Tag Archives: profession

Ethics and PR, the endless debate


Ethics in PR has always been one of the main issues discussed among the profession. If we go back to the origins of public relations, it is clear that the profession wasn’t the most ethical one. Edward Bernays, the father of public relations, was in favour of manipulating society and public opinions and he helped creating opinion-shaping methods.

As public relations grew as a profession and a real industry, authors and scholars never stopped questionning the ethical dimension of PR practices. In fact, as a PR student myself, that was the topic of our first essay this year, and 2000 words are not enough to cover the subject, but it’s a beginning.

The dominant paradigm in Public Relations today is Grunig and Hunt’s four models that are as follow :

Model Name Type of communication Characteristics
Press agent/Publicity One-way communication Uses persuasion and manipulation to influence audiences to behave as the organisation desires
Public Information Model One-way communication Uses press releases and other one-way comm techniques to distribute organisational information. The PR practitioner is often reffered as the in-house journalist.
Two-way asymmetrical model Two-way communication (imbalanced) Uses persuasion and manipulation to influence audiences to behave as the organisation desires. Does not use research to find out how stakeholders feel about the organisation.
Two-way symmetrical model Two-way communication Uses communication to negotiate with the public, resolve conflict and promote mutual understanding and respect between the organisation and its stakeholders.

However, the ethical dimension of each of these models can be discussed and questionned. Is there a better way to do PR ? Can PR practices ever be ethical ? Many people think that PR, just as advertising or marketing, is just manipulation, propaganda, a way for organisations to shape the public opinion.  It is true that in-house PR teams are here to help their organisations convey the best message and project a good image of their business. But how do you that without ever hiding anything ? Heather Yaxley also asks another interesting question : “An interesting question is how communications theories and ethics apply when the public relations function of an organisation uses lobbying to prevent information being available.  The approach may well have been a persuasive one in respect of government relations – but it is a total denial of communications to the wider public.


Is there one way to do ethical PR ? One would think yes, for NGOs or charities for example. But is it any different ? It is unlikely that doing PR for a “good cause” will change anything to the way we practice PR. Working for Greenpeace may be seen as a great thing, however, does Greenpeace always conduct ethical actions ? In fact, they sometimes use PR techniques to make their points.

There may be no perfect way to do ethical PR as it is in itself a profession that has to convey a message and sometimes bends the truth to its benefit but it is clear that the debate will never be over. And who knows, with hard work and more ethical practitioners, one day, PR will stop being linked to manipulation or propaganda.

References :



Grunig and Hunt, Managing PR (1984)

Further Reading : 




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PR is everywhere – how PR has made its way into our lives


‘If only for a second’ campaign

One of the main issue that remains today in Public Relations is the role of PR practitioners within their organisation. Many things have been said about PR practices and many words have been used to describe it : spin, propaganda,persuasion, and so on.

In his book ‘Rethinking PR’, Kevin Moloney (2000) even says of PR that it is ‘such a pervasive activity in our society today that it is impossible for a citizen or consumer to avoid‘. Indeed, PR has made its way through almost any activity, from finance to entertainment and it is now almost impossible to launch a business or conduct an activity without taking into account promotional issues and the importance of PR.

As a PR student myself, I realise that I now see PR everywhere (hazard of the profession ?). Every time I come accross a video on social media or an article, I can’t help but ask myself ‘What is the point of that video ? Is it driven or created by PR professionals ?’.

That’s precisely what happened when I stumbled upon the following video.


My brain immediately told me that it was not so innocent and after a quick research, I found out that the Mimi Foundation was the initiator of the project. Their mission is ‘to  contribute to the improvement of the quality of life of people affected by cancer, more specifically during the entire period of their chemotherapy/radiotherapy treatment.’ They created a dedicated website for the project and which includes, of course, a press kit with the inevitable press release.

The video was created by the agency Leo Burnett France and a book was published with the pictures taken on the day. The video has become viral and has reached more than 15m views on Youtube. And of course, it is a great project and makes you smile when you watch it. But would it be as powerful if it had not been planned and created by PR professionals ? Of course, for the random person, this type of video is another viral video that you share with your friends because you like the message. For someone who knows the whole process behind it, it just shows that PR is at the center of every single type of activity nowadays. In fact, Cutlip and Center (2013, 11th ed.) go even further when saying that ‘One of the few generalizations in Public Relations is that an organization’s public reputation derives in substantial part from the behaviorof its senior officials. […] Thus, public relations is inescapably tied, by nature and by necessity, to top management, with public relations staff providing counsel and communication support.’

Which basically means that no organisation today can survive without PR practitioners. But is it really happening in real life ? And more importantly, what exact role do PR professionals hold within their organisation ? It seems to me that the importance of their profession and their influence upon the decision-making process is increasing by the day, and that people do not apprehend the major role that PR has in our society today.

References :

Cutlip and Center (2013), Effective Public Relations, 11th ed.

Moloney, K (2006), Rethinking Public Relations, 2nd ed.


If only for a second Press Kit :

Press Release


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