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Make the Right Play

Nov. 1, 2012

Three seconds.  That’s all time you get to make the right decision.  You have to do it over and over again.  If you’re too slow, you’re out.  If you make the wrong decision too often; you’re out.

This is the life of a professional football quarterback.  
It’s also the life of a public relations professional.

Professional quarterbacks are so valuable because they have the mental ability to make quick decisions and the athletic ability to make the play.  Sure, they get sacked occasionally, or throw an interception, but, in the long-run, they keep their jobs because they can quickly make the right decision.

Think about how many decisions we make in a work day.  What client e-mails or calls do we return first?  What events do we plan today?  What promises do we make?  Each of these decisions has an element of ethics built in.  And, each of these decisions can get us crushed if we get them wrong.

Do we have the ability to make ethical decisions quickly and correctly?  Sure, we all use delaying tactics when we realize we are caught in an ethical dilemma.
“Why don’t you send me an e-mail with the details of your request and I’ll talk with my team about it.”

“You know, your idea sounds like it might work, but let me have a couple of days to see how we can make that happen.”

These obvious dilemmas are like the obvious blitz.  We’re staring at eight huge defensive players waiting to overwhelm our linemen and pound us.  So, we call a timeout.

What about the other, not so obvious ethical choices?  Do we offer up some dirt on a client to get the attention of a reporter?  Do we fail to correct that little error in the obscure blog that makes our client look better than reality?

3 -2 -1 … Decide.

The only way to prepare for these snap decisions is to practice.  Get to know your organization’s values, and the PRSA Code of Ethics, so that they become part of your “muscle memory” or something you can do naturally, without having to think about it.

PRSA offers an easy-to-play Ethics Quiz on the PRSA web site.  I thought I knew the Code pretty well, but got only seven out of 10 correct the last time I took the quiz.  I’ve gone back a few times while sitting in tedious conference calls (is that ethical?) and ran up a perfect score only once, so far.  I challenge you to give it a shot.

Respectfully,Mike Pierson
Pikes Peak Chapter PRSA
Chapter Ethics Officer

Chapter members, please submit your blog entries to Stacey Knott at