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  • Writer's pictureAinsley Macdougal

A Fine Line Exists Between Ethical and Unethical Publicity




A PR’s promotional activities should be guided by ethics. Unethical publicity sends the wrong message and bolsters an organization at the expense of the public. 


Generating publicity is a major component for brands and organizations, and can be very beneficial to a PR campaign. When used correctly, publicity can attract the attention of key publics. However, generating false publicity will only end up hurting the organization in the long run. Publicity should never be based on deception. Here are some ways publicity can be used unethically that you should always avoid in your PR career. 


Lying about endorsements:

  • Always disclose if partnerships are paid for. 

  • Be transparent with the public about recruiting opinion leaders.

  • “Walmarting Across America” blog in 2006 is a perfect example of a PR firm deceiving its audience. Edelman, the firm responsible for the Walmart campaign, orchestrated a positive travel blog in which a couple posted about their great experiences at Walmart stores across the country. Edelman did not disclose that the couple was hired by Walmart. 


Misleading advertising:

  • Do not distort information to make your organization look better or to draw more attention to your product. 

  • An example of this is when PR pro Bernays endorsed false advertisements by medical colleagues that bacon is a healthy breakfast food.


Altering social media:

  • Don’t post fake comments to make the public seem more supportive or positive.

  • Don’t delete negative comments or ignore feedback.

  • Do not incite controversy on social media as a publicity stunt.


False awards:

  • Do not give awards for achievements as a disguised form of advertisement. 

  • Focus on real stories and do not exaggerate achievements. 


Being an ethical PR professional calls for more creativity and strategizing. It may make it more difficult to achieve those immediate results, but it is worth it in the long run. PR isn’t about instant gratification, but rather positive impacts over time that build trust in an organization.  


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