Public Relations and Ethics
by CHARLES P. ROCKWOOD Executive Office
Presented before the 16th Annual Graduate Accounting Conference,
University of Florida, Gainesville—October 1965
PUBLIC RELATIONS has long held a lively interest for certified public accountants. Perhaps this is because it bears so directly on their reputations, which are the very cornerstone of the services they offer and hence of their livelihoods. Many CPAs, particularly those with established reputations, have understood the nature of public relations and have practiced it effectively.
Many others look longingly at their more public relations-minded brethren, wishing they were more inclined that way themselves. Sometimes
they seem to have the notion that there is something vaguely unprofessional and disorderly about public relations, that it may lead to lavish parties on the S. S. Leonardo da Vinci and then to stunts like Aunt Jemima flipping pancakes. Public relations is something they would rather not experiment with but would leave to the professional societies. Since they do little for themselves, they benefit little from public relations. Often they suspect that it is a subtle form of advertising
and solicitation and is therefore unethical. Or, if it isn't really unethical it has that appearance, and appearances can be as dangerous as the real thing. They would rather not have to defend themselves against criticism, even if they were cleared in the end.
Several years ago, the chairman of the American Institute's committee
on professional ethics saw a degree of real conflict between the profession's ethics program and its public relations program. He suggested
that the profession seemed to be "suffering from a kind of schizophrenia."*
PUBLIC RELATIONS AS A TOOL
It seems to me that public relations can be entirely compatible with the profession's ethics and more than that, that its ethics are one of its strongest public relations weapons. Yet public relations can be highly unethical too. In fact it makes no more sense to call it either ethical or unethical than it does to call speaking or writing ethical or unethical. For public relations, like speaking and writing—and accounting,
for that matter—is a mode of communication. If a CPA were to use it to encroach on the practice of another accountant it would obvi-
* T . G. Higgins, "Professional Ethics: A Time for Reappraisal," Journal of
Accountancy, March 1962.