Ethics, data privacy and looking back – Wendy Glavin

Joining me on this week’s episode is Wendy Glavin, the founder of the Wendy Glavin Agency, which specializes in marketing, executive writing, PR, and social media advisory. She discusses several important ethics issues, including:

Why don’t you tell us about yourself and your career?

So, I wanted to be an actress. My professors said I was too dramatic. I wanted to be a lawyer, my prosecutor dad said that I was more of an advocate. So that’s what I did. I became an advocate working for clients. I started at General Electric out of college, I founded my agency in 2016 and that’s what I’ve been doing.

What is the most difficult ethical challenge you ever confronted at work?

When I was working full-time as a consultant for an agency in the United States and I had three clients, one in financial technology, one in mutual funds, and another client. The fintech client CEO said to me, “Social media costs so much for you to manage, $150 for an hour?” I’m like, “$150 for an hour? It’s like $30 dollars.” So he said, “What do you mean? I’m getting charged $150 an hour.” I didn’t know that’s what the agency was billing me out as.

So he said, “Can I hire you?” And I had no idea. That’s the reason I founded my agency, to charge the value of the service. The ethical challenge was that I had three clients and had to tell the agency head I was leaving. The agency head said to me, “Do not tell the clients.”

The ethical challenge is that I felt that, “I’m not going to just disappear.” So, I didn’t know what to do. The agency head who I was working for said, “Don’t tell the clients,” but my gut and who I am, I thought, “I’m not going to just disappear one day and just be like… I’m no longer…”

So, I did tell the clients. I didn’t badmouth anyone. I didn’t say anything. I just said, “I’ve decided to give notice. I will be leaving in two weeks. I just wanted you to know, and I really appreciate all the time, and the work we’ve done, and our collaboration, and thank you so much.”

Those three clients left that agency and the agency dismantled, and to conclude the story, I had an interview with the CEO of another company and he wanted to hire me. But my previous agency boss ended up “trashing me” to him, so a mutual colleague said, “Based on what the other person said, he doesn’t want to hire you.” I was upset. I would never attack or say something negative about people in my previous work life or whatever.

So, I wrote an article called “What does professionalism mean to me?” People said to me, “Are you writing this article so that that agency head sees it?” I said, “No, I’m writing it for myself. I want to memorialize what being a professional means.”

Being a professional means not putting down people in the past, not being negative, not “trashing” people. It means that you try to conclude relationships in an amicable way. And if other people don’t do that, that’s their decision, but that’s not what I do.

It’s a situation almost every professional finds themselves in. But help me understand, it sounds like that executive told you, “Don’t ever tell a client.” Often I’ll say, “Give me a couple of days before you tell the client so I can figure out who the replacement is.” Because you don’t want to jeopardize the relationship. What’s your take on the matter? Is it a case where you should tell immediately, or can you delay it a day or two to give your boss or your company a chance to find your replacement?

I like to find a solution that’s amicable for both parties so that we part on good terms. So that’s what I believe.

Do you have another ethics example you want to share?

I was asked to cover a global fintech event in New York City with a press pass. There were probably 20 panel discussions. I wrote an article that covered what they were talking about, which had to do with fintech and ICOs and that sort of thing. When I write articles and I quote people, I send the articles to them review. It’s not required, but I do it.

What ended up happening was the article was published, I get a call from a law firm saying, “We would like you to remove this paragraph from the article

I said, “I sent it to the partner and he didn’t get back to me.” They said “Well, our attorneys would like you to remove the paragraph.” So, I said, “Is it factually incorrect?” So responded “We are asking you to remove the paragraph.” I said, “If it’s factually incorrect, I’m happy to make factual corrections, but…” So, they said, “We’d like to present our attorneys in a certain way.”

I said, “Okay, well if it’s not factually correct, I will make those changes. But otherwise, put the partner on the phone, because I’d like to speak to him about my First Amendment rights and free speech.” They said, “Hold on,” got back on the phone and said, “Leave it as is.”

If you go and you speak at a public forum you should have media training or it’s not my problem. That’s factually what he said, that’s factually what I wrote, and I’m not going to be intimidated by someone. I would say that was another, to a degree, ethical challenge, but not exactly. Because there’s no way I’m going to change something I write unless it’s factually incorrect.

I think it reinforces the whole point about don’t say anything you’re not willing to see in print. Nothing is off the record, and I think it’s a good perspective because the PR person can often be asked by the client, “Can you get this story killed? Can you get this quote killed? I can’t believe I said it.” And if it’s factually correct, you have a challenge there.

Oh God, I’ve had that so many times. I’ve had that so many times, you have no idea.

Beyond your own personal examples, what are you seeing as some of the key ethics challenges for today and tomorrow?

Something I saw today is I got a new client today and asked if I could receive payment via Google Pay. So, I said, “What about Venmo? What about Zelle?” I see third-party data; our data’s being used against us and our data’s being sold to third parties. And so no third-party data, so an issue to me is some people don’t understand that their data is being used and sold to third parties.

I wrote an article called, “In Our Digital World, You Are Being Followed.” That discusses this. There are two great documentaries for people to watch. One is The Great Hack, it’s about Brittany Kaiser and the Cambridge Analytica scandal. And the second documentary on Netflix is called The Social Dilemma, and it has the CEO of Pinterest and a number of CEOs talking about the problem about data privacy.

I would highly recommend those two Netflix documentaries. I know Brittany Kaiser, I met her at SxSW. Completely down to earth, I was shocked, to be honest with you.

People would say to me, “Well, there’s nothing I can do,” or “It’s too scary.” But my position is, it’s kind of like being vaccinated. If you don’t care about yourself or want to be involved in yourself, what about your parents or other people that you know? Because you are being followed. “Every Click You Make, Every Stroke You Take Big Tech is Watching You.”

I think that that’s a huge problem, because people either don’t care or don’t want to lose the conveniences. That’s exactly what the CEO of Pinterest says, that he became addicted. It’s unbelievable, The Social Dilemma, this documentary where he said he became addicted to social media, and that’s all he was doing all the time. He talks about the challenges he had and I am very on top of this point about the third-party data, and in terms of cookies, and I don’t want to get into a whole big technical thing, but if a site sends me something and it’s like, “Accept cookies,” No. For functional, yes. Not advertising, not marketing, no, no, no.

The FANG (Facebook, Apple, Netflix, and Google) companies track our data, to use it and to sell it to third parties? And it happens, it’s with HIPPA, it’s endless, this whole data privacy issue and cybersecurity. And I think particularly since the pandemic started, people want to interact on Zoom and all these different places, but it’s important to keep data private. If you don’t care about yourself, do you care about your children? Do you care that your children are being tracked? Do you care about your grandchildren?

I’ve been doing anti-fraud PR for 20 plus years, so I know quite well. The thing that scares me is just how much information people are willing to give away for convenience.

Exactly, 100%, Mark. I 100% agree.

Watch The Great Hack. Watch The Social Dilemma. And if you think it’s too scary or whatever, you need to know. It’s like the COVID vaccine. I was vaccinated way back in February and I’ve heard that people don’t want to get vaccinated because it hurts your arm, or you get tired or whatever. And I’ve said people 63-year-old-woman, “If you don’t care about yourself, do you care about your parents? Do you care about your grandparents?” You’re worried about a shot that you might be sick for a couple days or your arm may hurt? Would you rather die? Would you rather be in the hospital? This pandemic will never end until everyone gets vaccinated.

That is great advice. Speaking of advice, what is the best piece of ethics advice you were ever given?

It comes from my dad. My dad was a prosecutor and is my hero. My dad would say to me, when he was a partner at a large law firm in Philadelphia, he would say to me when I was young, “You know what, Wendy? If my case is not filed by the clerk in City Hall, it will never be heard. We are all equal.” And so I really do believe that. It doesn’t matter what you do, who you are, how much money you have, your status, your income or whatever. If you come from a good place, if you’re trusting, if you’re honest that to me defines people. I don’t care what people do for a living, how much money they make, their gender, their age, whatever. We’re all equal. Everyone has expertise and specialties in whatever they do, so respect what everyone does, because we’re all the same and not everyone can do everything.

Is there topic I didn’t ask that you wanted to address?

I would say the only thing I’d like to address is a process that I created during the pandemic and I continue to speak about and write about, it’s called Decode Your Value. And the point of this is, I don’t believe in reinvention.

I believe in looking back. Look back at your core values, your life experiences, your relationships, your interests. That is your competitive advantage. Because all of us are different, no one is the same. So instead of looking forward and worrying about, “Am I going to make money? Am I going to blah, blah, blah?” Whatever it is. Look back, and when you look back, then you remember what you loved when you were young, what you used to do, what you did before life got in the way. That’s how you can find side gigs and actually move forward in your career. I’m gainfully employed at 63 years old because I build on my life skills.

So, if you lost your job, you lost your income, okay. You know what? You can move forward if you look back. Decode Your Value is a process I created last June with my team. It is a life skills tree which starts with your core values, your life experiences, relationships, your interests. There is a blank digital tree with directions that people can download and use to create their own digital tree.

In the very beginning I said, “Let’s create a tapestry,” like a digital forest. So that’s something that is on my website, I’ve written about it, I’ve spoken about it. You can look at my life skills tree as an example, create your own, and you can move forward. No matter where you are in your career, your life, your income, your status, it’s your life skills. Life is a journey, it’s not a destination.

So, if we go along the way and look back at different things, then we can find ways to move forward. So instead of focusing on, “What’s going to happen in the future? Is the pandemic going to end? Do we have to go work?” All these kinds of things, no, look back.

Listen to the full interview, with bonus content, here.


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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