According to Stacks and Bowen (2013), only one-fifth of the associations they looked at had some kind of enforcement statement. Among those listed by Stacks and Bowen was the Public Relations Society of America (PRSA). However, if you read PRSA’s online preamble you will find that it has chosen to no longer actively enforce its code. Apparently PRSA’s first code of ethics was aimed at cleaning up the profession’s bad reputation. The code boasted tough guidelines and sanctioned the public shaming of violators, but PRSA claims its efforts at enforcement ultimately failed. According to the website, significant investments in time, money and resources spent over 50 years yielded only a handful of cases that reached its board of directors for action. According to the PRSA, “None of these actions resulted in sanctions or official notifications of ‘violations.’”
As a result, PRSA dropped its active enforcement policy in 2000. Its focus is now on helping members learn how to be ethical and to “detect, deter and avoid unethical behavior.” PRSA does retain the right to bar or expel people from membership who have been or are “sanctioned by a government agency or convicted in a court of law of an action that fails to comply with the Code.” I guess this is why Stacks and Bowen counted PRSA as having enforcement language in its code.
Do you think PRSA’s switch from enforcement to ethical education was a wise decision? Is there a way that an organization can make enforcement work?