Aristotle would have put public relations squarely at the intersection of rhetoric, politics, and ethics.
Most practitioners would readily agree with the first two. But even though PR thought leaders since Arthur W. Page have said "PR is 90% doing and 10% talking about it," most practitioners interpret that in defensive terms as in, "don't do something you'd be embarrassed to see in the newspapers."
Several stories in today's Wall Street Journal suggest PR counsel has a more fundamental role -- helping CEOs sort out the difference between what a company has a right to do and what's the right thing to do.
How the invansion and takeover of Crimea should affect General Electric's investments in Russia, considering that its German competitor, Siemens, has pledged to move forward despite EU sanctions. And should Siemens have done that?
Whether activist investors should leak their plans to potential allies, even though it appears to be legal.
Whether drug companies like Merck and Glaxco should suspend a program to help patients with copays on expensive drugs even though the terms of the Affordable Care Act are ambiguous.
Whether GM's CEO should issue a video telling customers the cars it recalled for ignition problems are safe to drive even if they haven't been fixed yet.
None of those questions are easy to answer. I suspect each company's lawyers were all over them. Probably the finance people as well. Maybe even marketing. All looking at the issues from their functional perspective.
I'd like to suggest the chief PR counselor should also be involved. Not to speculate on the potential public and media reaction. Not to answer the question, "Will it work?" But to offer an principle-based opinion on "Is it right?"
The Big Question: are PR people equipped to tackle those ethical questions?