By: Courtney Fogle (@courtnxyfogle


September is PRSA’s Ethics Month! In honor of this, Dr. Tim Penning was willing to sit down and chat about ethics in the PR profession on this episode of PR Hangover. He teaches an Advertising & Public Relations Ethics and Law class at GVSU, so he was able to give some amazing insights into the importance of ethics in the field.  To listen to this podcast, click here.

PRSA’s Ethical Code

We briefly spoke about the history of ethics from PRSA’s perspective. Here’s a link to the PRSA Code of Ethics. Advocacy, Honesty, Expertise, Independence, Loyalty, and Fairness are the Professional Values PRSA holds. The Provisions of Conduct are Free Flow of Information, Competition, Disclosure of Information, Safeguarding Confidences, Conflicts of Interest, and Enhancing the Profession.

Real-World Unethical Examples

I asked Dr. Penning to give some real world examples in which unethical PR decisions were made. He brought up the Volkswagen emission scandal and Wells Fargo’s unethical dilemma in which they produced fake accounts.

We also talked about a tweet from Papa John’s that addressed the public’s response to racist comments made by their former CEO. Was it ethical? Dr. Penning suggests that they made a bold choice by posting the negative comments from the public and giving their consumers a voice. However, some of the responses to this tweet were that Papa John’s still needed to make a change, that simply addressing the concerns was not enough. 

PR as a Management Tool

PR professionals are often looked at as the “ethical conscience” of an organization. In other words, they address issues and concerns with the C-Suite of executives and try to advocate positive ethics for the business as a whole. When this is done right, it can prevent many of the issues that come when an unethical decision is made. Advocating prior to an ethical issue will result in less backlash from the publics. The PR profession can sometimes be tainted or described in a negative way because of the unethical practices that get blamed on the profession as a whole, instead of the individual professionals who act unethically.

To hear more from Dr. Tim Penning on ethics in the public relations profession, listen to this episode of PR Hangover!



Courtney Fogle is a junior studying Advertising and Public Relations. She is currently the Podcast Director for PRSSA and an account associate at GrandPR. Courtney is a singer-songwriter, with hopes to combine her love of music and PR so that she can work in the music industry managing artists and their brands. In her free time, you can find her listening to music or taking pictures of her cat, Oliver.