My husband likes to say that everything we do for public relations is basically bull crap. I always argue with him that public relations fills an important role in how company’s present themselves to the public. It never seems to work because his point is that companies are just lying to consumers and the public to sell more stuff. When he points to how oil, car, pharmaceutical, etc. companies market themselves, it’s sometimes hard to argue. In fact, he’ll even point to an instance when a spokesperson blatantly lied to better position his or her company.
I admit, he does have a point. As public relations professionals, what is our ethical obligation to our clients, and ourselves, if we know that a client is pushing the edge of truth? At what point does “messaging” become “lying”? And do private companies “get away” with more than public ones?
And what if you see a competitor blatantly lying or contradicting previously stated comments, do you have an ethical obligation to point this out to a reporter?
From my perspective, we as an industry have a bad rap for being flacks precisely because there are some PR practitioners out there who are willing to push the edge alongside with their clients. One “small” lie can quickly avalanche into new products and features to stay top of mind with reporters, but do your customers a disservice when those features aren’t “technically” available for weeks or months.
But I also have to remind myself that sometimes the clients insist that we go to market with a message that we know in our bones is inaccurate or obfuscating the truth, then what is our ethical obligation? For me, it comes down to my personal ethics. I think we have an obligation to provide our recommendation and if the “lie” is so egregious, to excuse ourselves from that campaign or account entirely or even resign from the company.
What do you think?
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Cece Salomon-Lee is director of marketing for ACTIVE Network, Business Solutions division, and author of PR Meets Marketing, which explores the intersection of public relations, marketing, and social media.
This blog contains Cece's personal opinions and are not representative of her company's.
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