Has honesty become the best policy in Public Relations?
It can be argued that organisation’s media procedures and public relations strategies can no longer conceal important truths ….. in theory lying doesn’t happen.
Communicating in an honest and truthful medium is by no means a new concept. In 1989 Bok talked about trust, stating that it’s a ‘social good that should be protected’ and this underlines the core of public relations ethics.
Public Relations is based on building reputation, yet the industry itself has a lot of work to do to be seen in a different light. This starts with open communications and honesty. One of the Cluetrain Manifesto‘s 95 theses says ‘There are no secrets. The networked market knows more than companies do about their own products,’ and whether the news is good or bad, they tell everyone.
Fake news is everywhere and forms a publicity tactic that began way before the digital media age, with newspaper publications in the 1980’s and 90’s becoming infamous for such stories. We, at times, have believed or read news which is in fact fictional, and now with print media on its deathbed social media platforms have taken the mantel, including Facebook, to litter our minds with such news.
February has bombarded us with examples of fake news, exaggeration and alternative facts – which are in fact lies. Media campaigns should not be designed to deceive but this was the case in the following example curtesy of Jungle Creation’s sexism publicity stunt. The public relations industry was in uproar after a video was released of a woman on a bike being heckled by two men, who was then seen to rip off their wing mirror, was outed as a fake video to gain publicity for a client’s campaign.
The PRCA reacted with disapproval and dubbed it as a ‘cautionary tale’ for the industry to take note of. Director General of the PRCA, Francis Ingham condemned the act saying, “this kind of practice has no place in our industry.” The important and fundamental role of PR is to develop relationships with its publics, lying or dishonesty is surely detrimental to the credibility of the industry and puts a question mark around trust.
Being fake or being perceived as fake can ruin brand reputation. UKIP politician, Paul Nuttall felt the full force of this when he tried to bolster his popularity by proclaiming that he lost a close friend in the Hillsborough disaster. He was found out, then thought it was wise to continue to lie and blame it on his press secretary who subsequently handed in her resignation, which again was another publicity stunt to shift the blame from him. Paul Nuttall’s actions diminished his chance to be trusted and/or liked, which resulted in him losing the local by-election and becoming victim to the public using twitter to humiliate him further: #paulnuttallfacts.
Telling the exact truth isn’t always the right thing to do, sometimes it’s best just to keep quiet and weather whatever storm is happening.
The CIPR code of conduct says that we must respect the truth and not disseminate it. Therefore, it is important to keep mindful that in today’s digital media landscape, if you lie you will be found out and open communication with people builds trust, therefore honesty should always be strived for.
Kim, C. (2016) Social media campaigns: strategies for Public Relations and Marketing. London: Routledge Publishing.
Levine, R. Lock, C. Searls, D. Weinberger, D. (2011) The Cluetrain Manifesto. 10th ed. New York: Basic Books Publishing.