National Capital Chapter

“Serving the Greater Good”

By Brigitte W. Johnson, APR, Lecturer, Georgetown School of Continuing Studies

September is ethics month in our public relations profession. This year, there is so much unrest – a lack of civility, empathy and understanding, and an overwhelming propensity for falsehoods and false narratives in our society. This has been a very busy time for our profession as we take on the sharing of information and facts for the greater good.

We’re trained to follow the RPIE process when developing a public relations campaign. Now, that process is turned on its heels. We have the research. We have plans for scenario A, B and C. But when we get to implementation, we may run into roadblocks. These roadblocks can derail our plans of sharing information. Our publics will not take a desired action unless they are aware of the current situation.

It’s been nearly 30 years since the beating of Rodney King by the hands of the Los Angeles Police Department. Although that incident was caught on camera, the officers charged with wrong doing were acquitted, sparking the riots of 1992 in Los Angeles and outrage across the United States among the Black community and among those who thought justice was not served.

Fast forward to 2020, and the beating of George Floyd by officers of the Minneapolis Police Department. Although it’s a different year and city, it’s a similar story – Black people die and face injury at the hands of policemen in greater numbers than other populations. But this time, the outrage was felt among a larger public that led to protests in cities across the country.

I’m not saying that all police are bad or they all have a goal of inflicting harm on others. In this case, you cannot generalize across an entire public. That’s like saying all public relations practitioners are dishonest, unfair and cannot be trusted. We know that is not true. We are in a time of awakening to the centuries of structural racism in America. Unless we all acknowledge the structural racism, we cannot move forward as a country.

Every day, we strive to follow the PRSA Code of Ethics. These ethics allow us to do our work knowing that we serve the greater good. The greater good includes police officers, Black people, Brown people and other minorities. We are living in a time when we must protect the truthful flow of information – open communication fosters informed decision making in a democratic society. Our publics deserve the facts and to hear information that could literally save their life.

We must work independently to provide objective counsel. We must provide a voice of ideas, facts, and viewpoints to aid informed public debate. We could not have planned for this scenario – but this is a critical time for us to maintain the integrity of our relationships with the media, government officials, and our publics.

Our work is built on the foundation of maintaining mutually beneficial relationships. Without these relationships, our work is nearly impossible. This month and in the future, let’s promise to work together to strengthen our commitment of enhancing the public’s trust in our profession.

About the Author

Brigitte W. Johnson, APR, is a 22-year member of the PRSA NCC and served as chapter president in 2011. She has 20+ years of experience in public relations, communications and marketing. Her focus is primarily nonprofits – forestry, education, youth development, affordable housing and public health. In 2016, she joined Georgetown University School of Continuing Studies as a lecturer in the public relations corporate communication track. She is a native Washingtonian who enjoys days at the beach, a hike in the woods, all things college sports, film studies, reading and collecting first edition books.