Once upon a time, maybe 15 or so years ago, the word “transparency” was part of a laudable communications message. It told audiences that you weren’t going to hide from the truth. It was a signal that you would put information, even uncomfortable facts, forward. It was a word that communicated you were going to do something other than business as usual.
Those days are over.
Now, it’s pretty much a buzzword that means nothing but an empty promise. We can thank politicians and businesses executives for that.
We can look no further to The White House for rendering this term meaningless. The current occupant faces deserved criticism for not yet holding a press conference, which should be a basic element of the Presidential job description. On top of that, the administration isn’t allowing media access to the facilities on the U.S.-Mexico border that would help Americans determine the extent of the situation there. But on January 20th, the press secretary promised “transparency.” Among the many serial liars in the past administration, perhaps its most notorious, had the gall to say she wanted to be remembered similarly.
We also see it at the state level. Here in Michigan, the Governor’s office remarkably isn’t subject to the Freedom of Information Act, which seems an intractable perk of office, yet the current Democratic Governor claimed she wants to “improve transparency” and her predecessor, the most recent Republican Governor, campaigned on supposedly wanting the state to be a “national leader” in that regard. (Spoiler: It isn’t).
While they receive far less attention in today’s news environment, businesses are also a part of the problem. We see plenty of companies that put “transparency” in their mission statements, yet only reveal financial information when legally required and too often communicate to their audiences only through lawyerized written statements. They claim to have nothing to hide, yet communicate as if they are ducking for cover.
We are at a point where PR has to step up its role in serving as the conscience of an organization. If you promise to be “transparent,” then it’s time for PR to help the organization live up to it. Or, if “transparency,” just isn’t going to happen, then PR should help create a new, more realistic set of promises. It shouldn’t just be there because it “sounds good.”
When someone promises “integrity,” we expect them not to lie, cheat or steal. Our expectations for those who assure “transparency” should be similar. Instead, too often, we just accept the B.S.