rewarding and beneficial for the industry, the company and the community. Several case study projects I participated in include SeaWorld’s response to Blackfish, Dolce and Gabbana’s “fantasy rape” ad campaign and BP’s crisis management in the destructive oil spill. I hope to continue paying attention as case studies play out so I know how to handle my own if the time comes.

5. Lastly, I’ve been learning how a network of reliable professionals can be important throughout my career. The longer I’ve had internships, the more I know how easy it is to stumble into potential ethics blunders. As a new professional it’s so important to have mentors who have been in the field longer than I have so I they can guide me along the way and help me spot potential crises. It doesn’t matter how old or experienced you are—there’s always more to learn.

I look forward to a lifelong journey of learning, experiencing and blazing trails. Graduation is only the beginning!

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