Alternative Facts

(NOTE: This post was authored with our colleague Rep. Lisa Cutter) As seasoned public relations practitioners, we have been working in media, organizational and community relations for decades. We help clients discover what behaviors and messages are authentic to them and then provide training to assist them in better communicating these to their stakeholders. We would never suggest to a client that they lie to the media nor would we do so on their behalf. Besides our desire to be honest, truthful and clear in our communications efforts, there are many practical reasons for steering clear of “alternative facts” as well. Let’s say someone issues intentionally inaccurate information and the media buys it. Eventually, readers or viewers receiving this information will catch on because in today’s 24/7 news cycle world, answers are a Google search away. Communications methods are rapidly changing and the public has at its disposal expanded global information resources. Thus, it is becoming increasingly easier to identify fabrications, exaggerations and outright lies, resulting in diminished trust in the organization that chooses to mislead. This doesn’t affect only those who tell blatant lies. In a broader sense, organizations struggle when there is a gap between what people expect to experience and what is actually delivered. It is this failure to uncover and embrace an authentic organizational voice that can lead to confusion. Organizations must convey a unified brand that tightly meshes together their culture, core strengths and underlying value propositions. To not do so significantly reduces the effectiveness of communications and harms the way in which the organization and its representatives are perceived. Then there is the matter of trust. Trust is the foundation of all good communications. If we are dishonest with the media about a client, they will lose trust in us and that client as a credible source of information. Then when we have an important story to share, it will be next to impossible to get news agencies to pay attention. If that’s not enough, our professional association, the Public Relations Society of America is committed to ethical practices. Members are bound to the Society’s code of ethics, which explicitly states in its guidelines that a member shall:
  • Be honest and accurate in all communications.
  • Preserve the integrity of the process of communication.
  • Act promptly to correct erroneous communications for which the practitioner is responsible.
We love what we do largely because we have the admittedly idealistic view that engaging in good communications can help change the world. Conversation, including both talking and listening, can promote understanding. Stories well told can build empathy and spur action. As communicators, we can make the world better by facilitating the telling of authentic stories and encouraging thoughtful discussion through the news media. How can our society progress when the public is mislead, trust is diminished and dissention discouraged?