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Write it Right: Why Plagiarism is a Problem for PR Pros (And How to Combat It)

Posted by Sara Skipp on Wed, Jul 27, 2016 @ 9:31 AM

idea-1301427_960_720.jpgWith the recent backlash about plagiarism in the news, we thought we'd address the importance of honesty, whether in PR, politics or life. 

We’ve talked about honesty in PR. Lying about a crisis or about your brand will send your reputation plummeting when the public finds out.

But lying isn’t always straightforward.

What about plagiarism?

Plagiarism, a huge problem in schools and universities, also causes a lot of headaches (and worse) for PR pros.

Continue reading to learn more about plagiarism in the PR industry.

It happens more often than you’d think

It’s no secret that the PR industry can be overwhelmingly competitive. The pressure might push some writers and content-creators to borrow information without citing sources, or outright steal content from other writers.

Although you might suspect that young professionals are more likely to plagiarize, trying to secure a promotion within their field or get the job done faster, experienced professionals aren’t immune from the temptation. Some of them, too, can be guilty of taking shortcuts to produce content quicker.

But plagiarism doesn’t affect only PR professionals. For example, take prominent BuzzFeed editor Benny Johnson, who was fired in 2014 after a review board determined that he had plagiarized and incorrectly cited sources for more than 40 of his articles.  

Or take New Jersey Senator Robert Menendez, who delivered a speech that borrowed language from Senator Edward Kennedy and claimed that it was original.

Or, most recently, Melania Trump, who plagiarized language from Michelle Obama’s 2008 Democratic National Convention address. Any simple search reveals hundreds and thousands of stories like these in every field imaginable.

Plagiarism isn’t found exclusively in the PR industry, but often PR pros are the ones who need to step in to clean up the messy aftermath of a plagiarism incident.


What precautions should PR pros (and their clients) take against plagiarism?

Many pros recognize the value of their own credibility and integrity. For those who are confident in their own writing and creativity, and are familiar with anti-plagiarism rules, content theft generally isn’t an issue.

Ultimately, the best defenses against plagiarism are transparency and integrity.

By being transparent, writers are honest about where they find sources, where they learned the information they incorporate in an article or what words inspired them.

Transparent content creators set good examples for others in the field and, with confidence in their own writing, inspire others to push the limits by making more creative, original content.

Pros with integrity likewise set a good example and embody the values of the PR profession. By upholding high quality and communication standards, pros open a world of opportunity for success that does not infringe on immoral territory.

We need to be open and honest about these standards. Not just to evaluate how bad things can get if we're not honest, but to embody high standards and build the industry around them, before problems even happen in any context.

All pros should be aware of the definition of plagiarism, guidelines like the PRSA code of ethics and examples of incidents wherein people were caught plagiarizing. By taking steps to understand what’s happening, and why plagiarism causes problems, pros should arm themselves with knowledge and set positive examples for others in the field.

Learn about how to craft original content that stands out in the crowd by downloading our e-Book, How to Craft Content in Context.

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