This Week in PR Ethics: 1/23/2020: Corporate Ethics Gap, Disinformation and Cheating is Not Condoned

Today starts a new chapter in EthicalVoices.  For the past 16 months, I have been bringing you an interview with a public relations professional every Monday. The feedback has been great, and I will continue to bring you weekly interviews.

But I realized I could do more.  Every week to start my PR Ethics class (COM 525) at Boston University I spend 30 minutes discussing ethical issues of the week. I find some, and my students bring up others.  We usually have a great discussion on the issues.

There is no reason to keep this discussion limited to my classroom. These examples are useful for other educators teaching public relations and communication ethics to students. They are also useful for professionals to discuss with their managers, the C-Suite, their clients and agencies. It is always great to have real-world issues to point to when advocating for your position.

I plan to post a This week in PR Ethics guide every Thursday (so my students don’t get a sneak peek). Let me know what you think, and if you find other issues you want to share, chime in here as well.

So without further ado, This Week in PR Ethics (really this month, since it is just starting)

  • A Weber Shandwick study finds Ethics is a Top 10 driver of Corporate Reputation and Market Value. I blogged about this last week – in the study ethics and values was identified as an essential contributor by 58 percent of respondents. This puts ethics and values clearly in the top 10 drivers of corporate reputation.  In a way it’s not surprising, but it was interesting to see it ranked above corporate culture, purpose, diversity and inclusion, community relations, environmental responsibility and philanthropy.

  • Cheating is not condoned – Some people say if you aren’t cheating, you aren’t trying, but that is not how ethical organizations act. The Houston Astros, Boston Red Sox and New York Mets took swift action against key personnel that were involved (or alleged to be involved) in sign stealing to give their organizations a competitive edge. The Mets case was a bit different, for Carlos Beltran was involved on an individual vs. management role, but they decided that difference was not significant enough. There is great discussion to be had around the decisions people make when they are under pressure to perform. These incidents clearly align with three of Saul Gellerman’s four rationalizations.


  • CEOs are losing their jobs for unethical behavior – A PwC survey reported in HBR found that 39% of the CEOs who left their jobs in 2018 left for “reasons related to unethical behavior stemming from allegations of sexual misconduct or ethical lapses connected to things like fraud, bribery and insider trading.” 


  • Disinformation for hire – This was the most chilling story of the week. Buzzfeed reported how firms are selling lies online. This shows the challenges we as an industry will be facing moving forward. I have called it the rise of the fake information age, and technology is going to make it easier for bad actors to erode trust and attack companies.

What other issues did you see this week? What do you think about these topics?

Mark McClennan, APR, Fellow PRSA
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Mark W. McClennan, APR, Fellow PRSA, is the general manager of C+C's Boston office. C+C is a communications agency all about the good and purpose-driven brands. He has more than 20 years of tech and fintech agency experience, served as the 2016 National Chair of PRSA, drove the creation of the PRSA Ethics App and is the host of


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