A company's credibility relies on telling both good, bad news

No one ever gets fired in PR. I searched PRWeek's online archives for the words "fired" or "dismissed" and found virtually no examples of people who, for one reason or another, didn't work out in their respective jobs and were let go.

No one ever gets fired in PR. I searched PRWeek's online archives for the words "fired" or "dismissed" and found virtually no examples of people who, for one reason or another, didn't work out in their respective jobs and were let go.

With a few notable exceptions, PR pros leave for personal reasons or to pursue other opportunities. Or they are moved sideways into positions where they can do little damage before politely retiring a year later and then going on to start their own small consultancies. A reporter can ask, point-blank, "Was he or she fired?" and will hear in response only, "We don't discuss personnel information."

The reticence is understandable. Employment is by and large a private issue between a company and its people. But reluctance to address unpleasantness is not restricted to HR. Agencies rarely get fired, seemingly, nor do they ever resign accounts. No practice areas are ever declining, and office closures are generally announced by taking them off the Web site.

In fact, if we were to take all this information at face value, one would have to assume that the PR industry is, like Disney World, the happiest place on earth. But the byproduct of all this good will is the perception that this is an industry with few real standards - a merry repository for mediocrity in individuals and organizations.

Of course, this is not really the way it is. But it's hard to explain that when there is no "before and after" to agency stories, no relativity. In-house teams simply close down to the media when things are not going well, and we'll not hear a peep from them until their fortunes shift. Firms will just keep saying that all is well, even when it's not.

It is instructive to remember that other companies, certainly those that are publicly traded, don't have the luxury of ducking direct questions about their operations, senior staffing, and prospects. But employees will know the truth, regardless. Blandly cheerful reassurances in the media that all is well at the company will conflict excruciatingly with personal experience inside the organization. Perhaps private companies can effectively silo their employees and keep real information out of the hands of all but a small group. But public corporations don't have that luxury. Even so, companies of all kinds need to behave as if their worst secrets could be revealed at any time.

Today, with so many unofficial channels for individuals to express themselves, it is even more critical that companies find an authentic voice internally and externally. This does not mean exposing every dirty little secret for public consumption, ahead of the news cycle. But credibility is currency. If companies want their stakeholders to turn to them first for information, they need to tell believable stories that put challenges and successes into some kind of narrative context. It would be great if the PR industry could also embrace this ideal, especially now, when the story about the profession is such a good one to tell.

Have you registered with us yet?

Register now to enjoy more articles and free email bulletins

Register
Already registered?
Sign in

Would you like to post a comment?

Please Sign in or register.