Truth and transparency never go out of fashion. But recently, lying and breaches in trust are appearing mainstream in America, whether in politics, Hollywood, sports and in some corporate cultures.
Immersed in the communication business, we know that we are more than a decade into the 24-hour, multi-channel and converged media world that spotlights and accentuates every misstep. So why is it that seemingly smart and financially successful organizations – and individuals – do not anticipate or understand this yet? Maybe they think that their product or offering is too vital to fail. Maybe they are foolish enough to believe that they will get away with whatever suits their interests because of who they are.
Gambling with Goodwill
A recent example of this is Amazon. What was the company thinking when it turned its headquarters search into a public bidding war? Maybe a good marketing stunt on paper, but did their leadership team consider how it might play out? Was there any contingency planning or thought of potential downsides? Their team’s action – and perhaps shallow planning – raises questions. Was the company truly committed to a given location, and, if so, for what reasons?
What about Facebook? We trust and willingly allow the social network insights into our lives, including our memories, opinions, activities and more. Sure, we agreed and accepted a long legal disclaimer, but we believed that the people at Facebook were good and had good intentions. After all, Zuck was going to bring the world together, teach it to sing in perfect harmony, like Coke or something along those lines. Sadly, we know differently now.
The list goes on: Bill Cosby, Roseanne Barr, R. Kelly, Elon Musk, the Catholic Church – even the White House, although we almost expect shifting truths from politicians. In most cases, their press secretaries are not professionally-trained PR people.
Sometimes the most valuable contribution a PR person makes is to be the conscience of the organization. That happens when the public relations team is threaded throughout the organization or at least consulted on enterprise-wide initiatives. The chance for a disconnect and tragic misstep are greatly reduced when there’s a seat at the management table.
Not a Popularity Contest
An experienced PR person is not shy about asking questions, sometimes tough questions, and sometimes questions that we know the answers to already. Yes, it may be uncomfortable at times, but a little discomfort upfront can be a good investment for all – and that includes shareholders. The boycott of Barilla Pasta after its Chairman Guido Barilla’s “classic family” and anti-gay remarks still spoils some consumers’ appetites when reaching for Barilla pasta at the supermarket.
We can debate the full intent of his words, but in cases such as this, media training can go a long way in safeguarding corporate reputation and revenue, not to mention the resources, time and investment required to remedy a situation like this. Media training can make one more self-aware of their actions and sensitive to a media agenda, but, more importantly, how their actions can reverberate with their audiences.
Think it through. While attractive as a marketing ploy or short-term revenue booster, will it work and play out long term? Does the move benefit the organization and its stakeholders, including the community where it is domiciled and draws its workforce from and where its employees hope to thrive?
Every business deserves to make a profit, but the most successful organizations are authentic and recognize that its employees and consumers ultimately decide the extent of that success. And this applies to celebrities.
Don’t discourage difficult questions from your internal team. Better to vet considerations and concerns among friends. You’ll spare everyone a ton of grief, and you just might avoid an untenable defense and permanently damaged trust factor and reputation.
Consider media training. A comprehensive media training program not only covers delivering desired key messages, it covers message development and anticipating a variety of questions from an array of media. Role playing and mock interviews can effectively prepare key executives on how to manage difficult interviews on a range of subjects that are pertinent to the organization’s stakeholder community. “Is it true that Amazon paid no taxes this year? If so, why are you asking for huge incentives to build another headquarters?”
Once trained, spokespersons become more aware of their actions and even the actions of others as they watch the news. Even the smallest media outlet can propel a bad story virally.
While this was not intended as a crisis-management alert, the point is crisis avoidance. As they say, it’s better to lay a roof when the sun is shining.
And just like truth and transparency will never go out of fashion, the real lesson is to keep a focus on building long-term, mutually beneficial relationships for the good of the organization and its key publics, all the way to the personal level.
Regrettably, we don’t hear – or see – that enough today.