When and where do you draw the ethical line? – Helio Fred Garcia

This week is the 2nd Anniversary of EthicalVoices, and I have one of the best, most insightful interviews of the past two years on tap for you. Joining me on this week’s episode is Helio Fred Garcia, President of Logos Consulting Group. For 40 years, he has helped leaders build trust, inspire loyalty, and lead effectively. He is a coach, counselor, teacher, writer, and a speaker whose clients include some of the largest and best-known companies and organizations in the world.

Fred discusses a number of important ethics issues including:

Why don’t you tell us a little bit more about yourself and your career?

I fell into PR through the backdoor while I was in graduate school studying Ancient Greek philosophy and also studying ethics. I discovered that I loved the language and the persuasion I found in PR firms, but I also found it wasn’t as stimulating as I expected it to be. But then something magical fell into my lap and I was recruited to help an industry association of a discredited industry. – accounting. It was the aftermath of a major corporate scandal in which the accountants had been complicit in a massive fraud, and a company that had been redefining American business. Ultimately it was revealed to be a sham, and it crashed and burned and lots of investors lost billions of dollars. The accountants were complicit in the fraud. Now that was 20 years before Enron. That was in the late 1970s.

By 1983, the accounting profession had suffered meaningful loss of trust, and the firm that had been complicit in that fraud had purged all of the people in leadership and the people who had worked on that particular audit. The new head of the American institute of CPAs, the new managing partner of that initial firm that had been complicit, decided to make his two-year term in office a campaign to restore ethical practice to the accounting profession. He hired me to help him develop an ethics mindset, to develop an ethics training program for all accountants, to train the trainers, and to ultimately be part of the ethical restoration of accounting.

Although at the time I knew nothing about accounting, I knew enough about ethics and trust and teaching to be able to pull that together. They did a really good job in scaling it across the nation, and within two years, the accounting profession was back on its path to be respected again.

I really liked the idea that you could take a discredited industry and make it trusted again, not through spin, but by actually addressing the underlying behaviors of the people in that profession. And from there I decided that I wanted to find a way to stay working in that environment.

I ultimately developed a crisis management capability and a crisis management practice. About a third of the work that we do in the crisis practice has some meaningful thing to do with ethics. About a third of the work we do in our ethics practice has something to do with crisis. But what they both have in common is that trust is on the line anytime you’re dealing with ethics, and trust is on the line anytime you’re dealing with crises.

In 1988, I was recruited to join the New York University faculty in the PR program, and my first course was a course on ethics in communication. I’ve taught some version of that course for the last 33 years. For the last 17 years I have also taught in the executive MBA program at the NYU Stern School of Business. I teach crisis management, but I also teach ethical decision making. And for the last four years, I’ve been a professor at the Graduate School of Engineering at Columbia where I teach ethics to every incoming masters and PhD student – introduction to the ethics of engineering. I also teach an advanced ethics course on ethical decision making that is an elective that students can take, and that’s where we get into the deeper dive into ethical decision-making processes and how to make sure that you’re asking the right questions.

So, I spent about 40 years worrying about and thinking about the application of ethics in persuasion, the application of ethics in communication in general, and the application of ethics in business and science.

Thinking about what you described, what is the most difficult ethical challenge you ever confronted at work?

The most difficult ethical challenge was when I was working with organizations that were dishonest, and my discovery of the dishonesty put me in a difficult situation.

Just before I joined the ethics program for the accounting profession, I was working full time at a public relations firm. The firm no longer exists, but I’m still not at liberty to name it. They had a habit of lying to their clients, and in particular, lying about what they were doing for their clients. I got the directive from my VP to tell the client that we could guarantee that they would have the cover of the New York Times Magazine, and as you know, the Public Relations Society of America Code of Ethics says you cannot guarantee a result beyond your control.

And when I said, “Well, I can guarantee I’ll do everything I can to secure the cover. I can guarantee that we’ll pitch the cover, but I can’t guarantee that we’ll get the cover story in the New York Times Magazine.” He said, “Well, you got to do it anyway.” I said, “That’s a violation of the Code of Ethics.” The VP called me in, “So it’s very clear that you have no aptitude for public relations. I don’t know if you’re a good fit here.”

I said, “I’m certain I’m not a good fit here, and I quit.” I didn’t have job to go to. But it was that act that came to the attention of the headhunter who was then hired by the accounting profession to find someone to do what I ultimately did.

Many years later, I was 31, and I was the head of communication at a big investment bank. I was hired by the CEO, and he and I had an agreement. The agreement was I was the chief spokesman for the bank. He would not lie to me. I would not lie to him and I would not lie for the bank. And he agreed to that, and we had a great relationship. Then he was fired. A new CEO came in, he didn’t agree to those terms. I naively said, “Well, I’ll figure it out.” I was asked to say things into the marketplace that I did say, believing them to be true. But I discovered through a New York Times reporter that they were actually a lie.

I went to the CEO, said, “Hey, the New York Times just caught me in what I take to be a lie. I didn’t intend to mislead, but you misled me. We need to have an agreement. You can’t lie to me. I can keep secrets, but you can’t lie to me. I can’t turn around and tell an untruth to reporters. That’s going to put the bank in a lot worse shape than it is right now. And by the way, I can’t sustain my career that way.” He said, “Well, I’ll do what I have to do as the head of the company.”

A few months later, he lied to me again and asked me to turn around and tell it to the public. I verified that it was true. He affirmed that it was true. I told the news media. It turned out it was a lie too. At that point, I walked into his office, and I quit.

Now why was that difficult? I was recently married. I had a pregnant wife. I didn’t have a job to go to and I had no idea what I would do next.

What is interesting is I never told any reporter about that, but by the time I got home with my stuff in my box, the phone was ringing. And it was a New York Times guy, and he said, “Is it true that you quit instead of lying to us?” And I asked, “Is this an interview?” He said, “No, this is just us.” I said, “Well, yeah. It’s true.” He said, “Great. You’re golden. I’ll trust you for the rest of your career.”

Half an hour later, I got a call from the Wall Street Journal, “Is it true that you quit because you refused to lie?” I asked, “Is this an interview?” He said, “No, no. This is us.” I said, “Yeah, that’s true.” He said, “Thank you,” and he became a source many years later on very difficult crises. And we had a good relationship.

Finally, Businessweek called and said, “Is it true that you quit instead of lying to us?” And I asked, “Is this an interview?” She said, “No, it’s just us.” I confirmed it. I ended up having great relationships with those three reporters that held me in good stead many years later when I had clients deep in crisis and they needed to believe me. When I told them what was happening, they believed me, and of course, I was telling them the truth.

The final difficult challenge was I was at a certain PR firm, and I discovered that it was systematically cheating clients. They were double billing. They were billing clients for work that hadn’t been done. They were billing the same expense to multiple clients. Initially I thought it was just bad record keeping. I thought it was inadvertent, and I tried to fix it. But when I discovered that it was intentional and I couldn’t fix it, I quit. Many of the clients who were with that firm, although I never revealed directly to those clients what I discovered just because I was contractually not permitted to. Many of those clients ultimately discovered they had been cheated, went looking for the guy that they had trusted before. They found me and many of them are still my clients 20 years later.

Those three things, those three jobs I left when I didn’t have a better job to go to, all were when the company was dishonest and wasn’t just incidentally dishonest, but was intentionally dishonest and expected me to participate in the dishonesty.

I refused to do that, and as a result, in each instance, I had been up in a better place. Each instance, I had a soft landing, and the people’s whose trust I needed continued to trust me. I don’t talk about those in public much, but it’s been 35 years in one case and 20 years in another case. None of those firms or institutions exist anymore. So it’s not as if they’re still out there practicing their craft. They ultimately all went under at least partially because they had a business model that wasn’t sustainable, and that was based on dishonesty.

Those are I think three great examples, and thank you for sharing them. They were Horatio at the Gates moments. You took a big step and said, “I can’t be a part of this. I’m leaving.” Michael Smart says, “You need to have a freedom fund.” Where he advocates young professionals get three to six months saved so you’re not compromising your autonomy because you’re worried about your paycheck.

But what made you decide to take that dramatic move rather than what some others would have said about do you talk to managers? Do you talk to somebody else? Did you try to change the culture from within?

I tried to change it. In each instance, I offered alternatives, and in each instance, it became clear to me that they were determined to be dishonest. It wasn’t as if they had gotten inadvertently into a bad habit. They were intentionally dishonest, and that’s when I realized no, that’s the line I can’t cross.

I use that vocabulary with my graduate students. I teach you need to know in advance what the line is beyond which you will not cross. And I even tell them I have a prediction about your career. There will come a point where you reach that line, and I can’t predict when it will be. But I can predict that you will face that line. The question is are you looking at it in the rear view mirror or are you looking at it through the windshield? Are you approaching the line or have you already crossed it and now you regret it?

The more early they are in their ethical discernment, the more likely they are to know when to cross the line.

I use a lot of case studies examples where people face that line and sometimes, they faced it in the rear-view mirror and realized that they had really screwed up. And then the question was, how do they get back? It’s okay to screw up. It’s not okay to be indifferent to the screwing up, and that’s a good rule for both ethics and crisis.

Mark Cautela who’s the head of comms over at Harvard Business School and I spoke, and he still regrets a decision early in his career when he didn’t speak up about ethical oversight. And it just got worse and worse. And he’s like, “You got to address the issue head-on, quickly rather than die the death of a thousand cuts.

Right. In my case, I had had formal study in ethics, including advanced ethics in graduate school. I had been writing about, reading, thinking and doing case study work before I found myself at that line. One of the things that I tell students and clients is that structures and clear protocols make courage less necessary. And in the case of the first job that I had to resign from, the Public Relations Society of America’s Code of Ethics is very clear and was very clear back then that PR people may not make promises for things over which they have no control including the specificity of foreseeable press coverage because we don’t make the editorial judgments, somebody else does. So I could point to that without in any way making myself holier than anyone. I could say, “Hey, look. It’s not me. That’s the agreed upon industry standard. And oh, by the way, at the bank, you have a regulatory duty to not speak materially misleading things.”

Pointing to structure is in many ways liberating because it isn’t personal preference. One of the things I teach my students is the decision criteria you use to make a decision, whether it’s a decision about how to proceed in a crisis or a decision on how to choose in an ethical dilemma, which of the conflicting duties are you prepared to violate because you have a greater duty in one of those respects? Having clarity about those decision criteria. If you have a legal duty that conflicts with your ethical duty, which do you choose and how do you determine which to choose, that’s actually not an easy decision. But the clearer you are about the criteria, the more likely you are to make the right choice.

For example, I teach in my engineering ethics course that Apple was ordered by a United States federal court to invent software that Apple believed would put millions of people’s safety and security at risk.

Apple had to decide whether to abide by the law, which would put it in violation of the first ethical standard for engineers, which is to protect public safety, or abide by their ethical obligation to protect public safety but then be at risk of the full force of the United States government coming down upon them, including severe financial sanction.

When I ask my students, especially students from outside the United States who were not here when this happened five years ago, what do you think Apple chose? The answer I always hear is, “Oh, they chose to pretend to invent the software but not succeed,” or, “Oh, they chose to invent the software and say they had no choice. The courts made them.” But actually, Apple chose to defy the court order. When Tim Cook, the CEO, went out to defend the decision, he said, “We have to stand tall and to stand tall on principle. And the principle is our first duty is to protect our customers. Everything else is secondary to that.” That clarity helps you make the really tough choices at the moment you need to make those choices.

That’s a great example. I was actually speaking with my students this past week, we were focusing on duty and when you have conflicting duties, how do you work through it because that’s the challenge is usually it’s never a black and white decision.

I want to circle back to something you said right at the start of the interview when we were talking about helping the accounting industry and how you said you were helping them not through spin but actually by addressing underlying behaviors. I think we’re seeing this a lot right now with woke washing and with green washing. We’re seeing a lot of companies that maybe saying things that sound good, but are they actually doing it? How do you recommend working with companies to advocate that they need to take action and not just focus on words?

The first thing I note is that I abide by an understanding of public relations that isn’t necessarily the definition that people have out in the world. I actually abide by the Bernays definition he shared when he taught the first PR course at NYU 98 years ago. When he wrote Crystallizing Public Opinion, he defined public relations as a vocation applied by a social scientist who advises a client or an employer on public attitudes and on the actions to take in order to win the support of the public on whom the viability of the client depends.

I translate that in 2020 as public relations is an applied anthropologist who understands the drivers of trust in the groups that matter to the client and understand what is necessary for the client to do and to say in order to win and keep the trust of those who matter to the client. There’s a relationship between what we do and what we say. What we say sets expectations, but what we do either fulfills those expectations or fails to fulfill those expectations. Trust is the consequence of expectations that are met, and the bigger the gap between what we do and what we say, the more we can predict that trust will plummet. So when people come to us and say, “This is really dangerous, but we want to spin it as if it’s really safe,” I say, “Go find someone else to do that. By the way, we’ll be available to you when you crash and burn.”

Because that’s not going to work. In the short term, it may work. In the long term, it won’t. One of the principles I teach my students and that I teach my clients is the old principle from the guy who headed Goldman Sachs in the 1980s. It’s okay to be long term greedy. It’s not okay to be short term greedy. It’s actually a foundational ethical principle that if you organize yourself for sustainability in the long term, you will avoid making short term shortcuts that might be ethically suspect. But if you want to be sustainable for the long term, you’re not going to make short term ethical shortcuts. Short term greedy bad. Long term greedy good.

And that’s where I think we’re seeing a lot of tie in to the triple bottom line focus right now.

That’s right. When I’m talking to business leaders or when I’m talking to people who are the stewards of reputation, I sometimes use the word stakeholder, but I’d rather use the purely accessible term – those groups of people who matter to you. The CEO, your investors, your employees, the regulators, the customers. What are the drivers of trust for them? We need to make decisions, whether it’s decisions about a crisis or decisions about ethical issues, we need to make decisions that are more likely to result in either maintaining or restoring trust. And one of the things we know is it’s much harder to restore trust after it’s been lost than it is to maintain trust in the first place. So let’s get it right the first time. Measure twice, cut once.

What are you personally seeing as some of the key challenges for today and tomorrow when it comes to ethics in business?

I think there’s a tendency to be more short term focused than is healthy. I think the triple bottom line is helping with that. I think there is the tendency to just have short attention spans and to be replying in the moment, and that’s when you typically see in the rear view mirror, “Oh my gosh, I screwed that up.” So if we can try to find ways to not make decisions in the moment unless they’re absolutely necessary, but rather to discern. One of the metaphors I’ve always thought was a useful metaphor and that was Jefferson pouring coffee into a saucer and letting it cool before he drank it.

There’s a wisdom in not making a decision when you’re hot, make the decision when you’ve got a little bit of ability to cool down. Whether it’s an ethical decision or a crisis decision, the more you can be in discernment about the desired outcome and the more you can make choices to get you to that desired outcome, a desired outcome is not to cover it up. The desired outcome is to thrive in the future.

The fundamental ethical principles haven’t changed since you were studying Ancient Greek philosophers. I mean, it’s the greatest soap opera in human history. But are there new permutations, are new risks that you’re seeing us encounter that you think people should be paying attention to?

I actually posed on social media yesterday that I am skeptical about the ethical challenges in AI, and I teach AI ethics to my engineering graduate students. But every now and then something comes along that gives me hope. For example, a study in Britain discovered using AI technology that people who are non-symptomatic but positive with COVID cough differently, and they have compiled a database of how people with COVID cough and what the differences are people without COVID coughing. And they’re in the process of developing an app where a soon as it gets FDA approval and other things, every morning you can cough into your app and it will tell you whether you’re likely to have COVID or not and to go get tested. They are now thinking through the consequences of that. If you could do that before you go to work, you could do that before you go outside, you could do that before you go to a restaurant, that if we can find through AI a way to self-screen the likelihood that you have COVID, that could actually be breakthrough in the pandemic. So that’s a ray of hope.

What worries me are the charlatans who might try to exploit that without the same level of rigor that you otherwise have. When I teach AI ethics, I teach about the application of AI that has caused controversy. For example, in the Spring of 2018, a bunch of employees at Google discovered that Google had a project with the Pentagon.

The Pentagon was using Google’s AI capacity to help improve the imaging from drones to further improve the targeting of missile strikes fired from drones. Before I tell my students how it was resolved, I ask them, “Is there anything inherent about a Pentagon contract that would cause you concern?” For some, there is. For some, there isn’t. And then I ask, “Well, what is the nature of the concern? Is it what they do or that it’s the Pentagon?” Well, it’s what they do. “So what if it was search?” Well, that would be okay. “Well, what if it was indexing and archiving your photographs?” Well, that would probably be okay. Depends on what the photographs are. I said, “No, they have the photographs. This is about indexing and archiving them. Is that okay?” Most of them say yeah.

As soon as I mention that it’s about approving imaging so you get more precise targeting from drone strikes, people start to freak out. And then I ask, “Okay. Let me ask a question, the human rights community expresses deep concern that firing missiles at any target is an indiscriminate weapon because what they sort of horrifically call collateral damage is humans who are not the targets who are killed or injured in the strike. But if this improvement in targeting makes it less likely that you’re going to kill the unintended victims, it can only kill the intended targets, isn’t that a net plus from the human rights perspective?” And very often people say probably. And then I ask, “So what do you think Google did?” And half of them will say, “Well, Google ignored the employees concerns,” and half of them say, “Well, Google find a way to justify it.”

It turns out no. When employees raised the concern with the CEO of Google, he took it seriously. He thought about it. Went back and said, “We agree. So we concluded that there’s seven applications of AI that Google will not pursue.” Two of them are weapons and weapons technology. And my graduate students were surprised that a company like Google would number one, listen to its employees, and number two, actually forego revenue even though it could have found a way to justify that activity. But they said, “We agree. We should not be in the business of war, even if it’s to incrementally make war less dangerous. So we’re going to get out of Project Maven, and we’re not going to do any more AI technology around weapons.” And that actually surprises my graduate students.

What are some of the ethics scenarios that engages or surprise students the most?

I run my students through an exercise on what we could possibly mean when we say that something is the right thing to do or the wrong thing to do.

I say, “Look, from an ethics perspective, ethics is about publicly observable behavior and whether it aligns with a normative standard that some society will set.” Then I ask for a courageous volunteer for the purpose of the exercise, and I get permission from the volunteer. Then I say, “Okay. Let’s assume for the purpose of this exercise you and I are friends. And one of the manifestations of our friendship is that I sometimes am a passenger in the car that you’re driving, and I notice a pattern. That is that you never drive any faster than the posted speed limit.”

And then I ask the class, “What do you conclude about Roger, the student, when I report to you that when I’m a passenger in his car, he never drives any faster than the posted speed limit?” And I get a range of answers.

I get he’s a thoughtful driver. He’s a careful driver. He’s a worried driver. He’s trying to impress his ethics professor. He’s a diligent driver. He’s one ticket away from losing his license. He doesn’t want to get pulled over. And I point out all of those are appropriate interpretations of that behavior, but we have no idea which one it is. And I can ask Roger what is it, and he said, “Oh, I’m a new driver, and I’m worried about getting into an accident.” And I say, “That maybe a completely true report, but you might also be trying to impress your ethics professor.” So even when we ask what is the reason that someone behaves the way they do, we don’t really know. And they may not even be fully aware of the reasons they do things, but when they’re asked to account for it, they come up with what maybe a truthful answer. It may be incomplete.

Then I move on. The law is a different way to think about right and wrong. So one element of breaking law is is it behavior that aligns with a normative standard? Number two, what are your intentions or motivations or the value systems that you’re living by? That’s morality, and that’s always private. But the third way to think about right and wrong is about the law, and as a general principle in the United States, it is not illegal to lie to someone else. It may be a violation of an ethical standard. It may be a violation of your personal morality, but it’s not against the law unless it’s to the FBI or to a committee of Congress or under oath. But in most circumstances in America, it is okay to lie to somebody else.

So then I take that case study. I say, “So Roger, let’s assume that as a manifestation of our friendship you know that I love jazz and that there’s a great jazz club you’ve just discovered. And you invite me to join you to go to the Brooklyn on Friday to watch this great jazz performance. And I say, ‘You know, I really like Roger, and I really love jazz. But I couldn’t imagine being stuck in his car because he never really goes any faster than the posted speed limit. And it’s really annoying.’ So I lie to Roger, and I say, ‘Roger, I’d love to go with you, but I’m really occupied Friday. I’ve got a commitment out of town. I couldn’t possibly join you, but please, go.’ Roger is so disappointed, he decides to stay home on Friday night. And then he walks across the Columbia campus and then sees me in the main square of the campus talking to other graduate students. And he comes up to me and he looks at me and says, ‘Hey, what are you doing here?’ He picks up the phone, he calls 911 and says, “New York City Police, come to the Columbia campus and arrest Professor Garcia. He lied to me.'” And everybody laughs.

And I said, “The fact that I lied to him is not a crime. The police don’t come.” So when we say that something is the right thing to do or the wrong thing to do, it could be it abides by a normative standard. It could be it’s a personal value system, or it could be what the law requires or permits.

There are two other issues. It could be that it’s impolite. What’s wrong is that it’s impolite. So I take Roger, and I say, “Roger, I’m having a conversation with you, and we’re both having coffee and our heads are tilted towards each other. We’re whispering, and another student,” I’ll call in another student. “He comes by, he picks up his phone, he holds it in front of the two of us. He photobombs us and he takes the picture.” And I said, “Dude, that is so wrong.” And everybody laughs.

And I say, “Well, what is it that I mean when I say it’s wrong?” If I say to you, “John, you just photobombed me and Roger, that’s wrong.” And he would say, “Well, it’s not a violation of Columbia University Code of Ethics. It’s not a violation of my personal moral standards. It’s not illegal. So what do you mean it’s wrong?” “Well, it’s impolite. It’s rude.” And finally, when we say that something’s the wrong thing to do, it could be that it is just distasteful. That it makes me feel bad to do that so I don’t do it.

Then because they’re engineers, I put up Venn diagram. Here’s the circle, and that’s ethics. And then I put another circle, and here’s morality. And here’s another circle, it’s a law. Here’s another circle, and it’s politeness. Here’s another circle, it’s tasteful. I say, “Oh, by the way, how many permutations of right and wrong are there?” In all of these overlaps of all of these five circles, and it’s dozens. And the things that surprises my graduate students is just how ambiguous it is when we say that something is the right thing to do or the wrong thing to do. And I encourage them to be thoughtful when they use that vocabulary. Which intersection of ethics and morality and law and etiquette and aesthetics is it? The more granularity you have, the more likely you are to be able to make the right choice when you find yourself facing a moral dilemma. What surprises them is that there’s a rigor and there’s a complexity to it. And as engineers, they really like rigor and complexity.

What is the best piece of ethics advice you ever received?

It’s going to sound really trite, but you know who you really are and live the you that you really are. Don’t let others fool you into becoming the you that you know you’re not.

The joke is I want to be the person my dog thinks I am.

In the beginning you were talking about teaching the students the questions to ask. What are some of the questions that you think communication professionals should be asking that they may not be asking?

From a communication ethics point of view, what I teach my students is to what is the outcome we seek? Not the process, but the outcome. Then ask what are the options available to you that could get you closer or farther from that outcome? And then which choice is the less bad choice? Because when you face a moral dilemma or an ethical dilemma, you’re going to make a choice that still violates some principle. What is the less bad choice that gets you closer or at least, least far from that desired outcome? You need the discipline to make the choices based on the outcome and not based on the short-term strains that put you in that situation. That’s what actually got Apple to decide to violate a court order, even though there were consequences to that. That’s what got Google to choose to get out of a line of business that they agreed with their employees was contrary to Google’s stated value proposition of don’t be evil, do the right thing.

The more we can make decisions based on desired outcomes and using agreed upon standards as the way to calibrate whether we’re likely to get to that desired outcome, we’re more likely to live to fight another day. So in my case when I resigned from the PR firm, I didn’t have a job to go to. It was scary. But it was the less bad outcome because I would’ve been miserable at that place. They wouldn’t have trusted me because I didn’t do what they wanted me to do, and I would’ve ultimately had to leave and leave probably with less ability to recover. I was glad that I left, although at the time it was scary. Similarly when I left the bank, I had a pregnant wife and no job. And it was really scary, but I knew that as a PR guy I needed to maintain the trust of the journalists that I spoke with and the trust of my teams. And oh, by the way, several people who had been on my team later became my clients when they went to other banks and they realized that I would always be straight with them.

I wanted to maintain the trust of the journalists with whom I had come to develop relationships, and I needed to protect my own brand because at the time I was then an ethics professor. Imagine what it’s like for an ethics professor to be called a liar.

Is there anything I didn’t ask you that you wanted to highlight, Fred?

I think there’s a relationship between ethics decency and treating others with respect, and I think in the last 20 years we’ve seen a progressive and then accelerated decline in respect and decency in the public square. That is having an effect on our own ethical discernment.

I am confident that the pendulum will swing back. But I’m harkened by the work of so many people in public relations and in corporate communication who are taking this as an opportunity to swing the pendulum back.

For example, Steve Harrison and Jim Lukaszewski have a brilliant book out called The Decency Code, which is how to restore integrity in the workplace. There are other similar books out there now that are essentially giving us a framework for more responsible discourse at work and on behalf of clients.

This podcast and those books can be extremely helpful in moving that pendulum back towards a healthier place for our profession and a healthier place for society as a whole and a healthier place for the practitioners in the profession as we continue to go out there and be the stewards of trust and reputation.

Listen to the full interview, with bonus content, here


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 *