This Week in PR Ethics (2/2/23): Non-Competes, Bribes, AI, and Guerilla Marketing Ethics

This week the communications ethics issues spanned a wide variety of topics from non-competes, to stupid PR people, to ethics developments with AI and the 16th Anniversary of one of the dumbest guerilla marketing stunts of all time.

  • Are non-competes ethical? – This was the big news last week, but I am just getting to it now. The FTC is taking a look at non-competes. There are a number of issues with them including, as PR Week reports, “a widespread and often exploitative practice that suppresses wages, hampers innovation and blocks entrepreneurs from starting new businesses.” They have definitely impacted me and many others I know, yet without them, will talent drain become an even greater issue?


  • Don’t bribe journalists – I can’t believe I am even writing this, but Nicole Pajer, reported how one PR person recently tried to bribe her $10 to cover a client. Let me make it clear for those that are not sure – bribery is NOT ethical. Full stop.


  • AI Ethics – Ethics, GPT, and AI are dominating the PR ethics conversation right now. This week there were a number of interesting articles that make you think.
    • AI and mental healthThere are reports of companies using ChatGPT and AI in mental health counseling. While we have a definite need for more mental health professionals to help reduce the delay in services, this article reminds us “ChatGPT intervention is not standard care. No psychiatric or psychological group has verified its efficacy or laid out potential risks.”
    • Deepfakes making celebrities seem racist – Those that listen to me regularly know that I believe deepfakes are going to profoundly change society for the worst. Another example was shared this week by AFP on how the Web is being flooded with deepfakes of celebrity voices using racist, sexist, and homophobic slurs.
    • Alexa predicts the date of WWIII – Talk about misinformation – but did Alexa really predict the date of WWIII (note, it was a hoax), but it does call up the ethics of making claims and not providing the source.
    • Are AI ethics doomed to failure – This article is only for the true ethics and philosophy geeks out there. The gist of this piece is that since we can’t define AI, we can’t define a true ethics framework. The author then asks – How can anyone pretend to regulate – legally or ethically – something that does not have any reality outside of the realm of ideas?


  • Ethics and Guerilla Marketing – A colleague reminded me this week is the 16th Anniversary of the 2007 Boston Mooninite panic (thanks Andy). Basically, the city was shut down over concerns that battery-powered LED signs were IEDs. illuminated images and not part of a national guerilla marketing movement for Aqua Teen Hunger Force: Movie Film for Theaters. I can think of many other examples – from clowns standing on the side of the road at night, to countdown timers, when activities can stray beyond stupid into unethical.
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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