This Week in PR Ethics (07/02/20): Boycotts, Bias and Seizing the Moment

A number of significant and lingering ethical issues appear to be moving from words to action this week – most notably the social media advertising boycott. The challenge is how do we seize the moment? I highlighted a few organizations that have helpful advice and research to share on the topic.

  • Social Media Advertising Boycott – This has been the most discussed communication ethics topic of the past week and rightfully so. What role should social media platforms play in ridding their platforms of violence, hate and inappropriate content. Many brands, including Unilever and Verizon have taken a stand and this week Coke joined them. It drives home a point that I make to my class quite a bit – actions speak louder than words and the movement of money can be a powerful motivator. We see this in agency diversity as well as large brands are starting to mandate diverse teams and this is adding fuel to the shift that is already an ethical imperative.


  • It’s New To You: Gender Bias in Reviews – Last night a friend of mine brought data from the following 2014 article dealing with unconscious bias to my attention. Since it is summer, I learned about it Tuesday. and I am a big fan of NBC’s old “It’s New To You” campaign I wanted to share it here – Managers were critical in 58.9 percent of men’s reviews and in 87.9 percent of the women’s performances reports. Some criticisms were constructive, but women were castigated repeatedly for personality and communication skills, such as: “Pay attention to your tone,” “Stop being so judgmental!” “Let others shine,” “Step back,” and “Be a little more patient.” The word abrasive was used in 71 of the 94 critical reviews received by women. There was no difference based on the gender of the reviewer, but this does highlight a bias (unconscious or not) we need to fight against.


  • Seize the moment – This blog post from SAI Global calls on ethics (and compliance) executives to seize the moment. The events have 2020 have driven home the need for an ethical culture now more than ever. If my class was meeting this week, I would have a discussion with students on just how can we seize the moment and what is needed. One interest point that blog made: “Seat time” is not a metric of success or indicator of an effective program – doing less can be more impactful than adding more and more activities.


  • Communication creates a speak up culture – Last week the FCPA podcast focused on how compliance communications can help drive a speak up culture. One of the more interesting points came from  Bob Conlin, CEO of NAVEX Global who said, “A speak-up culture only exists when it is paired with a true listen-up culture.” One of my 2019 EthicalVoices guests, David Herrick, discussed how to do this globally
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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