This Week in PR Ethics (7/9/20) – Meetings, Bribes and Privacy

Three very interesting stories this week in PR ethics, all dealing with timeless issues. What is our obligation to protect users’ privacy? What do we do when we see an unethical business practice? And Should you have meetings with stakeholders when you may not want to act on what they say?


  • Unethical business practices – The Ethics and Compliance Institute drew by attention to this story on Novartis being fined more than $600 million for unethical business practices. It brings up the question where were the communicators in this situation and what would you do in a similar situation? The key point “Novartis hosted tens of thousands of speaker programs and related events as so-called “educational events” when, in fact, the events were conduits to pay bribes to physicians.  Novartis paid physicians’ honoraria for alleged lectures regarding a Novartis medication, but in fact, many of these programs were social events at lavish restaurants, wineries, golf clubs and other sports venues with little or no discussion about Novartis drugs.  DOJ noted that Novartis even held 75 events at Hooters.  Some of the events never even took place – the physician was paid a fee to induce the physician to increase prescriptions of Novartis drugs.”


  • The Ethics of Meetings – Facebook was roundly criticized for engaging in a “PR Exercise” when it met with leaders concerns about its handling of hate speech. This leads to two interesting discussion points.
    • How can we fight back about unproductive meetings being labeled as a “PR exercise?” To me that would be a meeting where there is an attempt to bring an organization closer to its publics and facilitate two-way symmetrical communications, but that is not the common perception of those words.
    • Is it ethical to have a meeting when you know nothing said in the meeting will change your position or actions at all?
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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