This Week in PR Ethics (4/9/20): Ethical Missteps from COVID-19 Communications to Donations to Social Monitoring

This week the top ethical issues continued to revolve around COVID-19 ethical missteps – from how to communicate effectively (and what NOT to do), to an interesting piece on how charitable giving by companies may actually be unethical and break the law in some cases.  Employee communication was also a hot topic: from the ethics of employee monitoring to debate about is a press secretary can do their job without holding briefings. Check it out below.

  • How to communicate effectively in the time of COVID-19 – There are dozens of helpful blog post, podcasts and resources dedicated to helping communication professionals in the time of COVID-19. If only the folks at Lowe’s had read them. The company faced significant backlash over its Spring Black Friday sale, encouraging folks to come in, leading to crowds that don’t practice social distancing and employee pushback


  • Can COVID-19 charitable gifts break the law – This story isn’t getting enough attention in my opinion. Many businesses are reaching out to help COVID-19 response. This should be applauded. But an interesting article in Law 360 points out that “if a business provides free services at the personal request of an official, those services may constitute an illegal gift to that official, whereas a gift made to a governmental entity is generally permitted.” Something to keep in mind as businesses make donations and pitch in to help.


  • The ethics of employee social monitoring – In last week’s TWiPRE I discussed how medical professionals are being fired for speaking to the media. Now, it is extending to social media posts. This is not a new thing, employees represent their brand, and examples abound about communicators that lost their job or jeopardized accounts with poorly thought social posts. But does that extend to safety concerns when they act as whistleblowers? Or political thought?


  • Can you be a press secretary if you don’t hold a briefing? – The PRSA Code of Ethics focuses on the Free Flow of Information. We had a good discussion in my ethics class this week discussing how Stephanie Grisham was out as press secretary without holding a briefing. In today’s climate, are in person briefings necessary? Is virtual communication enough? Can organizations just communicate directly via social?


  • Deepfakes continue their relentless march – For years I have been discussing the threat of deepfakes and how they will continue to make our jobs more challenging and the ethical challenges they present. Their march is continuing with a new app allowing people to easily add their faces onto other people.

If you are a corporate PR professional interested in giving back, Marlene Neill and Shannon Bowen are recruiting participants for a new study on ethical/strategic listening. At the moment, they’re interested in participants from corporations that likely have the resources for listening programs. . You can reach them by emailing: Marlene_Neill at

What have you seen this week?


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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