Industry uses the term 'transparent' too loosely

Last year's PRWeek Book of Lists got a lot of feedback. The annual feature that dissects the industry, as well as examines the state of politics and pop culture, often provokes plenty of discussion.

Last year's PRWeek Book of Lists got a lot of feedback. The annual feature that dissects the industry, as well as examines the state of politics and pop culture, often provokes plenty of discussion.

One of the elements that elicited the most feedback this time was our statement that transparent was "a term we hope not to hear again." Those who contacted us agreed, saying the hoary cliche was used too often as a crutch to define the PR challenge in the 21st century and beyond.

And while we certainly get annoyed when too many people use the same phrase, our contention was not that people are overusing the word transparent, but that the PR business is not equipped to handle the type of transparency it's advocating. Pursuing transparency is an exercise in failure.

For posterity, here is the definition: "So fine in texture that it can be seen through; sheer." In essence, those who are arguing for transparency are inviting the entire world, including journalists, for an unobstructed look at their companies, partners, and business operations. If any company expresses - and truly believes - a dedication to transparency, then any customer should be given carte blanche to view the company's processes.

Some hedge their bets and offer an approach of "better transparency." That's not entirely true either. The industry is only capable of allowing the amount of transparency that serves its clients' business - which is, ultimately, very insignificant when considering how much takes place opaquely.

The reality is that it does the industry no good to prattle on about transparency.

Companies - and their PR personnel - are transparent when it serves their interests and closed off when it makes sense. Until we see a full-time transparent operation, let's pick a better buzz word that is not so transparently ill-applied.

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