Most national and international PR organizations have produced ethical codes which they require members to uphold, and PR ethics features on most university courses for would-be practitioners. 

However what is — and is not — considered ethical behavior varies. All PR people are subject to the law, but beyond that what is considered acceptable social or business practice will depend on the prevailing culture. The considerations are not just a matter of morality: there are many perfectly legal things which PR people might do which could make them and the organization they serve very unpopular and lower their standing in the eyes of others. This section looks at some of the common ethical issues and how PR practitioners can approach them.

So What are PR ethics? PR Ethics are  a set of a priori principles, beliefs and values that should be followed by all who engage in public relations practice.

The Public Relations Society of America (PRSA) outlined a set of ethics that should be followed when communicating for the client and for yourself:

  • Free flow of information: Communications should be accurate and honest in order to maintain high-integrity relationships with the media and other stakeholders. Practices such as gift-giving must be handled with care.
  • Competition: PR practitioners should avoid deliberately undermining competitors and engaging in practices that damage the entire industry. Hiring should follow open and ethical standards.
  • Disclosure of information: All information necessary for informed decision-making should be disclosed to clients or employers. Sponsors and financial interests should be revealed to avoid deception.
  • Safeguarding confidences: Confidential, privileged, or otherwise private data should be kept safe. It is unethical to take such information to another job and use it to undermine a previous client or employer, or to leak it.
  • Conflicts of interest: “Real, perceived and potential” conflicts of interests should be avoided. PR professionals can better serve their clients and employers when their personal and business interests don’t clash with their PR work.
  • Enhancing the profession: It’s important to build trust in the PR profession among the public. When PR practitioners follow and self-enforce the PRSA code of conduct, they increase the overall credibility of public relations practice.

The old P.T. Barnum saying that goes “There’s no such thing as bad publicity” can not be applied to modern PR practice, which often must deal with skepticism about the integrity of its practices. Any ethical lapse can obliterate public trust overnight, in turn devaluing the work of all PR practitioners greatly. 


Issues such as paid disinformation campaigns across social media platforms demonstrate the relevant risks. In early 2020, Buzzfeed News chronicled the long-term rise in “information operations” undertaken by unethical PR firms to create false or misleading content and then spread it across social media channels.