THURSDAY 11 AUG 2022 9:29 AM


Mary Beth West, PRCA Ethics Council’s Co-Chair, discusses ethics in the constantly evolving digital landscape

Have the traditional ethics of the public relations industry managed to evolve with the vast ethical considerations prompted by global advances in digital media, electronic communications and AI technology?

The jury is no longer out: the answer is “no.”

As an industry, we need to do better and as the saying goes, there’s no better time than the present.

Upcoming in September 2022, the public relations industry will hold its annual PR Ethics Month. 

The Public Relations and Communications Association (PRCA) Ethics Council published in recent months its 2022 'Annual Perspective' with a thematic focus on ethics in digital media.

This compilation of insights from some 30 global leaders explored digital PR ethics themes, such as:

  • The tension between innovation, ethics, and risk management
  • The opportunity for PR professionals to pioneer new forms of audience engagement in the Metaverse
  • Looming reputational risks, including breaches of user or consumer privacy, deepfakes, misinformation and cybercrime
  • The need for the PR and communications industry to improve its understanding of technology


The PRCA Ethics Council and the PRCA’s staff communications team, led by Koray Camgöz, opted to take on this topic to get the industry not just talking, but taking action to assert stronger leadership and to drive proper management of PR ethics issues in their organisations’ and clients’ technology-development initiatives.

Many of the world’s PR industry associations have had ethics codes in place for decades. However, the challenge is that since the dawn of the digital media age, particularly the advent of global society’s explosive social media adoption some 20 years ago, most of these codes of ethics have not kept pace with the voluminous situational realities confronting PR, due to digital media’s depth and breadth of capabilities, speed and impact. Whether in PR’s role as a top-level strategic management function or in the tactical trenches.

The PRCA Ethics Council seeks to help drive meaningful change:

  • To make the industry more aware of existing and emerging digital-comms issues in which PR’s leadership voice on ethics should be asserted
  • To drive higher standards of ethical compliance across the global industry (including stronger codes)
  • To equip industry practitioners at all levels of experience with relevant, accessible tools and resources


As a practical starting point, public relations leaders in all organisations should consider their PR teams’ levels of access, participation and consultation, when it comes to how digital technologies are ideated, coded, deployed, disclosed, and evolved by their technology colleagues. Their colleagues may work in their own team silos, without input from a PR team about stakeholder expectations, impact and perceptions.

Leadership is key, as discussed in our June 2022 Communicate Magazine column; PR practitioners cannot and should not wait patiently for an engraved invitation to arrive by courier at their front-door step in order to seek and assume their seat at the digital-development table. Sometimes, it pays to have sharp elbows, in the absence of organic inclusion.

In service to effective C-suite persuasion, however, one need not look far to find case-study upon case-study of massively expensive PR disasters and crises that overtook brands that opted not to consider data-management ethics from stakeholder and news-media vantage points.

In my own experience, an effectively conveyed cautionary tale can do all the convincing of senior management a PR leader needs in order to be heard, respected and included.

Stay tuned for #PRethics Month in September – and each September annually – for #PRCAethics content and opportunities to learn, share and interact online with a diverse, global community of colleagues. In 2022, the PRCA’s Ethics Month is chaired by Kiri Sinclair of communications agency Sinclair, based in Hong Kong.