This Week in PR Ethics (4/8/21): Virtue, Symbolism over Substance, and Changes in Ethics Reporting

This week in public relations ethics virtue was a key theme – from April Fool’s lies to the virtues of a successful leader to taking a stand against Georgia’s new laws – business were living up to their virtues or failing to do so.  There was also an interesting report on a growing whistleblower dichotomy.


  • Report on Corporate Ethics Hotlines Fell in 2020 but whistleblower calls increased – This week the Wall Street Journal reported that “third-party managers of the [ethics] hotlines saw a drop in the total number of reports last year, with 54 million employees lodging more than 1.3 million internal reports, a roughly 7.1% decrease from 2019, according to data from Navex Global Inc.”  In an interesting contrast, the article also reported the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission’s whistleblower program, received about 6,900 tips in fiscal year 2020—the most for any year since the program began in 2011.


  • Truth, April Fools and Voltswagen – I really hate most brand’s April Fool initiatives. They try too hard to be funny and frequently fail. In the case of Volkswagen, it may have gone from merely unfunny to being untruthful, damaging to stakeholder relationships and potentially illegal.


  • Virtues of a successful leader – The Ethics & Compliance Initiative drew my attention to this article in Forbes that highlights three virtues of a successful leader – authenticity, vulnerability and confidence. I look forward to discussing how these virtues compare to Aristotle’s and Confucius’ virtues with my class.


  • Virtue, Bias and the All-Star Game – While we are on the topic of virtue – this week demonstrated that virtuous words and actions matter. Major League Baseball pulled the All-Star Game and Draft from Georgia as a result of their new voting laws. Other organizations also condemned the law. We had a really interesting dinner table discussion on the topic. Was the MLB initiative more flash than substance – did it go far enough? Is pulling the game going to drive change, or would they have been better served in making donations to candidates dedicated to repealing it? What is a symbolic as opposed to a substantive ethical act?
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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