5 ways a motorcycle club lives by the PRSA code of ethics

How is the “Sons of Anarchy” similar to your press-release writing, social-media-monitoring job? You’d be surprised.

A few weeks ago I started watching a new show, “Sons of Anarchy” (SOA). It’s one of the most brutal and absurd shows on TV. It includes rape, vigilante justice, drugs and guns. And I’m absolutely glued to it.


Because it’s not a show about rape, vigilante justice, drugs and guns. It’s a show about relationships, trust, honor and loyalty.

The show is really about the relationships between the motorcycle clubs and the “partners” they work with in northern California. It’s about the relationship between Clay (the leader of SOA) and his wife, Gemma. It’s about the relationship between Clay and Jax, his step-son. It’s even about the relationship between Jax and his dead dad. It’s about the trust, honor and loyalty that plays into each of those relationships.

Surprisingly, the “Sons of Anarchy” motorcycle club operates under a strict code of ethics very similar to the PRSA code of ethics, which you’re most likely familiar with if you’re a PRSA member or an APR.

You think I’m kidding, right? You probably don’t believe there’s a motorcycle club that operates under a code of ethics. Think again.

Let’s look at five ways the SOA lives by the PRSA code of ethics:

1. “Protect and advance the free flow of accurate and truthful information.”

SOA lives this in almost every episode. It keeps the lines of communication open with all the other motorcycle clubs in the area—Lido, The Mayans, you name it. All the clubs are in direct communication. If Clay needs answers, he goes to the presidents of the clubs. There’s a free flow of communication both ways, in most cases. (OK, so it’s not perfect.)

2. “Foster informed decision making through open communication.”

SOA makes all of its club decisions behind closed doors. It sounds exclusive, right? Well, it’s really a pretty solid process. Members convene in the clubhouse, discuss the issues they need to vote on in an open and honest way, and take a vote on each decision. Each member gets floor time if he wants it, and a vote. That sounds like informed decision making to me.

3. “Protect confidential and private information.”

Protecting private and confidential information is a credo the SOA lives by every day. In the show, the club has a propensity to break the law (big shock, right?). But with that comes consequences. The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives is all over the club, and even local law enforcement sometimes.

When SOA club members are pulled in for questioning, protecting private club information is paramount. It’s simple: one squeal and you’re dead. The consequences are different from those in our PR world obviously, but you get the idea.

4. “Promote healthy and fair competition among professionals.”

In SOA lingo, “prospects” are those trying to become official SOA club members. They help the club with various tasks, like managing the clubhouse. They’re even asked to break the law.

Outside of breaking of the law, SOA takes a very fair and honest approach to this process. The best prospects become members.

5. “Work to strengthen the public’s trust in the profession.”

As PR pros, we constantly work to help the public and our clients better trust our profession. SOA has the same challenge.

The club basically rules the small town of Charming, but it also protects it-something the cops just can’t do. So you could say SOA is always working to gain the trust of the residents of Charming. In fact, in one episode of season three there’s a drive-by shooting in town in which the deputy sheriff is killed. The public’s trust in SOA takes a hit. The residents no longer feel safe, and SOA has to work that much harder to win their trust back.

On one hand we have a ruthless motorcycle club, and on the other we have our PR colleagues. They’re more similar than you might have thought, huh?

Yes, that scares the heck out of me, too.

Arik Hanson is principal of ACH Communications. A version of this article originally ran on his blog, Communications Conversations.

Topics: PR


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