From your parents, to your teachers, to your boss …how many times have you heard the phrase “honesty is always the best policy” when facing an important decision?
Why do dilemmas about stretching the boundaries of truth always seem to hold us captive, when it is, after all, supposed to set us free?
I recently attended a public relations networking meeting featuring a speaker from the Arthur Page Society, which creates advanced learning and development opportunities for senior PR and corporate communications professionals. The meeting served as my first exposure to the “Arthur Page Principles” –seven tenets designed to guide decision-making and management within any area of communications.
The first principle – TELL THE TRUTH!
In staring that line down, it seems so obvious. Mama always said to never lie and always be honest, which now applies when dealing with colleagues, clients or the public. But in a professional environment so full of crazy schedules, client confidentiality and on-the-fly adjustments, what does it really mean for PR professionals to “tell the truth” today?
Tell the Truth When Addressing the Public
Investor and business guru Warren Buffett once said, “It takes 20 years to build a reputation, but only five minutes to ruin it. If you lose me money, I will forgive you, but if you lose a shred of reputation, I will be ruthless.”
As PR professionals, we hold the reputations of our clients in our hands. Advise them right, and consumers will speak favorably about them and build greater trust with their brand. Advise them wrong, and customers could become dissatisfied and possibly abandon their brand altogether.
Today’s social media, instant-news world places greater scrutiny on companies and executives. It is our job to help them maneuver through all situations – the good, the bad and the ugly – by being as honest, forthright and dependable as possible. As different scenarios arise, PR professionals should work with clients on the most open and truthful approach to address both the media and customers. You can better control reactions by being open and honest than by saying nothing at all.
For your clients, telling the truth also means delivering on their promises. Clients who make statements or offers should be prepared to answer those claims, or risk being viewed as untrustworthy by the public. For example, if your client unveils a new product, ensure that every service and benefit of that product you promote to the media actually works. If your client promotes a webinar that offers the top business management tips and a copy of a white paper to explain more, ensure that all attendees walk away with business management tips and a copy of a white paper.
For PR professionals, honesty to the public and media is as much about being able to deliver on what you say as it is about what you say.
Tell the Truth When Managing Clients
It shouldn’t come as a surprise that PR professionals don’t want to have the people paying the bills to view them as sketchy.
Much like the media or customers, telling the truth to clients is also about being able to deliver on promises, and being proactive when things go off schedule. Everything will not always work out as your plans and budgets dictate – in those cases, it’s our job to make sure there are no surprises for clients. If you anticipate your project will run over budget, or if random happenings occur that delay that project’s completion, let the client know as early as possible and work to find the best solution. While your client might not always be happy, chances are they will appreciate your honesty and willingness to correct the problem much more than receiving a high bill at the end of the month or missing a key deadline.
Telling the truth with clients also means being “the bad cop”. As PR professionals, we won’t always agree with our clients’ ideas, and it will sometimes require a fight to convince them that a course of action is the best one. In reality, this counsel is what they are paying for – they turn to our expertise and advice to make sure they are making the best decisions. If they wanted to hear how great everything is, they would never hire a PR team!
Tell the Truth When Managing Yourself
In trying to manage busy schedules, tight deadlines and workloads that can sometimes seem endless, we all wish we could have a few more minutes to stop and think – whether for proofing a project or for simply managing to-dos.
On a daily basis, you know your limitations and judgment. Being honest with your colleagues and asking for their honesty in return can save you and your clients from potential headaches.
Should a client ask you a tough question, and you are unsure of the best answer, reply that you will look into it and get back to them. Much like in training for the media, it is better to make sure you have worked out the best plan rather than giving rash advice that could lead the client to take a dangerous action.
Likewise, if you are facing a deadline and know that your workload may not allow you to complete that project, be honest with your colleagues. Instead of worrying about the perception that not being able to meet a deadline could render you incapable, work with your teammates to determine the best response rather than rushing the job or missing it altogether.
Trust is the foundation of effective public relations, and it is a challenge for professionals today to balance what is right with what is possible. As the Arthur Page Principles will tell you, some of the most important words behind effective communications won’t be learned in a textbook, or on Twitter.
Trust what mama said – always tell the truth.