PR Ethics and Business Questions: What Are The Right Answers?

Public Relations pros face tough business decisions and ethical dilemmas every day. Here are twelve scenarios that lead to the question, “What Would You Do?” The right answers may not always be obvious.

#1.  Your company’s CEO has success with investors and analysts, as well as business colleagues and media. However, he has trouble relating to his employees, many of whom think he’s an arrogant phony. What would you do?

  1. Suggest he meet with small groups of employees over pizza to listen to their ideas.
  2. Ghostwrite a weekly internal blog or email for employees, designed to portray him as a regular guy.
  3. Since the stock price is strong, don’t worry about this one flaw.

#2.  You write an excellent op-ed piece for your client, which expresses the client’s thoughts and concerns clearly and convincingly. You spend many hours checking facts, editing, rewriting and polishing. Then, the client says, “No, I don’t want to submit this to the paper. There might be a backlash.” What do you do?

  1. Tell your client to have a spine and stand up for what he believes.
  2. Study the issue more carefully and do yet another rewrite.
  3. Suggest that the client think about it and consider submitting it at some time in the near future.

#3.  Your client makes a necessary decision that is unpopular with many people. The negative posts and comments accumulate rapidly on your client’s Facebook page, for which you are an admin. What do you do?

  1. Delete any and all negative comments.
  2. Allow commenting to continue, deleting only those posts that are profane or threatening.
  3. Consider the thoughts communicated within this feedback when composing follow up statements for traditional and social media.

#4.  Your client, an outdoor store, has a good selection of hiking boots. A popular local online forum has a long thread discussing the best places to buy hiking boots. Commenters mention chain stores, department stores, even a ski shop, but your client’s store is not mentioned. What would you do?

  1. Log in under a fake name and tout your client’s selection.
  2. Log in under your own name and tout your client’s selection.
  3. Focus your attention instead on your client’s Facebook page and other social accounts.

#5.  In doing online research, you find that a new client may have lied in his official company bio about his credentials. What do you do?

  1. Bring the issue up in your next meeting, in an effort to resolve any discrepancy.
  2. Wait until you are a few months into the relationship, when you’ve established yourself as a team player. Then mention it.
  3. Let it ride, since it’s not an issue now and may never be one, unless somebody brings it up.

#6.  You pitch a hot exclusive to a local magazine and they commit to running it in their September issue. Meanwhile, you run into a local blogger at a party. She says she’s caught wind of your client’s news and plans to post it this week (two months before the issue hits). What do you do?

  1. Pray that her blog post will not be widely seen.
  2. Attempt to dissuade her from posting by suggesting that her version of the story may be incomplete or inaccurate.
  3. Ask that she hold back for a few weeks and promise her your next exclusive.

#7.  Your PR agency is sued for discrimination. You, raised in Arkansas in the 60’s, are forced to give a deposition. An attorney asks, “Have you ever used the word (racial slur)?” What would you do?

  1. Tell the truth and say, “Yes, but not in the last 40 years.”
  2. Lie and say, “No, I have never used that word in my life.”
  3. Ask for a break and consult with your attorney regarding a settlement.

#8.  Your client knows little about social media except that it is an area where her company needs a stronger presence. You have two employees who are good candidates to lead her social campaign. What do you do?

  1. Pick the 50-something, balding, overweight guy who would probably do a better job.
  2. Pick the skinny 30-something hipster with a goatee who might not do quite as good a job, but definitely looks the part of a social media guru.
  3. Have the intern who set up a killer Facebook page for his Zombie Chasers Club spend a day with the client and her staff.

#9.  A local reporter on deadline wants an official statement for a story on alleged wasteful spending by the government agency you represent. The agency head is in Africa on vacation and cannot be reached. Her backup is hesitant to say anything. What do you do?

  1. Suggest the reporter hold the story for 24 hours while you try to contact the boss.
  2. Craft a non-committal statement that indicates the agency is monitoring the situation closely, but can’t offer substantial information at this time.
  3. Indicate that you and the agency will directly address the allegation in the near future. (And, if you know it to be true, point out that the trip to Africa was paid for with personal funds, not agency money.)

#10.  A prospect wants to discuss your agency representing his company because he was impressed by a feature about one of your clients that ran on a network news show. In reality, that coverage came because your client’s wife is an old friend of one of the show’s producers. What do you do?

  1. Admit to the prospect that, while you handled details, the segment did not directly result from your work.
  2. Since it came on your watch, take full credit.
  3. Make sure you attach the clip to every email you send the prospect.

#11.  Along with your PR work, you occasionally write for a weekly community newspaper. You agree to write a piece on Best Places to Buy Baby Clothes. One of your agency’s clients, though not one of your accounts, is an upscale baby boutique. What do you do?

  1. Write about the boutique without any mention of your connection, because it merits inclusion on the list anyway (irregardless of your agency’s involvement).
  2. Mention parenthetically that you work for an agency that reps the store.
  3. Because you have strong ethics, write the piece, but omit any mention of the boutique.

#12.  Your agency takes on a difficult client, a company whose business practices personally offend you. The client, however, does have some positive stories to tell. Your boss assigns you to lead the team for this client. What do you do?

  1. Admit that you may not be able to perform effectively because of the client’s baggage and ask to be removed from the team.
  2. Accept the assignment but let your contacts for this client know that you have misgivings.
  3. Do the job you were hired to do. Don’t share your personal feelings with the team. Roll up your sleeves and work hard.
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