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  • Writer's pictureAmanda Woods

PRSA NY Mock Tribunal: Public Relations on Trial

   Back in September, my fellow PRSSA member Marinda and I left campus early and took the train into NYC for PRSA’s Mock Tribunal of Public Relations in honor of National Ethics Month. Ethics are values or moral principles in action. PRSA celebrates National Ethics Month each September to put the focus on ethics and how the Public Relations industry and continue to improve upon itself.

    The event was held at the SUNY Global Center, near Central Park in NYC. We took the train in from New Jersey and then the subway to a station a few blocks away from the event. It was my first time going on the subway ‘by myself’, as in, without someone who knew more about NYC than I did, and I found it surprisingly easy once I figured out how to navigate the subway station. 🙂

    When we arrived, we had missed the first half of the 30 minute networking wine & cheese reception, but we tried to do some networking anyway. We were surprised to see the diversity of the group that was there because our classes are almost entirely made up of white females. All the research suggests that PR is a female dominated industry, but the group that attended the even was the most diverse group of people I have ever seen in one place. After the networking event, we all filed into the conference room (pictured above), and the trial got underway.


​​     The  above graphic is taken from PRSA NY’s website page about the event. I think it’s easier to show you that rather than try to explain each person.  Mr. Cohen was a great Judge. He did his best not to be biased, and kept the peace between the two sides. Mr. Holmes, the prosecutor, had a lot to say on behalf of the public against PR. He began by arguing to PR is just spin and deception. The defense, spearheaded by Mr. Schubert, said that PR takes ethics very seriously, and that despite a few bad apples, PR does not condone the use of spin or deception in their work. Helping a company put out a point of view is not deception, but merely subjective. Journalism is Objective, and PR is Subjective. PR has a responsibility as the conscience of the company to advice its leaders on ethical practices.

     The first witness for the prosecution was very heated. I have tremendous respect for her because she had the confidence to call PR the death of Journalism in front of a room filled with PR professionals. Holmes brought the point up that although he believes that PR professionals have good intent, he questions their follow through when it comes to ethical controversies. Witnesses for the defense Jaqueline Brevard and Steve Cody had some great comebacks, pointing out that compliance is the letter of the law, and that ethics goes beyond that because it’s values-based. They also cited numerous cases (without naming names of course) in which their companies had dropped clients who asked for or perpetuated unethical practices.

     The prosecution stated that the rise of Social Media took a lot of power away from Journalists, and that it also calls for a higher level of ethical behavior. The defense agreed, but also pointed out that Public Relations professionals do not necessarily get the last word about what goes out to the public. That’s the lawyers job.


    Throughout the trial, PRSANY encouraged us to use social media. It was crazy to see all these professionals paying attention to the trial and live-tweeting it at the same time! PRSANY had a person specifically tweeting for them, but just about everyone in the room was tweeting their opinions about the testimonies, and asked their own questions. The foreman of the jury was our voice and compiled our questions to ask at the end of the trial. Some of them were pretty funny! Besides the questions, it was just really cool to be able to talk to other people (some of who were watching the livestream!) about what was going on in front of us.


    We did a vote at the end of the trial and the verdict returned was not guilty. Both sides had very compelling arguments, and you can watch the whole trial online here! Marinda and I are even in it at the end because the guy sitting in front of us asked a question and the camera panned over to him with us in the background, haha!

    Marinda and I learned a lot that evening in NYC.  Some of the networking things we learned I’m including in a separate post, but we definitely learned about how fun a professional event can be, and that you can never do enough research. some of the arguments were citing PR campaigns that we had never heard of, which just served to intrigue us even more.

     If you are interested in Public Relations, I highly recommend attending some of the PRSA professional events in your area. I was truly amazing to see PR people in action. Again, you can watch the mock trial in full HERE.

Until next time,


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