Public Relations Ethics Case Study #5 Plastic

Every chapter includes at least one extended case study embedded in the main text illustrating how real companies, organizations, and people have addressed public relations challenges.

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“I absolutely love this concept.  I like how it is set up, the author walks you through it and then gives the reader the actual solution.  Great real world example!”
Megan Toland, Arkansas Tech University

“This is excellent.  Students often remember these events and they can now see the situation in terms of public relations.  It helps for students to know that what they are studying is actually happening in the real world, and especially in their world: on social media.”
Amy Zufelt, Cardinal Stritch University

“Grade: A. Case studies bring the concepts to life. Students today relate to real life situations and of course, we all learn from what not to do as well as what to do from them.”
Rise Samra, Barry University

“These are essential. I use such activities every week. It helps the students really consider each case and encourages them to examine their values, morals and ethical codes.”
Sallyanne Holtz, University of Texas at San Antonio

“The case study does an excellent job of bringing the ethical decision-making process to life with a relevant example. It illustrates the process of ethical decision-making and gives concise yet adequately comprehensive details to demonstrate the process.”
Kevin Trowbridge, Belmont University

Public Relations Society of America Board of Ethics and Professional Standards Code of Ethics Case Study Series Public Relations Ethics Case Study #4 Safeguarding ConfidencesThe Worldwide Widget Co. (WWC) has a non-disclosure policy that’s set in stone.Smythe & Smythe Public Relations has just won the WWC account and all the accountpersonnel working on the account have signed WWC’s non-disclosure policy form. Theforms are on file in WWC’s Law Dept.Three weeks after work for the new client has started, the account team is given abriefing about a new product that will revolutionize the widget market. The newwidget model is half the price of conventional widgets and does the work in half thetime. In addition, secret tests show that it lasts twice as long. The account team iscautioned not to say a word about this to anyone – not even other S&S PR employeesor family members.After a month of work on a dynamite new public relations program that could preemptthe market, S&S PR staffers are invited to a fund raising party for the NewtownSymphony Orchestra. The top echelon of influential Newtown citizens are at thefunction, where food and wine flow like – food and wine! An S&S PR junior stafferassigned to the WWC account lets the wine flow too freely and, before anyone can doanything about it, he discloses all he knows about the new widget to an editor with theNewtown News. You are president of S&S and hear him blab the final piece ofinformation to the editor. You pull the staffer aside.What are your next courses of action? With the staffer? With the editor? With yourclient? 1. The ethical issue and/or conflict.Do I inform my client about what has occurred? Should I try to get the editor to holdup releasing information about what he was just told? What are my responsibilities tomy employee? 2. Internal/external factors that may influence the decision. • Enforcement of the non-disclosure policy by WWC • Policy of the Newtown News regarding curtailing information until later • Responsibility to an intemperate employeeCase Study #4 BEPS 2001


Public Relations Society of America Board of Ethics and Professional Standards Code of Ethics Case Studies 2001-2002 3. Identify key values.Honesty – We adhere to the highest standards of accuracy and truth in advancing theinterests of those we represent and in communicating with the public.Independence – We are accountable for our actions.Loyalty – We are faithful to those we represent, while honoring our obligation to servethe public interest.Fairness – We deal fairly with clients, employees, employers, competitors, peers,vendors, the media and the general public. 4. Identify the parties who will be affected by the decision and define the public relations profession’s obligation to each. • WWC management and employees • Newtown News and other media • S&S employees 5. Select ethical principles to guide the decision.The core principle of the “Safeguarding Confidences” section of the PRSA Code ofEthics Code Provisions is: “Client trust requires appropriate protection of confidentialand private information.” The intent of this provision is: “To protect the privacy rightsof clients, organizations and individuals by safeguarding confidential information.” Aguideline under this provision stipulates that a member shall: “Immediately advise anappropriate authority if a member discovers that confidential information is beingdivulged by an employee of a client company or organization.” 6. Make a decision and justify.The client’s interests are paramount in this case. The client should be immediatelyinformed of the information leak by the S&S president. The circumstances should beexplained regarding the tipsy staffer and the presence of the newspaper editor. Theagency president and the client should determine the next step, which might includemaking an early announcement of the product launch to nail down the marketpossibilities. A more sensitive course of action would be to ask the editor to curtail theinformation until a later date in the best interest of WWC, its employees and thecitizens of Newtown. If your relationship is good, this might work, in return for givingthe editor a jump on the story. Since a non-disclosure statement was signed by thejunior staff member and the agency had pledged not to disclose information, there arepossibly legalities involved that could make the agency responsible for any loss offuture market share, at the worst. Loss of the account is also highly likely.Unfortunately, the budding staffer would have to be discharged so that other staffmembers would realize that they must keep information on a confidential basis.Case Study #4 BEPS 11-05-01


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