By Ericka McCauley, CleverMac PR President

We’ve seen the headlines. We’ve watched the side-by-side videos. And, we’ve laughed at the memes. Mrs. Trump’s plagiarism of First Lady Obama’s 2008 Democratic National Convention speech even has its own hashtag: #MelaniaGate.

Trump’s supporters may not care. Some have publicly blamed the Hillary Clinton campaign for sparking the allegation.

But once the news media and the social media firestorms simmer down, the ethical implications of plagiarism in speech writing will remain for many public relations practitioners.

The questions moving forward for ethical public relations practitioners are:

  1. What are some guidelines to follow to avoid plagiarism?
  2. How should I address plagiarism with my executive/client?

Avoiding Plagiarism

First, I would encourage all public relations practitioners to visit the Public Relations Society of America’s (PRSA) Code of Ethics. Second, I recommend reading AND saving PRSA’s professional standards advisory PS-16. The advisory outlines the differences between plagiarism and copyright infringement, highlights best practices of an ethical practitioner, and provides a few example of improper practices. If you have any questions or an ethical dilemma, you can seek counsel from the PRSA Board of Ethics and Professional Standards.

Addressing Plagiarism with your C-Suite

This is a tough topic to bring up with any executive or client. How and when you do it depends on your relationship—including the existence of mutual trust—with your colleague. You may want to visit PRSA’s Public Relations Ethics Case Study #5, and use it as a thinking tree to draft the key points you wish to address. I also recommend researching the negative coverage of at least 5 public plagiarism incidences, and provide a topline debrief that includes its impacts on public relations strategies.

It’s not quick or easy to get colleagues on board with proactively involving the public relations team. But, the sooner you start with your client or executive, the sooner you increase your chances of key message frames getting across to your intended audience and decrease the likelihood of your colleague being remembered for plagiarism.

Image Source: PRSA

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