«13TH INTERNATIONAL PUBLIC RELATIONS RESEARCH CONFERENCE “Ethical Issues for Public Relations Practice in a Multicultural World” Holiday Inn ...»
This paper describes but my personal attempt to increase student engagement in critical thinking about ethics and CSR and the internalization of such norms. Surely others educators are 461 trying on their end to do the same. What is really needed is both a comprehensive effort by educators to rework ethics and CSR into the fabric of every class and collaboration between educators and practitioners to facilitate student exercises integrating ethical and CSR norms into day-to-day routines and issues management, in a forum that could be modeled after the 1998 NCA Summer Conference, at which this author was a participant. After all, according to the Commission on Public Relations Education's (1999) report, "students should be able to understand the parameters and frameworks utilized in ethical reasoning of professional issues.
Discussions and coursework should increase knowledge, professional skills and a sense of true professionalism.” If the Commission's goals are to be realized, then educators must be cognizant of the severity of the "real world" problem and act, in unison, to bring creative and innovative methods to incorporate ethics and CSR frameworks and case studies into public relations curricula, and significantly, to help students apply what they learn in making ethical, responsible decisions.
There are many ways in which this might transpire. For instance, given the availability of new technologies, educators might consider capitalizing on students' affinity for everything online and fuse the Internet self-efficacy described by O'Malley and Kelleher (2002) with ethics and CSR content. They might even pair students with mentors. Students could network with inhouse or agency practitioners, and use social media and other technologies to chat or correspond about cases that present ethical questions or to query practitioners about ways of implementing CSR. Certainly there is creative latitude for using new technologies for such pro-social purposes.
The first step is a consensus among academics and practitioners that CSR and ethics are sufficiently important to warrant use of such media, and others, for such pedagogical purposes.
Limitations of this research The most obvious limitation of this "teaching as laboratory" experience is the difficulty in assessing the impact of teaching normative ethics and frameworks for CSR to which they were exposed. To what extent, if at all, were core ethical values and CSR standards inculcated in the classroom internalized by students, and would they be able to apply them beyond the "abstractions" of academia to workplace situations? Students feedback, as illustrated in the excerpts above, seem to suggest the value of "front-loading" core ethical values and principles of transparency and CSR, into the curriculum.
Students also seemed to understand that good relationships, which hinge on ethical and socially responsible behaviors, are crucial to successful public relations. They conducted their own research and, in the case of the public relations classes, engaged in strategic planning and hypothetical implementation of their campaigns. Students were able to see how ethics and CSR built stakeholder trust and goodwill or reflected unfavorably on organizations as corporate citizens.
As one student said, "Corporate Social Responsibility is the behavior of a company to act in a manner that is law abiding and in the public interest." In public relations, the press kits and other media that students created provided them with an opportunity to frame and define issues and disclose information in ways that were transparent but responsible. They understood that the power of words must be harnessed to reassure, not panic, to clarify, not obfuscate, and to serve multiple publics, rather than being self serving.
Yet despite multiple efforts to few had any "capstone" experience in which this knowledge was reinforced via a job, an internship, or service learning experience concurrent with or following a public relations class. From those who did have such an experience, I received positive feedback about the practical value of the public relations curriculum. This 462 feedback primarily related, though, to the research, analysis, and skill sets learned in class, rather than on any professional practices guided by ethics and CSR.
There are ways to reinforce principles that students learn during their undergraduate years. To capitalize on their willingness to abide by ethics and CSR, public relations programs could require all graduating students to sign a pledge that they agree to abide by ethical principles and perhaps even the PRSA Code of Ethics. Such an idea is not unprecedented, according to one colleague, who teaches at a faith-based institution and described how all graduating students must sign a pledge to behave ethically. Why shouldn't our public relations students be prompted to do the same?
Nevertheless, because as it stands now, we do not have such a requirement, I can only try to get students to appreciate the value of ethics and CSR and assess their knowledge of those projects evaluations, case studies, and other class submissions. Until mentoring of some kind is established between practitioners and students, or some relationships with alumni yield the kind of data that will tell us if and how students applied their CSR and ethics knowledge in their workplaces, or whether their knowledge is deeply ingrained enough to influence professional behaviors over the long haul, it will be difficult to know where classroom efforts to this end are successful or need to be rethought and restructured.
On the positive side, when self-reporting, the students quoted above appeared cognizant of the centrality of ethical and socially responsible practices to excellent public relations and corporate communication. It is unclear whether they truly believe these views or if those that do are really representative of the hundreds of students I have taught. When queried in class or in their papers and projects about choices public relations practitioners have made or should made, and what represents the public interest, most students are able to identify and choose to pursue appropriate, ethical, socially-responsible behaviors. The problem is that sometimes the students who do this are the same ones who get caught plagiarizing in other assignments in my classes.
This, in itself, is an indicator that students need conceptual reinforcement and ongoing practical drilling in how to make choices, particularly in more challenging and morally-gray situations. As long as students do not see a contradiction between analyzing a case or running a public relations campaign that is transparent, consistent with principles of CSR, and engaging in unethical practices in their own work, there is a critical moral vacuum that educators need to fill.
The need for longitudinal research If a practicable way to track down public relations alumni existed, I could elicit feedback about the impact, if any, of my ethics and CSR assignments and exercises. Where necessary, I could adjust my curricula to further reinforce these concepts and their attendant norms. Thus, the notion of longitudinally sampling public relations students in the years after graduation has some merit, and could be a potential auxiliary in maximizing the impact of teaching ethics and CSR. I urge other educators to find ways to locate and reach out to alumni, so that we can know whether, and to what extent, ethics and CSR appear on their workplace "radar screen" and if and how they strike a professional balance between advancing their organizations' needs and advancing the greater good. This information, once tapped, would be a boon to the academy and to professional organizations as well. I am working on a paper, together with an internationallybased academic, that will explore how senior managers conceptualize CSR.
Ongoing Challenges: Augmenting Students' Practice of Ethical, Socially-Responsible Behaviors Unless, we, as public relations teachers and professionals redouble our efforts and make CSR and ethics top priorities at academic venues and in professional settings, these fundamentals are likely to be overshadowed by buzz about social media and other new public relations "darlings."
463 These technologies are no doubt amazing, but they are vehicles for communication and only as good or bad as what filters through them. And as novel as new media are, they should not preempt a sorely-needed ethics and social responsibility agenda.
These extra-curricular networking opportunities are not a substitute for classroom instruction and online supplementation (such as that of Blackboard, which I use regularly to post relevant course materials and links to other online resources). Certainly, any resources that are available out of class need to be followed up in class with consistent reinforcement through ethics and CSR case studies, group exercises, scenarios, and other practical examples of dilemmas and challenges in which organizational or individual self-interest must take a back seat to transparency and public interest.
I choose to be an optimist. I believe that students ultimately want to do the right thing, both in the classroom and the work world. I also think that as new grads, they may feel enormous pressure to prove themselves (particularly given the current economic climate) and may look for ways to do so by circumventing ethical norms and CSR. So I suggest that given the strength of countervailing forces on students as new professionals, we, as educators/mentors, need to drill more, question more, challenge more.
This analysis of one educator's experience cannot presume to have definitive answers.
This work can only offer a narrow window into students' cognition and a set of questions about their ability to develop and carry, from academia to the marketplace, a life perspective that will be of benefit to their employers and to civil society as well.
Ahmed, P.K., and Machold, S. (2004, June). The quality and ethics connection: Toward virtuous organizations. Total Quality Management and Business Excellence,15 (4), 527-545.
Argenti, P. (2009). Corporate Communication (5th Ed.). New York: McGraw Hill.
Bhattacharya, C.B., Korschun, D., & Sen, S. (2009).Strengthening stakeholder-company relationships through mutually beneficial corporate responsibility initiatives. Journal of Business Ethics, 85, 257-282 Business for Social Responsibility. (2010). Reports. Retrieved on March 28, 2010 from http://www.bsr.org/research/reports.cfm Clarkson, M. B. E. (1995). A stakeholder framework for analyzing and evaluating corporate social performance. Academy of Management Review, 20 (1), pp. 92-117.
Coombs, W.T., & Rybacki, K. (1999). Public relations education: Where is pedagogy? Public Relations Review, 25 (1), 55-63
Ethisphere. (2010). Ethisphere Institute. Retrieved on 2/22/10 from http://ethisphere.com/.
Fitzpatrick, K.R. & Bronstein, C. (Eds.). (2006). Ethics in public relations: Responsible advocacy. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.
Global Compact (2009). Communicating Progress. Retrieved on 2/17/10 from http://www.unglobalcompact.org/COP/index.html
Gower, K. K. (2003). Legal and ethical restraints on public relations. Long Grove, IL:
Grunig, J.E. (1992). Excellence in public relations and communication management.London:
Kovacs, R. (2005, Summer). Teaching 9/11: Using public relations to bolster civil society Public Relations Review 30, 305-308.
Kovacs, R. (Winter 2006). An Interdisciplinary Bar for the Public Interest: What CSR and NGO Frameworks Contribute to the Public Relations of British and European Activists. Public Relations Review, 32, 429-431.
Kovacs, R. (2008). Nations, cultures, and corporate social responsibility: The public relations of broadcasting advocates in a diverse, devolving U.K. In A. Timpere (Ed.), Corporate social responsibility (pp. 135-148). Happauge, LI.: NovaScience Publishers.
Hutchison, L. (2002. Teaching ethics across the public relations curriculum. Public Relations Review.28, 301-309.
MacElreath, M. (1993). Managing systematic and ethical public relations. Madison, WI: Brown and Benchmark Publishers.
Martinson, D. L. (2001). Teaching public relations students to place 'public interest' before client management concerns. Teaching public relations Monograph 52.
Newsom, D., Turk, J.V.,, & Kruckeberg, D. (2009). This is PR: The realities of public relations.
Florence, KY: Cengage.
O'Malley, M., & Kelleher, T. (2002). Papayas and pedagogy: Geographically dispersed teams and Internet self-efficacy. Public Relations Review, 28, 175-184.
Public Relations Review (2000). PR Education Bibliography. Public Relations Review, 26, 24Van Leuven, J. (1999) Four new course competencies for majors. Public Relations Review 25 (1), pp. 77-85.
Identifying Key Influencers of Chinese PR Practitioners’ Strategic Conflict Management Practice: A Survey on Contingent Variables in Chinese Context
As the first quantitative test of contingency theory in China using an online survey, this study examined the influence of each of the over 80 individual contingent variables as perceived by Chinese public relations practitioners. Individual characteristics as related to conflict management as well as political-social factors were identified as the most influential variables.
By forming influential contingent factors and exploring the dimensionality of these factors using factor analysis, the results of this study suggested structural stability of the contingency matrix.
Further, the effects of gender and types of organizations were tested on how Chinese practitioners perceive these influences in their public relations practice. The findings provide insights for both practitioners and researchers on how to strategically identify and combine the most influential factors in effective and ethical conflict management in China.