Silicon Valley Watcher - Former FT journalist Tom Foremski reporting from the intersection of technology and media

The Ethics Of Spin - PR Pros Score High On First Ever Tests

Posted by Tom Foremski - August 13, 2009

This is a touchy subject: the ethics of public relations professionals.

It's touchy because PR people are often representing clients, or pushing stories that they don't like, don't believe in, and are just going through the motions. And that doesn't feel good, it doesn't feel clean, but is it unethical?

According to Bulldog Reporter, researchers ran PR professionals through a standardized ethics test for the first time. And the results were excellent. They showed "similarity to other professionals with comparable levels of education such as journalists, nurses and dental students."

One of the researchers said, "It turns out that public relations professionals are good ethical thinkers."

They did better than: Orthopedic surgeons, business professionals, accounting students and veterinary students.

The top group on the test: Philosophers and seminarians.

I like this one: the lowest scoring group - Junior high school students who scored below prison inmates.

You can read more here: Bulldog Reporter Study: PR Pros are Unjustly Perceived as Liars--Scoring Higher in Ethics than Surgeons and Accountants

Foremski's Take: Interesting results but I think if every group were tested according to scenarios related to their profession, we might get different results. But then that would not be a standardized test and therefore we wouldn't be able to have a scientific comparison.

The tests show PR pros are "good ethical thinkers." So that's what the tests are testing for. Groups with similar education, living in the same society, would be expected to score similarly -- each would know what is acceptable and what is not. But the tests don't reveal behavior.

Do you act ethically at all times? Are you often challenged ethically in your profession? Those are the the questions I'd like to see. I'm not picking on PR professionals, I'd love to see what each profession has to say. I bet it would be a lot different than testing for "ethical thinking."

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