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PR ethics with Mark McClennan

By On Top of PR

On Top of PR podcast: Ethical behavior with guest Mark McClennan and show host Jason Mudd episode graphic

In this episode, Mark McClennan, 2016 PRSA National Chair and host of EthicalVoices, shares his expertise on ethics. Mark and On Top of PR host Jason Mudd, APR, discuss ethics in public relations, ethical failures, advice for dealing with ethical dilemmas, why people are making unethical decisions, how to have a difficult conversation with an unethical person, and how to encourage ethical responsibility in your company.

Tune in to learn more about ethics in PR and your company.



Watch the episode here


5 things you’ll learn during the full episode:

  1. Why ethical failures happen 
  2. How to deal with ethical dilemmas 
  3. How to have conversations with people making unethical decisions
  4. How to encourage ethical responsibility within your company
  5. Current ethical failures in the PR industry and their impact


Disclosure: One or more of the links we shared might be affiliate links that offer us a referral reward when you buy from them.

Episode Highlights

[01:13] Intro to ethics in PR

  • Ethics is more important today than it ever has been.
  • Most-asked questions about ethics:
    • How do you make sure you're advising your client ethically?
    • What do you do when your client or company does something unethical?
    • How do you get people to pay attention when they think they’re not doing anything wrong?

Mark: “Ethics is at the core of deceit, betrayal, drama — all of the great stories from the past 4,000 years usually tie back to ethical failures.”

[02:07] Ethical failures

  • Most people assume ethical failures are huge, when in reality, it's usually the small ethical mishaps that add up over time.
  • You can prepare yourself to see these ethical failures by practicing. You need to recognize these small failures, point them out, and discuss them frequently.
  • It’s in our nature to be selfish and think about “me” when presented with a quick situation.

[04:10] Ethical dilemma advice

  • There are great codes of ethics out there to follow. 
  • A checklist for an ethical dilemma isn't enough, though. 
  • Create a uniform ethical framework for the company.

Mark: “The question is, if I am using an ethical framework and Jason Mudd is using an ethical framework and we’re looking in different perspectives or with different questions, we may decide very different answers. So, it's more important to have an ethical framework set for the entire company.”

[07:03] How companies can promote their ethical code

  • With semiannual ethics training.
  • Ideally, incorporate ethics training once a month in team meetings.
  • Talk about real life examples:
    • “Where have you seen ethical dilemmas this week?” (Ex: cookies)
    • Ask, “What do you think about it, and what would you have done differently?”
      • If you are the manager, refrain from giving your opinion until the end. 
  • Have your employees take ethical quizzes and let them know about ethical blogs and websites they can take advantage of.

[09:42] Ethical failure of the week

  • Go to EthicalVoices every Thursday.
  • Set up ethics alerts.
    • Businessweek, The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, Harvard Business Review, PRSA (advisories), eyes open, and read the news.

[11:27] How to encourage ethical responsibility within your company

  • Understand there needs to be a “North Star” to guide your company’s ethical guidelines, and there can be customization to these based on the region you're in.

[13:45] How to have a difficult conversation with an unethical person

  • You can’t attack the person.
  • Two key points to cover in the conversation:
    • How does it affect the company? 
    • Why are they making this choice?
  • Make sure your conversation aligns with the underlying reason on why they are making their decision.

Mark: “If somebody was doing something out of envy, you're going to need to use a very different argument with somebody who's using out of obedience to authority. You know, it’s not just a one-size-fits-all message.”

[14:23] Why are people making unethical decisions?

  • Four reasons why people have ethical failures, according to Keith Green, head of communications for Guinness World Records:
    • D: desperation
    • E: envy
    • F: fear
    • G: greed
  • There are about 26 reasons why people have ethical failures, according to Mark:
    • Apathy
    • Bias
    • Obedience to authority

[18:05] How to professionally and empathetically ask influencers if non-disclosed posts are ads

  • Have influencers disclose if posts are ads.
  • First, is it really a sponsored post?
    • Could the influencer be passionate about that specific product or service?
    • High-level celebrities don’t care. They can afford the fine to not disclose.
  • If you still have concerns, “Follow the rules as you do for management, praise in public, and criticize in private.” Send them a direct message or email.

[22:08] Current ethical failures for PR, marketing, and communication employees

  • It's easier for bad actors to engage in system disinformation.
    • Ex: political campaigns — using those techniques on other brands
  • Not being able to trust the videos we see as being authentic, now and even more in the future
  • There’s been an increase in important topics being talked about but less action to fix the issues around them

[24:40] Jobs in PR from an ethics standpoint

  • A stressful job, especially with the increase in ethical dilemmas and technology.
  • It’s not firefighting.
    • PR pros prevent the fire from happening.

[25:36] Ethics due to artificial intelligence in business

  • PR people need to take charge and not just let the data companies rule.
  • Read everything, be more open, and actively listen.

[28:27] Ethical wrap-up with Mark and Jason

  • Ethics is the cornerstone of what we do.
  • We need to bring the same passion we have for the Oxford comma into ethics.
  • Bring ethics into regular training.
  • Promote ethics in a respectful way. Don’t ever point fingers.

Mark: “Just like we do in crisis communications, you always want to give options. It’s not a binary solution.”

[30:14] Why is Mark passionate about ethics?

  • He’s always been fascinated by it.
  • When he was first on the national board serving as the liaison of the PRSA Board of Ethics and Professional Standards, it was him seeing the impact of all of the ethical issues that fired his passion.

About Mark McClennan

Mark McClennan is an expert on ethics. He was the 2016 PRSA National Chair; he’s the founder, CEO, and host of EthicalVoices, a podcast all about ethics.


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- Hello, and welcome to On Top of PR. I'm your host, Jason Mudd, with Axia Public Relations. Today, we're talking about ethics and public relations. We're joined by Mark McClennan. He is the host of “EthicalVoices," a weekly blog and podcast on ethics and communications. In 2016, he served as the National Chair of the Public Relations Society of America. Mark, we are thrilled to have you here. Welcome to the show.


- Thank you so much for having me, Jason. I'm happy to be here. Love the show.


- Thank you, thank you. I love your show too, and the work that you do there to advocate for ethics. I think that's so important and something that we try to do through our agency and working with our clients — one, just bring awareness that there are professional ethics in the practice of public relations. Two, what they are and why you should follow them. And three, ultimately, how you have an impact and responsibility to the ethical practice of PR. So, Mark, with that, let's hear your take. Talk to me a little bit about ethics and PR.


- Well, I think ethics today is more important than it has ever been. And unfortunately, when you normally talk to somebody about ethics, they think of Aristotle, Socrates, Plato, a bunch of old, dead white guys or annual training they need to go through once a year and just get it over with, and they're missing A, how important it is in the fascinating tapestry. Ethics is at the core of deceit, betrayal, drama — all of the great stories for the past 4,000 years, usually tied back to ethical failures. And the challenge we get, though, is how do you make sure you're advising your client ethically? What do you do when your client or your company does something unethical, and how do you get people to pay attention when they may not think that they're doing anything wrong and you need to highlight what the different impacts are and help them make the right choice?


- Well, you just set up a table for a very meaningful conversation. So let's just dive right into that, Mark. Touch base — what was the first point you want to cover here?


- Well, I think one of the things that people fail too often on is they have this moment, and everybody thinks about ethical failures as the big "Horatius at the Bridge" moment. And frankly, most ethical failures are smaller things that build up over time. Very few folks say, ‘I'm gonna do something horrible. I'm gonna lie, I'm gonna embezzle, I'm gonna cheat today.’ So what you need to do is train yourself [on] how to recognize it and train yourself [on] how to deal with it. And also how do you then communicate with people. If you see something horrible and tell them that's not ethical, they're gonna get all defensive, and you're not gonna have a business case to really drive that home, so what I call it is training your ethical mind. People need to start thinking about [it] every day, just like we train when we pitch and we practice pitch. When we're writing news releases, when we're writing annual reports, we get better every single one we do. The more often we engage, debate, and discuss ethical issues, the better prepared we are to address them when they happen. It's really important because there was an Academy of Management study, which I love, that shows that people, it's their biology that tends to make them want to make the selfish, unethical decision when they don't have time to think — they immediately think about ‘me’ or what's best. It's only when they have time to reflect that they make the ethical decision. The challenge is, Jason, I'm sure your day's like mine — we rarely have the time to sit back and reflect, like we might have done in a college class. So you need to take rules and take guidance, like the athletes do the 10,000 hour rule and practice and look at situations and learn from the past. So when you are in that situation, you can make the decision quickly. You have points to turn to, and you have examples to give to convince senior management what the right course of action is.


- That's awesome. Mark, do you have some sort of checklist in mind that someone can kind of ask themselves or gut-check questions when they find themselves facing a potential ethical dilemma?


- I think there's two key points there, Jason, that are really important. One is there's great codes of ethics, the PRSA Code of Ethics, I love. It's been around for more than 60 years, Arthur Page has it, but a checklist for yourself isn't enough because there's different ones. And depending on how you want to look at ethics — and I'm not gonna get into all the geekies of deontology and teleology and virtue based, even though it's really fascinating stuff — the question is, if I am using an ethical framework and Jason Mudd is using an ethical framework, and we're looking at it in different perspectives or with different questions, we may decide very different answers. So it's more important to have an ethical framework set for the entire company, whatever it is. You can use the Six Question Checklist. You can use a lot of things, systems theory. There's a number of different ways to reason through it that you get every executive in the company, every communicator, and all of your suppliers and those that you deal with, on the page, so it's clear. So when you know that Jason is gonna do one thing, thinking it's ethical, and Mark's not gonna do it, thinking it's unethical, we need to make sure we have that common ground of discussion, whatever it is, and that guide and checklist to follow.


- And Mark, all the things we're talking about today we’ll be sure our production coordinator Darby puts in the episode notes for the convenience of our audience so they can visit and view the PRSA Code of Ethics, the Arthur Page Society Code of Ethics, and the Six Question Checklist that you mentioned earlier. So as you mentioned, these things, we'll be sure to put them in the episode notes for the convenience of our audience.


- Sounds great.


- Yeah, yeah. So Mark, you mentioned the PRSA Code of Ethics. I first learned of them when I went through PRSA's Accreditation Board and getting accredited in public relations. And candidly, no one really ever talked to me or I never heard about ethics in public relations, which, in many ways, is among many professions that you've gotta have a solid code of ethics. And until you're really exposed to them, you don't necessarily realize the importance your role has in doing those things. So one thing we do, is we put the code of ethics either as a link or otherwise directed to in all of our client agreements, all of our vendor agreements, all of our employee agreements, just to make sure we're exposing people to that. And they have to actually sign off on it or check a box that they've looked at it. They understand that we're gonna practice the ethical practice of PR both in delivering our service and employing people. And we're actually working on framing the ethics in a way that people can keep it at their desk also in the current environment, because the one poster we had at the office isn't very relevant with everybody working remote now. But to that end, what things have you seen other companies do and organizations do, to really promote and emphasize the company's ethical code?


- There's a number of things I'm seeing companies do, and it really varies depending on the situation, but what I've seen to be most effective is the organizations that do it best are the ones that transcend the annual training. They make ethics and civility discussions a regular part of team meetings, at least once a month. Ideally you involve, if you're a company, you involve an agency; if you're an agency, you involve a company, and highlight the ethical missteps you saw, highlight what you're seeing with Facebook and Google and their inappropriate use of cookies, highlight what we're doing in terms of security and privacy, highlight what we're dealing with, misinformation that you're reading. I teach ethics at Boston University, and I spend the first half an hour of every class with students just going over what's the ethical failures of the week that we saw. We never run out of things to talk about, and what you do is that gets people thinking about it, that gets people understanding the importance you put on ethics, but there's a couple of ways to really make this discussion effective. One, ask people what they think about it and if they would've done it differently if you were the manager. You can't give your opinion until the end, because once Jason gives his opinion, it's gonna be really tough and a junior person, not many of them will speak up and say, ‘Jason, I think you're full of crap.’ And you really wanna have that free flow of discussion overall and have others bring that ethics issue of the week. And what you can also do when you're talking to your senior management is maybe quarterly, you pull together some notes and say, ‘By the way, here's some interesting ethical failures that we saw from our competitors or from other industries that we want to pay attention to.’ And you can point to the business impact and the business rationale about it. And by doing all of that and having those regular discussions, as well as quizzes, as well as encouraging people to get the APR, as well as looking at all of the great ethics training modules and blogs that are out there, it's gonna help other people start thinking civilly and ethically, communicate the importance that you put on these issues. And frankly, it can also uncover some issues that you may not have considered. I still remember one time when one of my students was talking about Ariana Grande and some of the things she was doing and I was oblivious, but there is a lot of talent to how she was portraying herself in certain ways that I can see other companies doing it. I do a great discussion about ‘Do you engage yourself in trends where you really don't belong?’


- Hmm, so Mark, I'm fascinated by the idea of doing the ethical failure or issue of the week. What sources are people using for that beyond the headlines of the week?


- There's a lot of different places. One, you can always go to EthicalVoices. Two, I haven't done it recently. I'm gonna be starting it back up again. I do a ‘This Week in PR Ethics’ as a post every Thursday where I wrap up some of the ethical failures that I see and people can go to. I have my class once a night, so I don't want my students to steal what I have. I want them to have their own ideas So that's why I do it on Thursday, when it's probably not the best day. But if you look at it, set up ethics alerts, look at Business Week, look at Wall Street Journal, New York Times, The Harvard Business Review has some amazing articles on ethics. They had two great case studies, I'd say, over the past year that I get so much discussion with my class about. One is ‘What happens when you realize your brand is racist and has to address its racist past?’ And the other one that really strikes close to home is ‘What do you do when your relative tells you something that's gonna impact your work? Where does your loyalty lay: to your relative or to your employer?’ And we have a lot of great, robust discussion because that's a really tricky one that really, I see people come down on both sides of the issue. The sources are out there. PRSA has ethic standards advisories where they highlight a bunch of different issues and guidance that you can bring up. But, basically, if you keep your eyes, ears open and read the news, you're never gonna be at want for an example to talk about.


- Yeah, it sounds like you never have nothing to write about on a Thursday.


- I try not to. Frankly, if I miss something, my students tell me something on Wednesday. I give them credit and put it in.


- Nice, very nice. Okay, good, good. So let's say I'm listening to this. I'm the Chief Communications Officer at a large global brand or a national brand, Mark. What are some of the places they can get started to encourage ethical behavior within their own team? Probably is the first place to get started, don't you think?


- Well, I think that's a really interesting point because the challenge is how do you make ethics an overall part of your company? And if you're in a larger organization, you need to make sure that it's not just you, it's not just the senior management team, but that you have everybody throughout the company throughout all locations. And if you're international, how do you apply things and make sure that it's relevant for the industries? Two great guests I had as examples, Scott Monty, when he was the Chief Digital Officer at Forbes, at Ford, sorry, Scott Monty was the Chief Digital Officer at Ford. They were doing business in China and it was accepted practice at the time to pay people to write bad reviews about their competitors and all the other automakers are doing it, according to him. So Ford was at a competitive disadvantage if they didn't do it, but he's like, ‘No, this can't be what we do. That's a universal, that's an absolute moral drive that we have that we're not gonna do this. We're not gonna engage in false claims against their competitors.’ So I had to deal with it in that regard and really set their rules. But if you look at somebody like 3M, or if you look at somebody like Lenovo, which is committed to STEM, how you're helping women engage ethically and get more opportunities in the sciences, what you do in Bangladesh is gonna be different than what you do in Brazil, what you do in Baghdad, and what you do in Boston. You want to have the overarching North Star and realize that there can be some customization. It's like, if you're talking about a ‘speak up’ culture, a ‘speak up’ culture here in Boston, here in the Midwest, is very different than a culture in Japan or in Korea. And you need to make sure you align your organization to enable people to live your ethical values, but you may need to make some customization based on the region.


- Yeah, that's definitely something I think our audience struggles with, is that different cultures doing business and hundreds of countries simultaneously, and having to manage that. We talked about this a little bit earlier, but how do you have a difficult conversation with someone to point out to them that something they're doing is not ethical? Where do you start? How do you do that in a compassionate way that doesn't immediately put them on defense?


- No, I think you hit on the real key point, and that is you can't be attacking because once you attack, once you say, ‘That's unethical,’ it's like just saying, ‘You're ugly and I hate you, and I hate your dog.’ People are gonna get very defensive overall, but it's understanding, frankly, before you even begin and engage in the discussion, there's kind of two key things I say. One, you need to be able to relate it, as executive to business impact, not just the right thing to do. There's stages of moral development. Everybody can understand, ‘Is this gonna hurt the company in the long term?’ Some folks will say long-term greed is good. Short-term greed is when you get to be unethical, but the issue is why are they making the ethical choice? And I was talking to Keith Green, who used to be the Head of Communications for Guinness Book World Records. He now teaches and he has worked for a number of other organizations. And he says, ‘There's fundamentally four reasons why people have ethical failures.’ He calls it the DEFG: desperation, envy, fear, and greed. And I really loved what he talked about, and when I had insomnia one night and decided, ‘You know what, let's turn this into a whole alphabet.’ And I gave it a lot of thought, and there's really about 26 different reasons why people have ethical failures and make an unethical decision. Sometimes it's apathy, sometimes it's bias. Sometimes it's blind obedience to authority, and if you are making the case for them making an unethical decision and telling them what to do, you need to make sure the argument you're making aligns with the underlying reason of why they're making the choice. Somebody who is doing something out of envy, you're gonna need to use a very different argument than somebody who's using it out of obedience to authority. It's not just a one size fits all, or one message fits all. It's really understanding that core motivation, listening to them, then bringing in examples about here's other ways to look at it. Have you considered these negative impacts and look at what other companies that have done this, that have placed fake reviews that have pretended to be reporters when they're not, that have used words inappropriately, that have engaged in wokewashing and ethics washing, whatever those topics are. You can show them the examples there and work to build a case. And if they don't listen to you, you need to see is there somebody else that you can use as a champion? If this is important enough. If you're not senior enough, do you have somebody else at the level that that executive will listen to, that you can go to help make your case?


- Well, Mark, we're just getting this started here, but it's already time for our break. So we're gonna take a quick break and come back on the other side. More with Mark talking about "Ethical Voices and Ethics in Public Relations," stand by for more.


- [Voice Over] You're listening to "On Top of PR" with your host, Jason Mudd, Jason is a trusted advisor to some of America's most admired and fastest growing brands. He is the managing partner at Axia Public Relations, a PR agency that guides news, social and web strategies for national companies. And now back to the show.


- Welcome back to "On Top PR", I'm Jason Mudd, thank you for staying with us. And we're here with Mark and we're talking about ethics and public relations. Mark, I've got a question for you, are you ready?


- Absolutely.


- All right, so one thing I noticed is that I'll find a lot of people I'm friends with on social media, I follow on social media who are influencers or are media personalities, or maybe even they're former media personalities who are now doing influencer work or contract work on behalf of brands. And you just kind of see these posts they put out there where they're clearly making an endorsement of a product or service, but they're not disclosing, which I believe is an ethical obligation and a regulatory obligation for them to disclose that it's a sponsor post or a paid post, or they receive some sort of consideration for sharing this post. And so I've often wondered what's a good way to kind of professionally and empathetically kind of nudge them or kind of ask them, was this sponsored because it kind of feels like it is. And how do you do that in a reasonable way with the notion of hoping to make the world a better place and hoping that they might feel inclined to disclose as we're taught as PR professionals that we need to do.


- Let me take a step back. I mean, first of all, the good news is it used to be completely the wild west when it came to influencers and disclosure. There are now guardrails in place. There are very clear things you're supposed to be doing on Instagram, on Twitter, on Facebook, wherever you are in disclosing, it's paid, it's an ad. You used to be able to use hashtags, like hashtag cl, which meant client, but nobody knew what that. It's like, no, okay, get a hashtag app. Let's be clear there let's be in the disclosure. So one, when you're working with influencers, make sure you have them disclose, I do this right now. I'm managing influencers for the Washington State Department of Health on some COVID comms. We're very clear in terms of all the disclosure. You also need to give them a lot of runway to be most effective, but that's a whole 'nother story. But if you see somebody that is not disclosing and you think it's a paid sponsorship, there's kind of two elements. One, you gotta ask, well, why am I getting engaged? You know what I mean? If I'm seeing somebody, if I'm seeing an NFL player that I think is shilling for somebody, maybe they are, maybe they're not. Maybe they really like it. You're not gonna understand those things. I will talk to you about the game Trial by Trolley, which is one of my favorite games. It's an ethics game, pit your cards against humanity for ethics. It's amazing, I will talk about it for hours. They haven't paid me. I pay them money. I may just be passionate about it. You may think, "Well, oh gee, it's ethics and Mark's talking about it, oh, it's probably sponsored." No, it's not right. So you gotta look at, they may be passionate. The other thing is sometimes at that level, when you're talking the mega celebrities, they don't care. I interviewed Troy Brown, who is one of the best influencer management executives I know from my podcast, probably about a year ago. And he was talking about, he knows a lot of big celebrities and it's like, you know what he's saying he's working with them and they want to have their friends write about it. And he tells 'em, you need to make sure you put ad, you need to make sure they disclose. And the celebrity's like, I'm just gonna get a 50K fine. I don't care, I can afford that. And so again, that gets down to the ethical foundation and understanding it. There are gonna be the fines. There's gonna be the backlash when people find out about is this paid or is this authentic? Because fundamentally it's only the authentic praise that really, really works the best. So you gotta make sure you do it, and if there are some issues with it, you bring it up. I always say, and follow the same rules that you do for management, where you praise in public and criticize in private, send 'em a DM, send 'em an email say, "Hey, did they pay you for this, or what else do you think about this?" And have those discussions? It's not gonna really do you good to get into a match just like you're on the street corner, screaming, "Sit down!".


- Huh! Right, right.


- Nobody likes that person for the most part.


- It just seems that people are engaged in the professional behavior of endorsing a product without engaging in the professional practice of getting trained up to be good at this and to realize that they've got an ethical obligation.


- One funny one, Jason, the thing is people realize there's ethical failures and influencers that people don't even think about. There's one I loved about a year and a half ago and I still reference it. She was a travel influencer, great big following, post pictures of herself. And it was a man in the UK that noticed every single image had the exact same cloud background? So she was doctoring it, not just the Photoshop, but making the level of the sun and the clouds and there was some science behind why they actually do it that way and pictures with some clouds perform better in pure blue skies and cloudy skies. But it's ways to be inauthentic and unethical that you don't even think about.


- Well, if members of our audience have never seen, I think it's on Netflix, "Fake Famous," that is very eye opening to help people kind of understand how that world works for sure, so, yeah. Okay, so Mark, tell us kind of what's a current or very top of mind ethical failure that maybe PR professionals that are tuning in, they haven't heard of, but is very related to what we do for a living.


- Well, I'm not sure if they haven't heard of it, but there are two things that are deeply concerning me right now. One is just how it's gonna be so much easier for bad actors to engage in systemic disinformation and what we've been talking about disinformation and AI and all the other things, so much of it is around political campaigns and people are missing the boat there. Imagine now when you're suddenly able to use all those techniques that people use on political candidates to attack a brand and short sell their stock, where you use a deepfake to put the CEO coming out of a strip club and sharing that video out there, and then their stock tanks, you sell it with a short sell and make a hundred million dollars. And how do you respond to that as a person? And I think that's gonna be a challenge, particularly for the smaller brands that are facing activist groups that don't have access to that technology. There's factories of fraud right now in countries around the world that just focus on fraud. They're gonna be applying this to disinformation and using this to help create fraud. And this has a bigger societal issue. I talk about this a lot, George Floyd, and what happened was absolutely horrible and that video drove it home to so many people that have been ignoring things for so long, but when people start doing more and more deepfakes and people start able to not believe what they see in video, people can have less impact of that video five or 10 years from now. A video like George Floyd will not have the same impact that it has today because people are gonna realize is this real, they're question. there's gonna be a lot of debate going on there. And I think that's a big challenge for us as a society.


- Well, I'll tell you the continued polarization of society is a concern for any PR professional and so are the other issues that you've outlined. And I think that not only do we have to be better and more, how do you say, ready? Like ready in a moment's notice to respond. We've got the ethical challenge that you've outlined as well. So, I think already the profession of public relations is considered to be one of the most stressful jobs. And I think it's only gonna get more difficult as you're describing where we're dealing with deepface, excuse me, deepfakes and activist groups and artificial intelligence and just all these other things. So what are you seeing kind of on the forefront, Mark?


- Well, I mean, and the thing is Jason, well, it's gonna be more stressful. It's gonna be more important and it's gonna be more rewarding than ever. Yeah. And it's not just in terms of fighting. I mean, this is something Melanie Ensen who used to be the head of PR for Uber and worked in Facebook Security was talking about. She thinks too many PR people put an emphasis on firefighting. I'm here to solve you when you have the big issue. The better thing is put the fires out before they start. Or somebody else says, "Do you see the issue in the front view mirror coming at you rather than the rear view mirror after you ran .


- Fire prevention, yeah.


- And so I think what we have to worry about and some of the points there, I think there's gonna be a rise at wokewashing. There's a rise and too many companies are saying things that matter. They're saying things that are important and we care about these things, but they're not acting on it. And we're gonna really, I think, start to see a big pushback against that, that you need to make sure that people actually don't just say it, but they prove it with action. I do think AI is gonna be changing things a lot in just the way we do our business. And depending if you're in a good way or a bad form, I tend to be pretty dystopian about it. But I do think it's gonna open up an entire new realm of opportunity, but it means that PR people need to be educating themselves about everything. We can't just leave it on the hands of the data scientists. We need to understand that. And going back to what I talked about for the polarization of society, you need to make sure. We are so easily getting into echo chambers now, even more than we did 10 years ago. We need to make sure you read everything. You pay attention, you have empathetic listening and you understand both sides. We've been handling COVID communications for the Washington State Department of Health who won the Best of Silver Anvil Award last year. For that, we're really happy about that. But the point is this, people who were obviously were encouraging vaccines, but you need to understand what's the position of those that are vaccine hesitant, and why? So you can have a true dialogue rather than making them the other. And I think that's something that to be effective, we need to do more of is make sure we're bringing all sides together because if somebody's making a decision, there's usually a reason behind what they're thinking and we need to be open to that. We may disagree with it, but we need to understand it, and then present the data on our point, work with the trusted messengers and over time, try to help people understand this, whether it's to do something you want from a business point of view, or to get them to behave more ethically. We need to be much more open listeners and active listeners about everything.


- I totally agree, and that's a topic we've discussed here on this program before is the whole idea of people go on social media and they're not listening. They're just talking and spewing and attacking and that doesn't make for a pleasant experience for anybody, and certainly there is a kind of an ethical obligation, in many ways to have more open dialogues and to be more receptive and to expose yourself to other people's thoughts and background, and interesting, we did some COVID work, as well, in a very similar way. We felt like let's figure out what are the motivations and the fears of those who are hesitant to get vaccinated and prepare our ambassadors with those talking points. And so that they're prepared to not shame individuals for having those views, but instead, working with them and help solving them, wherever possible. So good Mark, what else did we want to cover while we're together today?


- I think we've covered a lot of the key points that I want to discuss


- We have.


- What I'll just say on this one, Jason is when it comes to ethics, ethics is at the cornerstone of what we do, and we need to make sure as we are counselors, we will argue for 10 minutes over the Oxford comma, having knocked down over that sort of stuff, and what's gonna go on. We need to bring the same type of passion and debate and insight to the ethics issues because they're gonna impact business, they're gonna impact the financials, they're gonna impact society. And that's what the executives we advise care about. And so it's constantly, don't make ethics an annual training, make ethics something you do on a regular basis because that's how you're gonna become a better well rounded communications professional.


- And Mark, one of my takeaways from this is to do it respectfully and to do it in a way that has empathy and you're listening right, as opposed to potentially finger pointing and attacking and putting people on defense because that doesn't do anything for anybody to help with a productive dialogue and a productive solution.


- And I'd say, Jason, just like we do in crisis communications, you always want to give options. It is not a binary solution set. You need to do something, do nothing, or do something more, if you were kind of looking at there's multiple different approaches there, and you want to give that counsel, if there's a failure, when you're addressing some ethical issue, there's multiple responses and you need to look at who are the stakeholders that are involved? What's the impact that's having? How realistic is it for us to do what we need to do, and really kind of work through all of those scenarios to come out with the optimal solution for you and your company.


- Yeah, good, good. Mark, in closing, I wanna ask you, how did you become passion on this topic? What drove you to be interested in it so much?


- Ethics is something that's always been fascinating for me. I almost pulled off a dual minor in political philosophy, as well, and in addition to public relations at Poly Sci. And in the end, what really got me going on this is I was active when I got PRSA with a code of ethics when I was first on the national board, serving as the liaison to the Board of Ethics and Professional Standard. And then just really seeing all of the ethical issues and the impact that they have. And this is an area which to me, people aren't talking about enough and I could blog and podcast about social media or influencer relations. There's a lot of really brilliant people talking about that already. Ethics unfortunately, there's not as many people talking about it as I think there should be. So I'm another voice and I'm trying to give other people the voices to share their experiences, so you have the practical case studies when you're facing a situation that you can go to as a resource and a guide to understand how did somebody else handle this? How can I be better prepared to handle this myself?


- Yeah, Mark that's fantastic. Thank you for sharing that with us. Really appreciate you being here. If you were tuned into this episode and you found it valuable, I hope that you will share it with a colleague. Mark, if our audience wants to reach you, obviously they can hit your website. Where are you on LinkedIn, or what's your preferred way for them to reach you?


- Definitely on LinkedIn. You can also reach me at mcclennan@gmail.com.


- All right, sounds great, Mark. Thanks for being here and thank you for our audience for tuning in to "On Top of PR." And like I said earlier, if you've enjoyed this episode, please be sure to share it with a colleague who would benefit from it. And the two of you can work together to improve your ethics personally and professionally, but also the ethics within your organization, which I really believe moving forward as well as always in the past that nothing's more important than your own brand and reputation and your own ethics and integrity and how people have learned to trust you. If they don't have trust, they can't decide. They don't wanna do business with you and they won't like you. So may as well be ethical in everything that you do and as Mark said earlier, no one's perfect in this area, it's something we're all working on. And so for that, we thank you and wish you much success.


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About your host Jason Mudd

On Top of PR host, Jason Mudd, is a trusted adviser and dynamic strategist for some of America’s most admired brands and fastest-growing companies. Since 1994, he’s worked with American Airlines, Budweiser, Dave & Buster’s, H&R Block, Hilton, HP, Miller Lite, New York Life, Pizza Hut, Southern Comfort, and Verizon. He founded Axia Public Relations in July 2002. Forbes named Axia as one of America’s Best PR Agencies.


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