In the PR business, truth is our currency.
I understand that may be hard to believe if you’re reading this from the outside or if you’ve only worked on the fringes of the profession. Too often, like in many jobs, the most visible PR is the worst – filled with diversions rather than honesty.
We must be honest to our clients, to the journalists with whom we work and to our communities. When we share information, our credibility defines us. When we recommend strategies and words to our clients, they must be grounded in truth.
In recent weeks, we have seen, to borrow an old phrase, the consequences of straying from the truth. A riot, just two weeks ago, built on a lie, could have toppled our government while certainly testing our society.
In our country, from the Briefing Room to the living room, truth seems to be valued less than ever. A President who lied in public more than 30,000 times (it’s all tracked here and if you think it’s “fake news,” I can’t help you) earned support from millions who told public opinion surveys that they like him, among other reasons, because “he’s honest.” Too often, we conflate negativity with honesty. Perhaps most alarming, those who perpetuate some of the biggest lies on Earth, about 9/11, Sandy Hook and last year’s election are known popularly, yet ironically, as “truthers.”
As we look ahead to the next four years and beyond, those of us who try to do this work guided by a set of values that include honesty and accountability, like the group of professionals I have the privilege to work with, have the opportunity to lead the way. Yes, even thought we are known pejoratively as “spin doctors” or “flacks,” we can set the example, particularly for our business clients who depend on us, at least in part, to serve as their conscience.
When counseling clients who face crisis or profound organizational change, the first thing we ask them is to start with us by helping us understand the facts. Sometimes those are uncomfortable or even embarrassing. But we need to know everything to help frame and communicate the situation to audiences before any other messages could possibly be believed. In short, we lead with the truth. That should be a model for all,who want to move forward in a new way.
It’s a myth that PR is just about making things “look good.” So often, it’s about communicating the truth to help move into the future after a challenging, or even downright ugly situation. Believe it or not, PR, the right way, led by truth, can be a model for a society that, for many, is looking for a fresh start.