The Importance of Values

Since the beginning of modern public relations more than a century ago, a common complaint against its practitioners is that they occasionally act as if the ends justify the means. While many practitioners are rigorously ethical, some have chosen either to flirt with or ignore the boundaries of ethics. Others, failing to pause and consider their organization's core values, have found themselves in the uncomfortable position of trying to place their actions in an ethical framework after the fact. That is why issues of values, ethics, and social responsibility must be addressed throughout the public relations process. The continued growth of public relations as a profession depends upon it.

How can organizations try to ensure that their actions match their words? We advocate an approach we call values-driven public relations. Values-driven public relations incorporates the traditional four-step process of research, planning, communication, and evaluation into the framework defined by an organization's core values. It is the process of uncovering not just where an organization wishes to go but also the principles that will be observed in getting there.

The concept of values-driven public relations should be seen in a broader historical context. With the emergence of a highly competitive global economy, managers have had to focus on creating better products and services. This, in turn, has required an increase in values-laden communications between corporate executives and their key publics, including employees, shareholders, customers and vendors. At the same time, there has been a trend toward holding public and private organizations more socially accountable. No longer is the bottom line seen as the only thing that matters.

Values-driven public relations is similar to the traditional four-step approach to public relations, but it has significant differences. In values-driven public relations, the role of values (societal, professional, organizational, stakeholder and personal) is explicit, rather than implicit. Values-driven public relations also employs a decidedly non-linear process, in which there are constant checkbacks on values, research, strategies, and execution. Most important, the practice of values-driven public relations answers the most ardent critics of public relations by placing ethical decision-making first.

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