Friday, June 6, 2008

Keeping it real

The idea of “keeping it real,” in PR has been on my mind for sometime, and in light of recent events with Scott McClellan, former White House Press Secretary, and his tell-all book it seems appropriate to write about it on my blog.

Lying is wrong. Period. There is no other way to describe it. Despite the comments by CBS Sunday Morning legal analyst Andrew Cohen, about the only truthful PR people being those who are unemployed, I have to believe – some may say naively – that the majority of my fellow PR practitioners do not outright lie. (See PRSA's response here) However, I think an all too common practice has infiltrated our PR work, and that is the practice of never saying anything negative about your organization or client. This practice has led PR practitioners to be labeled as “spin doctors,” and, dare I say, rightly so. Maybe this worked in the past. Maybe people just believed all that was being said by a spokesperson or executive, but \ this is no longer the case. Our publics have caught on to this game, and will readily dismiss anything we say. They will seek alternative sources of information. Hence the popularity of social media. (Consequently, I believe the traditional media can be just as guilty of spin as PR people.)

Take for example, America’s current presidential race. I watch with frustration as TV anchors ask the candidates tough questions and the candidates lightly touch on the question (without answering it) and then jump into one of their key messages. Guess what: Once they fail to answer the question, I immediately tune out. Call it sensationalism, but I like it when the media ask controversial questions of politicians and company executives. I just wish the interviewees would answer like real people.

If we only ever have good things to say about our organizations or clients then we are doing a disservice to our publics. I mean, come on, do we really expect people to believe that everything is perfect? Keeping it real means not shying away from all of the truth. Maybe that means we have to share some information we’re uncomfortable sharing, but I believe that this will only engender trust and goodwill among our publics.

I had this experience once in my short PR career. During an event with some media I made a comment about something I personally disliked about a certain thing and immediately got a look of displeasure from a well meaning colleague. Some may argue that it’s not my job to share personal opinions, but I would counter that by so doing I make myself more of a real person and in turn, more credible.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not advocating that we all go out there and find negative things to say about our organizations and clients; I’m simply saying that we can’t be afraid to tell it like it is. If we do so we build a relationship of trust with our publics and they will come to see us as reliable sources of information. Conversely, doing otherwise makes our public less willing to listen to what we have to say and again, they will go elsewhere.

I, for one, will do all I can to keep it real during my career in PR. How about you?


Bobby said...

The Scott McClellan case is interesting - he's trying to paint himself as a reformed spinmaster, but do you think he is more of an opportunist?

Adam Denison said...

I think he is definitely an opportunist. He saw a chance to make some money and get his name out there. He's admitting that he lied, so how credible is he really?

Anonymous said...

Good points made. I was disappointed to see someone attacking the career I have chosen, but I think there are negative stereotypes to many career paths. Lawyers and car dealers come to mind right now.

Anonymous said...

If only the media and PR practitioners alike would see the longterm and overarching value in telling the truth - we wouldn't need/have to constantly defend our reputation. Thanks for keeping it real.