Ask one hundred different people to define “public relations” and you’ll probably receive nearly 100 different responses, many of them with negative connotations.
A lot of people view PR as some sort of shell game, something that is auctioned off to the highest bidder. Pay us enough and we’ll convince the world that your product, brand or reputation is infallible.
There is an old joke in the consulting industry: “If you’re not part of the solution, there’s good money to be made in prolonging the problem.”
Even some PR pros think that a few “white lies” are often necessary to achieve success for their clients, as outlined in this story from USA Today.
I see things differently. I don’t think of PR as “public relations.” I think of PR as “public relationships,” and there is a distinct difference.
Take a moment and consider the relationships that are most important to you: your partner, your spouse, your friends, your boss or even your neighbors.
Good relationships are built on a solid foundation of trust. If you don’t trust your spouse, your marriage is likely doomed. It’s not different when it comes to public relationships.
The truth vs. The Narrative?
The public is more savvy than most PR pros give them credit for. The public yearns for truth and integrity, and will generally forgive a misstep, so as long as the offender is transparent and contrite about their mistake.
Sure you can fool some of the people all of the time, and you can even fool all of the people some of the time. But you simply cannot fool all the people all of the time.
Developing a strong and compelling narrative for your client is essential, but that narrative must be rooted in truth and genuine honesty. This is how you build strong relationships. And there is nothing more important in the world of PR than having a strong relationship with your audience.
As an example, I point you to the popularity of two very different candidates vying to be the next president of the United States: Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump, two very different men on completely different sides of the political spectrum.
Sanders, a self-described socialist; and Trump, a billionaire reality TV star, have defied the odds and speculation of the pundits. As the two men continue their campaigns, the pundits now say that the candidates have both tapped into the anger of a very cynical electorate.
I beg to differ.
I think those who passionately support Sanders or Trump view their respective candidates as “honest” This trait causes those supporters to overlook flaws in either candidate.
Sure, voters always like a candidate who tells them what they want to hear, but they become passionate when they believe the candidate is being honest.
A relationship without honesty is like a bicycle without tires. Neither one is of much use.
Building relationships takes time and hard work. But every good relationship must be built on the foundation of honesty.
Randy Seaver is a former newspaper reporter and editor. He also has more than a decade of experience as a strategic communications consultant, helping a wide range of clients overcome challenges in the court of public opinion. Learn More