This Week in PR Ethics (9/17/20): COVID and Culture

COVID and culture dominated the ethics headlines this week. There were articles on COVID and ethics that looked at everything from when do you share information, to the decline of trust, and the increase in pressure to act unethically. Beyond COVID, there were great articles on managing conflicts in a cancel culture environment, and a brilliant call to action to take concrete steps to end racial inequality in PR.

  • Three COVID Ethics examples – There were so many COVID issues over the past 10 days including:
    • Should Bob Woodward have delayed in sharing his information? I liked this analysts from John Bernoff on his blog Without Bullsh*t.
    • What is the most ethical way to distribute a COVID vaccine? A student in my COM 525 Ethics class at BU drew my attention to a really intriguing article that looked at the ethical flaws with some of the most popular approaches to distributing a COVID vaccine when it is eventually approved.
    • Ethics and adverse events – AstraZeneca paused its COVID vaccine trial when there was an unexplained illness in a participant. Now this is par for the course in healthcare, and a good example of ethical conduct. But for me, what makes this a great example is it gives a concrete opportunity to discuss with students – ethically, how soon do you need to disclose information once you have it?


  • Is the COVID-19 Pandemic increasing pressure for employees to bend the rules? Every month the Ethics & Compliance Initiative introduces new research. I like the research they shared that shows COVID is going to likely drive an increase in employee pressure to act unethically. The research highlights seven changes that drive this pressure – and communication professionals play a central role in all of them.


  • Decline in trust is impacting public health – Trust is based on an ethical foundation and New York magazine and other outlets reported that a recent CBS News poll indicated that only 21 percent of Americans would be inclined to take a COVID-19 vaccine as soon as possible, while 62 percent expressed concern that the Trump administration is pressuring the Food and Drug Administration to relax safety and efficacy standards to rush out a vaccine, according to a survey conducted by the Kaiser Family Foundation.



  • Racial inequality in PR is deplorable – This week, Torod Neptune, one of the most influential leaders in PR today, wrote a brilliant op ed on how we need action, not words, to end racial inequality in PR. Read the entire piece now. This should be required reading for every PR pro and PR student. And if you want more amazing insight from Torod, he was also a guest on EthicalVoices last year where he discussed how to move from where we are to where we ought to be.




Mark McClennan, APR, Fellow PRSA
Follow Me
Tagged in:
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 *