Truth, to me the moral authority of PR, has lost much of its
Temporarily, I hope, but no less troubling. The root of it is the
pervasiveness of cynicism.
In the US it is manifested by a public that elects a president they
acknowledge lies; where a recent survey distressingly shows that
employees admit they’d lie to management and where many in middle
management find nothing untoward about lying to employees.
Correspondingly, truth becomes immaterial to the role of PR.
Uncomplainingly we adjust, disgorging communications and relying heavily
on the media as the principal conduit, disingenuously ignoring the fact
that we know full well that the media’s credibility is being shredded
We are reinforcing a stereotype of image-fixers, spin doctors and short
term savants. A public wedded to scepticism is not easily persuaded to
favourable impressions of clients by our traditional ministrations and
Yes, we can buy a truce with loud critics through exercise of our skills
in crisis management. We can be catalysts in moving products; in gaining
visibility for previously anonymous enterprises; in facilitating a
difficult merger or acquisition.
But when we attempt to produce feelings of trust, or belief in
integrity, of credibility (assuming they are justified) we’ve lost the
rationale for our reasoning.
Why do we persist in promoting our capabilities to manipulate the media,
to bury contrary views by mass communications? To what end? Two weeks’
worth of hype versus a year’s editorial battering for lapses in
We can no longer contest disinformation with our facts. We must be more
sophisticated and address the subliminal causes of attitudes, the
biases, experiences, perceptions that instinctively shape opinions.
I see little evidence of any recognition of this. We write, hold
seminars, make proposals and modify or create opinions by sheer weight
The closest we came to facing up to the real issues was at a PR
conference when three renowned speakers discussed the impact of the loss
of the meaning of truth. But they were merely seen as entertainment, not
a wake-up call.
This is a good business, as is any personal service that offers to
alleviate a CEO’s wounded ego and to help him or her regain peer
respect. But ultimately, at the cost of what infinite loss? Nothing less
in my opinion, than selling out our ambitions to be truly a part of
We allow ourselves, unwittingly perhaps, to be metamorphosed into
mercenaries following implementation orders.
Short of re-inventing ourselves - for which I do not believe we have the
necessary introspection - I foresee a new generation of advisers,men and
women equal to the cerebral challenge facing us and society by the
off-handed, even sarcastic dismissal of the ethos that root both our
Robert Kennedy, retired chairman/CEO of Union Carbide, who inherited the
cesspool of post-Bhopal, vowed to rebuild the company’s reputation.
Which he did. Not by hype or an expensive media campaign but by earning
it, as he said recently, one day, one week, one year at a time.
To me, to be part of that intellectual process is really what this
business should - and could - be all about.
John Budd is chairman of the Omega Group in New York.