In two recent instances top PR pros outright lied to our reporting staff when asked pointed questions. No, it's not the first time. Yes, it will probably happen again. However, the brazenness of it and the stakes that were on the line for these companies' reputations made it all the more surprising to me.
In one case, an in-house communicator denied that the organization was working with a firm. (A quick search turned up otherwise.) In another, an agency employee made it appear as if he worked at the client he was representing. (LinkedIn provided clues.)
Do I think these two "get it?" No, and I'll certainly never nominate them for PR pro of the year, company of the year, or anything else. Nor will I recommend them to others in the industry, to other staff as sources for commentary, or anything else. But moreover, if something as basic as honesty does not appear to be instilled in the fabric of a PR department, I begin to question the entire PR program on down to its products and services.
And there's the rub. Both of these companies were working on high-level issues that cut to the very core of their businesses. Mismanaging a seemingly straightforward relationship with the industry trade publication promises larger missteps to come. If these individuals had abused the trust of a blogger about an issue, can you imagine what the result would have looked like? Rather than a mild-mannered (if I do say so) Op-Ed, there would surely have been an angry post that could quickly be sucked into the "digital jet stream" of news until everyone - from customers to investors to John Q. Public - who had never thought too much about this company had now formed an opinion on this organization due to flurry of negative articles calling out these discrepancies. Yes, apologies and clarifications would be issued, but for a long time after that instance would be re-referenced in media, and a sliver of doubt about the company's trustworthiness would remain.
Too often reputation management is thought about in macro terms - How does audience X view us? What is this region saying? How are we indexing in this population? But as many practitioners know, but perhaps don't always practice, your reputation is built by all of these little interactions that in fact aren't so "little" in meaning. Every interaction is the opportunity to further - or damage - your brand's reputation.
When fundamentals like honesty are ignored by senior PR executives, it calls into question how the industry can move forward in meeting its promise of engaging stakeholders in authentic dialogue.
Rose Gordon is the news editor of PRWeek. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.