Who Is To Blame For PR Campaign Lies?

#2 in a Two (make that Three) Part Series.

PR strategies, as I wrote in my last post, have always been developed with one major basic premise: never ever put your credibility at risk. There, I noted that I am very concerned about what I see as a clear trend that the truth is becoming a thing of the past. I do not intend to re-argue those points here, but you can review my logic by clicking here to access the post: “PR Strategy Will Be Radically Different, As Truth Becomes Irrelevant.”

I knew when I wrote the first post that it would be a two-part article: in the first installment I wanted to set out my case about the gradual but ongoing deterioration of the truth in a PR campaign, and the second installment would focus on the consequences of that trend. But my pre-conceived notions were thrown a curve: my second article has been influenced by the comments, both those posted online and those sent to me directly, in response to the premise I suggested in the first article.

One comment posted online at LinkedIn particularly influenced me. It was written by Sandra Longcrier, who has pretty significant credentials as a PR expert – see her profile. Her comment oozes with her passion for the uncompromising premise that the truth must be intrinsic and unquestionable for PR efforts – I can relate because during the four-plus decades during my own career as a communications and PR strategist, I have adhered to the same thinking. Here is what she wrote, in part:

“Truth is paramount! The communications pros supporting these candidates and leaders cannot justify lying, but I wonder if in all cases their advice is being sought or followed.”

In other words, if there is a trend away from an unrelenting commitment to the truth, it may be because of the people to whom the PR pros provide advice, but not the fault of the PR people themselves – especially those who subscribe to the Ethical Code of the PRSA (Public Relations Society of America). Whereas I tend to agree with her that PR people generally have very high standards for being truthful, I’m not certain the trend I described in the previous post is all the fault of those who may reject the counsel of the PR pro.

That got me thinking. Assuming my first post about the decline in a PR campaign truthfulness is at least partly correct, where should we place the fault?

I ended at a very unpleasant conclusion: the third party involved in this trend is to blame. In addition to the PR people and those who actually issue the untrue statements, there are those who listen to lies and accept them. NBC reporter Katy Tur observed the phenomenon this way when reporting from a Trump rally in Ohio:

I spoke to a lot of his supporters who are waiting to come into this rally. And I asked them what they think of Donald Trump and whether or not they’re bothered by his inaccurate statements and whether they think they matter.  And not a single one of them said that they thought it mattered.  They said they like him because they think he’s going to be a strong leader, and they think he’s going to bring the change to Washington that they want.”

Ha!  The fault lies with neither the speakers of the lies, nor those who will advise for or against lies, but the people who hear lies, know they are lies and accept the lies anyhow because the lies promote thinking the listeners like. Wow.

That means if you don’t like environmental regulations, you can accept whatever the deniers say, even if you know that virtually the entire world of scientists believe those deniers are liars. If you believe Michael Brown said, “hands up, don’t shoot” in Ferguson, Mo., even when that has been disproved, and you want to keep believing that, OK: go ahead and accept the lie. If you believe the NRA supports the views of its members when it opposes any attempt to require background checks on all gun purchasers, even though some 74 percent of NRA members support background checks: go ahead and accept the lie. If you believe that diet sodas help you lose weight as promoted by the soft drink industry, when in fact they make you fat, OK: go ahead and accept the lie.

Could it be that the decline of the truth in an everyday PR campaign is attributable in large part to the public itself?

It looks that way. Maybe it’s their ignorance. Maybe it’s their propensity to wishful thinking. Maybe they just want to ignore the truth. Whatever the reasons, now that Sandra Longcrier and others have jolted my thinking, I’m even more concerned than I was. The decline in honesty seems to be less a matter of people trying to get away with telling lies versus the willingness of society to accept the lies. So now, we need to take a look at what that may mean – and that will be the topic of what will be the next in my now three-in-a-series posts on the topic.

About Doug Poretz: After a four+ decade career crafting public relations and communications strategies at the C-suite level, I now work with a limited number of clients, helping them rethink and improve their approach to how they communicate. For more about me, click here. For how I work with clients, click here. And for my numerous previous blog posts, click here. You can sign up for alerts about forthcoming posts by completing an easy form at my blog.

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