Bridging Public Relations to Social Cohesion

Bridging Public Relations to Social Cohesion
Finding a Higher Social Value that Positions Public Relations & Communications Management for the Regulated Professions
By: Victor Vrsnik MCM APR, FCPRS
May 20, 2019

Barriers to entry in public relations are low. You need a licence to drive, fish and pilot a plane, but no occupational licence or exam-based certification is required to practice PR. Without a regulated professional organization to certify, license, and enforce ethical conduct, practitioners resort to voluntary designations (APR) and voluntary engagement with PR associations that struggle for purpose and members.

Many PR associations promote a code of professional standards that is expected to guide ethical conduct. But they are generally unenforceable, apart from the odd member expulsion and negative headline. In contrast, some professional associations have the government-sanctioned authority to strip a practitioner of their licence to practice, for a specific time or permanently, creating a strong incentive to comply with standards of conduct. Canadian law societies, colleges of physicians, and CPA associations regulate the practice of law, medicine and accounting in this way.

Regulated practice and licensing is a worthy destination for public relations that binds practitioners to a code of professional standards at the risk of penalty. PR shops burnishing the images of dodgy foreign leaders, misrepresenting the truth, disseminating fake news, or generally comporting themselves in a questionable manner eclipse the higher social value of the practice and reinforce the perception that public relations is unfit for the professions. 

Yet public relations societies around the world have lived up to many of the qualifications of the professions, including specialized training and expertise, designations, an in-depth body of knowledge and research, occupational membership, independent counsel, a service orientation, and codes of professional standards or ethics. Lacking, however, is a theory of professional ethics for public relations – a foundation for practitioners to judge right from wrong in their practice.
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