This Week in PR Ethics (06/25/20): Ethics Training, Reasoning and the Challenge of Weasel Words

This week in PR ethics it was all about research. There were fascinating studies and reports on ethics training, the role of professional associations in ethics and moral reasoning maintenance, and the challenge of weasel statements.

  • How do the most ethical companies train their employees about ethics? Ethisphere this week released volume three in the 2020 World’s Most Ethical Companies Insight Report. This volume looks at building effective ethics training plans and measuring training effectiveness. A few things that jumped out at me include
    • 82% track training failures in root-cause analyses 
    • 61% incorporate gaming or augmented reality into training – a 13-percentage point increase from 2018
    • 80% of senior executives share personal examples and stories in their communications about ethics and compliance
    • 95% of honorees include stories in training and communications; and 91% are drawing on stories that happen within their own organizations


  • How does professional identity influence moral reasoning?I read a fascinating (and detailed) research study from Erin Schauster, Marlene Neill, Patrick Ferrucci and Edson Tandoc, that looked at the subject. Some of the key findings include that professional associations appear to be a valuable resource for socialization, regular ethics training, ethics resources and mentors. The study also found that “Socialization in later career stages appears to contribute to moral reasoning maintenance, sustaining levels of moral reasoning, rather than development” – which to my mind advocates for ethics training and discussions starting at a young age.


  • Words matter – The ethics of facial recognition has been a hot topic the past few weeks, but from a communication point of view, This article from NBC calls out how the words used by the companies leave room for unethical behavior. IBM, Amazon and Microsoft are being attack for either saying they won’t sell until there is some regulation (but then all strings are off) or not selling “general purpose” facial recognition technology – allowing the sale of specific purpose technology that could be abused. It comes back to two points I always make – words need to be backed by ethical action and you need to look at how others could misinterpret your words.
Mark McClennan, APR, Fellow PRSA
Follow Me
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


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *