This Week in PR Ethics (11/12/20): When Ethics Codes Collide and PR’s Role in Climate Change

Claims of ballot fraud and lists of Trump supporters for potential retaliation are not the only hot ethical issues of the week. Since those have received so much attention, I wanted to highlight some other interesting issues.

  • What do you do when ethics codes collide? – In my class, we spend a lot of time discussing ethical congruence, ethical differences and ethical dilemmas. This article shares a great example of ethical differences when the PRSA and the SPJ Code may collide. In this case, practitioners following both codes are doing what they believe to be the most ethical choice, but it comes down to conflicting duties.


  • What is PR’s role in climate change? – While very high-level, this article from the Etownian can drive a great discussion as parallels are drawn with the TIRC. Specifically, how much blame does PR have for lack of action on climate change? The author of the article points to a speaker who claims“[There were] 20 years of successful propaganda run and planned by public relations firms…consciously trying to undermine the science [on climate change] and it’s worked.”


  • Ethical use of data – TechTarget reported on the growing importance of the ethical use of data and its impact on brand reputation. Specifically:
    • A recent KPMG survey that found 97% of consumers said they believed data privacy was important, and 87% thought it should be a human right, but 54% of respondents didn’t trust companies to use their data ethically.
    • A recent McKinsey survey found 71% of respondents said they would stop doing business with a company that gave away sensitive datawithout permission.
    • And Deloitte can’t be left out, stating, “While it seems like data can be weaponized to gain revenue, in many instances it can backfire with bad PR that could drive a company out of business,” said David Linthicum, chief cloud strategy officer at Deloitte Consulting.


  • Fundraising during natural disasters – I enjoyed reading this article from an Australian fundraising magazine that looks at the ethics of fundraising around natural disasters. The two things that stuck with me were to avoid inflating claims about how the funds will be used and to make sure you avoid exploiting people by making appeals when they are emotionally vulnerable during a natural disaster.



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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