Category Archives: ethics

Chapter Members Asked To Approve New Bylaws

During the Houston PRSA annual elections coming up in August, members will be asked to approve new bylaws for the chapter.  Nationally, Leadership Assembly delegates approved new PRSA bylaws in 2009 and chapters were asked to revise their own bylaws accordingly by the end of 2011.

In keeping with that mandate, the Houston PRSA Board has reviewed the suggested chapter bylaw template, made revisions to fit our chapter’s needs and now seeks membership approval.  To take effect Jan. 1, 2012, the bylaws must be approved by two-thirds of those voting in the annual election (and we need a quorum of 25% of our voting members to participate in the election).

So what’s new in the bylaws?

  • The most obvious changes are that our chapter officers will be elected by the membership annually and that directors will be elected to one-year terms annually.
  • Directors will be limited to three consecutive terms. Officers other than the past president, president and president-elect will be able to succeed themselves once.
  • The offices of treasurer and secretary may be combined and held by the same person, at the discretion of the board.
  • The board will consist of president, president-elect, vice president, secretary, treasurer, past president, PRSA Leadership Assembly Delegates, seven directors-at-large, and the president of the Public Relations Foundation of Houston.
  • All board members will be required to sign a conflict of interest policy.

Things that remain the same:

  • Leadership Assembly delegates will still be required to be Accredited in Public Relations and will serve three-year terms. Successive terms are allowed.
  • Bylaw amendments require a vote of two-thirds of the present members, provided a quorum is established.
    But, don’t take our word for what the proposed bylaws say.

This is your chapter and you should be an informed member. You can read the proposed bylaws. Please make sure to ask questions, if you have them, to of the current chapter officers and directors.


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Ethical Use of Interns

Did you happen to see the piece from PRSAY on the “Ethical Use of Interns?” Since I am the chair of the University Relations Committee, I was asked to give my perspective, so here goes…

I really don’t want to rehash the conversation (instead, I’m here to start a whole new one). If you are interested in the specifics of the PRSA guidelines on this subject check out PSA-17. I also checked with the Texas State Attorney General and the Texas Workforce Commission and they said potential employers should familiarize themselves with the Pay Day Law. Specifically, I was advised that if any employee, including interns, do work for an organization they should get paid. “Sure, that makes sense,” I said. But, the Texas Workforce Commission took it a step further and said that if you don’t pay an intern or an employee, they can actually come back and file a claim against you provided they have documented the hours they worked and the work produced.

To me the bottom line is if the work produced by an intern has any value whatsoever to the employer—I’m talking to nonprofits too—the internship should be monetarily compensated. The benefit of the arrangement is that each party, employer and intern, has a vested interest and motivation to make the arrangement productive.

To me there’s actually a bigger issue here than whether or not to pay interns and that is the ethical treatment of interns. The worst is when I hear stories about students being relegated to filling drink and lunch orders or being subjected to cattiness in the work place.

Typically, I hear students or junior communicators tell me they wish the people they interned for had talked to them more, explained things or put them into context. Most times, their employers just dictate orders and the interns blindly follow them. As professionals, aren’t we better than that?

Here are few tips to make the internship productive for both your organization and the intern:

EXPECTATIONS: On Day 1 set expectations for what the intern should expect and what your organization expects of the interns.

VARIETY: Give the intern a variety of work to do for a variety of clients. Most interns still aren’t 100 percent sure what type of work they want to do or in what industries. Give them a chance to see a diversity of both.

MISTAKES: No one is perfect and often making mistakes are the best way to learn. Allow your interns to make mistakes, but coach them on how to learn and improve from those mistakes.

FACE TIME: Expose interns to new business pitches, let them participate in client meetings and, if you’re a large agency, facilitate a Q&A with the boss.

REVIEW: On a regular basis, sit with the interns and discuss how things are going. I recommend weekly meetings but bi-weekly would be effective as well depending upon the duration of the internship.

EXIT: At the end of the internship, have the intern sit down and do an exit interview or survey so you can learn what they most valued and how you might improve.

RECOMMENDATION: Not every intern is going to be able to move into a permanent position with an agency, but give them the next best thing, a glowing recommendation they can use in their search for a job.

So, I ask that each of you take a minute to remember how your internships were, what you would have liked to have changed and apply it to how you treat interns now. The students will get more out of it. Your organization will benefit from it. Our profession will be better for it.

Ed Davis, PRSA Houston president-elect, director of Media & Public Relations at the United Way of Greater Houston.

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Socrates, Aristotle, Plato… and what 2,000-year-old guys have to do with public relations today?

The PRSA Houston September luncheon focused on “The Socratic Approach to Effective Organizational Communications.” Alan Hilburg, President and CEO of Hilburg and Associates, taught us how the 2000-year-old Socratic Method can be used to structure and deliver more effective organizational communications to both internal and external audiences. More specifically, we learned how to use the Socratic Method to increase personal and departmental brand equity with colleagues and stakeholders, and how to transform how organizational communications is valued within our organizations. See the @PRSAHouston tweets from the luncheon for details.

Applying Socrates thought to PR reminded of what I recently read in Dr. Robert Heath’s book, “Handbook of Public Relations.” In it, the UH Professor cites the ancient Greek philosophers as the founders of the rhetorical roots of public relations’ two-way symmetrical model.

It was Aristotle, not Socrates, who concluded that rhetoric is “the faculty of observing in any given case the available means of persuasion.” So, what did Aristotle consider the source of the persuasiveness? “A statement is persuasive and credible either because it is directly self-evident or because it appears to be proved from other statements that are so.”

Aristotle believed that “persuasion is achieved by the speakers’ personal character when the speech is so spoken as to make us think him credible.”

According to Aristotle people rely on “good sense, good moral character, and good will” to draw conclusions from debated matters. Conversely, he also thought, “false statements and bad advice are due to one or more of the following three causes. (1) Men either form a false opinion through want of good sense; or (2) they form a true opinion but because of their moral badness do not say what they really think; or finally, (3) they are both sensible and upright, but not well disposed to their hearers, and may fail in consequence to recommend what they know to be the best course.”

Now Plato would have argued – Does a world of knowledge and sound choice exist independent of the rhetorical process? Is the rhetorical process (dialogue) engaged by ethical people the best means for discovering truth and making sound judgment?

To which, Aristotle believed that the ends of social discourse was social good.

Heath wisely concluded that, “ethics arise from the process. The end is not predetermined but rather forged through the process. If an priori conclusions exists, then rhetoric is not needed; it operates in the realm of the contingent – of decision making. When a rhetoric recommends a conclusion or an action, he or she does so ‘on the ground that it will do good; if he urges its rejection, he does so on the ground that it will do harm.'”

So, in a final retort, Aristotle would blog, “if all communities aim at some good, the state or political community, which is the highest of all and which embraces all the rest, aims at good in a greater degree than any others, and at the highest good.”

Contributed by Karen Naumann Blanchard, APR, president of Naumann Blanchard, LLC , and PRSA Houston Board Member.

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True North for PR Professionals

PRSA Houston’s Ethics Chairwoman Emily Oberton recently contributed to a UH graduate class discussion on ethics. Emily shared with the PR Theory graduate students the core values of PRSA members and, more broadly, of the public relations profession. These values provide the foundation for the Member Code of Ethics and set the industry standard for the professional practice of public relations. These values are the fundamental beliefs that guide our behaviors and decision-making process. These values are:

We serve the public interest by acting as responsible advocates for those we represent. We provide a voice in the marketplace of ideas, facts, and viewpoints to aid informed public debate.

We adhere to the highest standards of accuracy and truth in advancing the interests of those we represent and in communicating with the public.

We acquire and responsibly use specialized knowledge and experience. We advance the profession through continued professional development, research, and education. We build mutual understanding, credibility, and relationships among a wide array of institutions and audiences.

We provide objective counsel to those we represent. We are accountable for our actions.

We are faithful to those we represent, while honoring our obligation to serve the public interest.

We deal fairly with clients, employers, competitors, peers, vendors, the media, and the general public. We respect all opinions and support the right of free expression.

Integrating these values into day-to-day decisions is critical for the individual practitioner and the integrity of the profession as a whole.

Contributed by Karen Blanchard, APR, Naumann Blanchard, LLC president

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