Platform: Is the truth really out there? - The public relations industry can perform crisis management miracles, but can it actually learn to tell the truth? asks John Budd

Truth, to me the moral authority of PR, has lost much of its relevance.

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

of communications.

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

decision/public policy-making.

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.

Have you registered with us yet?

Register now to enjoy more articles and free email bulletins

Already registered?
Sign in