Covenants

A covenant is a solemn promise to engage in, or refrain from, a specified action. Taking it one step further, a covenant is a type of contract in which one party makes a promise to another party to do or not to do some action. Hobbes calls a contract that involves a promise by at least one of the parties in the future a covenant. When both parties promise future performance, it is a covenant of mutual trust. ¹


Covenants related to PR

Restrictive Covenants in Public Relations Employment

Recently, restrictive covenants have become a popular condition of employment, as more and more employers feel the overwhelming need to protect their business interests in the competitive globalized business environment that is a reality of modern times.² A majority of organizations have a specific product formula or a specific way of doing things in an efficient manner, and many PR practitioners are privy to this kind of information due to the position that they play in the organization. Employers in this position desire to keep this information confidential. Without these restrictive covenants, an employee could leave and provide his or her new employer with valuable information regarding products or processes of their former employer.³

An employer can draft any of the following three forms of restrictive covenants:

Non-competition agreements – restrict employees from working for competitors
Non-solicitation agreements – limit employees from contacting former clients
Non-disclosure agreements – prohibit the disclosure of the former employer’s proprietary information to the prospective employer.⁴


Covenants and Professionalism

In public relations practice, ethical behavior relates both to the practitioner and to organizations. In accepting employment, many PR practitioners make a covenant to their employers to advocate for their organization. PR practitioners therefore need to be concerned with their own professional and personal ethics as well as with the institutional ethics of the organization that employs them.

Public Relations theorists such as James Grunig agree that a necessary precondition of professionalism is ethically defensible behavior.⁵ Koehn argues that ethical standards should be the basis for the relationship between professional communicators and their clients. His covenant with values states that professional communicators must be faithful to the values of the client. Koehn holds that
public relations professionals who dedicate themselves to the greater common good not only will gain the trust of their clients but will establish themselves and their profession as worthy of public trust that “is not just any trust but rather a moral trust”.⁶ However, this ethical obligation to the client can sometimes become problematic when the employer and the client are both expecting different things from the practitioner.

Many professional organizations belong to the Global Alliance for Public Relations. The Global Alliance builds on the cooperative efforts of PR Professional Bodies (who build on the cooperative efforts of PR Professionals) to tackle common problems with a global perspective. By partnering with national bodies to increase professionalism in Public Relations, this Alliance works to enhance the influence of the Public Relations industry among its constituents around the world.

The Global Alliance for Public Relations requires members to covenant:

- To adhere to the principles of the Global Protocol on Ethics in Public Relations

- To improve our individual competence and advance the knowledge and proficiency of the profession through continuing education, research and professional accreditation.
- To conduct ourselves professionally, with integrity, accuracy, truth, fairness and responsibility to our clients, out client publics, and to an informed society.⁷

References

1 - Harvey, M. (2004). Hobbes and the Value of Justice. Southern Journal of Philosophy, 42(4), 439-452.
2 – Coley, J. (2006). Restrictive covenants in employment contracts. Retrieved Thursday, October 22nd at http://www.out-law.com/page-7086

3 – Wiegal, S. (2008). Non-disclosure agreements. Retrieved Thursday, October 22nd at http://www.nolo.com/legal-encyclopedia/article-29630.html

4 - Walker, J. (1997). Race, rights and the law in the Supereme Court of Canada: Historical case studies. Waterloo: Wilfred Laurier University Press.


5 - Grunig, J.E., Dozier, D.M., Ehling, W.P., Grunig, L.A., Repper, F.C. & White, J. (1992). Excellence in public relations and communication management. Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum.

6 -
Koehn, D. (1994). The ground of professional ethics. New York: Routledge.

7 - Gillis, T. (2006). The IABC handbook of organizational communication: A guide to internal communication, public relations, marketing and leadership. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.