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Lead Researcher: Dr Elspeth Tilley, Massey University, Wellington

Aim: To design and test a practical workplace tool for making ethics assessment part of everyday public relations activity.

Progress to date: A prototype for public relations ethics (the ethics pyramid) has been developed and refined during pilot workplace testing.  Testing is ongoing.  If you work in public relations or communication management in New Zealand, and would like to receive a short presentation about ethics in your workplace, please contact Elspeth by email (click here) or by phone: 04 801 5799 ext 62543.  We can visit your workplace, give your staff a short, practically-oriented talk on what ethics means and how to realise reputational value from ethical practice, then leave you with a supply of ethics pyramids and some anonymous feedback forms for collection later.  It's as easy as that!  You'll also have the opportunity to participate in an interview or focus group exploring barriers to ethics in more detail at a later date if you wish to.

About the workplace presentation:  If you are in Wellington, Auckland, or Christchurch, we can visit you in your workplace and give you and your team a one-hour training workshop/presentation.  The workshop:

  • Covers basic steps in strategic planning, objective setting, and evaluation (often a good refresher for staff)
  • Talks about what ethics means in a practical, day-to-day sense for communication practitioners
  • Shows how to use the Ethics Pyramid to combine planning principles with ethics principles to make ethics measurable
  • Is as interactive and practically-oriented as possible so that each workshop adjusts to meet the particular needs of participants

At the end of the workshop we will have a discussion (up to about half an hour long) during which we will ask you and your staff to give some quick and candid verbal feedback about the workshop, which will be tape-recorded, and to complete a very short (three-minute) tick-a-box response form.  All data collected, including tape-recordings, will be kept anonymous, and only aggregated results will be published, in which participants are not identifiable.

We will provide each workshop participant with a personal copy of the ethics pyramid planning tool, which each person can then choose to use or not to use over the following few weeks as they wish.

About the principal workshop facilitator:

Dr Elspeth Tilley has professional experience in communication spanning 13 years, including as a public relations consultant specialising in strategic positioning, editorial services, and media relations; a book and journal editor; a trade journalist in the retailing and food industries; and a sports journalist. She has also run a sports marketing consultancy business, and has extensive experience in sponsorship management and fundraising campaigns.

Since 2001, Dr Tilley has taught public relations and communication in Australia and New Zealand.  She is currently Senior Lecturer in Communication in the School of Communication, Journalism & Marketing, Massey University, Wellington, New Zealand. Previously, she directed the undergraduate and postgraduate public relations studies programmes at Bond University, Queensland, Australia. She has published more than 40 refereed academic works, on topics including public relations ethics, journalism ethics, political communication, cross-cultural communication, media relations, workplace theatre, online communication, and race relations. She is the designer of the "ethics pyramid", a communication ethics prototype that is now used and cited by communication educators around the world, and she is the founder and managing editor of PRism, the world's only open-access, refereed scholarly journal publishing quality-assured public relations and communication research online.

Publications from this research programme to date:

Conference presentation: This research was presented to public relations practitioners at the PRINZ (Public Relations Institute of New Zealand) conference in Wellington on July 27, 2005.  PDF slides are available here:fileadmin/Praxis/Files/TilleyPRINZpresentation.pdf541KB

Refereed journal: This research is forthcoming in the Journal of Mass Media Ethics.  Click below to read a draft manuscript of the forthcoming paper: please note that its contents are copyright to Lawrence Erlbaum Associates and may not be reproduced in any form without their permission.

Refereed conference presentation: This paper won a 'Referees' Choice Award' at the 2008 ANZCA Conference: Tilley, E. (2008). Seeking the sweet spot: Observations from a workplace praxis intervention programme on public relations and professional communication ethics. Power & Place: Refereed Proceedings of the Australian & New Zealand Communication Association Conference, Wellington, July 9-11. ISSN 1179-0199. Available at:

Research Ethics Statement:   This project has been evaluated by peer review and judged to be low risk.  Consequently, it has not been reviewed by one of the Universitys Human Ethics Committees.  The researcher(s) named above are responsible for the ethical conduct of this research.   If you have any concerns about the conduct of this research that you wish to raise with someone other than the researcher(s), please contact Professor Sylvia Rumball, Assistant to the Vice-Chancellor (Ethics & Equity), telephone 06 350 5249, email

Acknowledgement: Thank you to both Massey University and the Arthur W Page Center for Integrity in Public Communication for seed funding which helped support this research and the creation of this page.


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