We live in a world where slick willie public relations practitioners are becoming more and more adept at fooling the public with misleading headlines and stories. Whether it’s rising competition for content placement or advancements in truth-bending tactics, public relations experts are often forced into a dark corner between authenticity and fabrication.
Here’s the problem with that approach: In today’s transparent information environment, someone somewhere knows the truth. While initiatives like Public Relations Society of America’s Ethics Awareness Month seek to inform and educate the public relations profession about ongoing issues and concerns regarding PR ethics, most marketers with deep agendas will always find ways to manufacture news.
Consider this – an article in The Herald describes how the federal government plans to boost the manufacturing industry by reclassifying the makers of “factoryless goods” as manufacturers. By doing so, it instantly makes the manufacturing sector look better on paper – because now it has a greater economic impact. Marketers do this all the time. Just like the classic “no sugar added” marketing approach doesn’t mean there’s no sugar, modifying even one word can often stretch the real truth.
Survey Says… Ha Ha Fooled You
A popular public relations tactic includes the execution of surveys. But when brands create them, they tend to support an objective of the organization. When the results don’t mesh with messaging, marketers will spin certain facts and draw unfounded conclusions. With that said, there are plenty of valid surveys out there, but they don’t always add up. It works particularly well when the organization is not in the business of selling. However, when an organization like Coca-Cola releases a survey about obesity, it has the potential to fall as flat like a long-standing glass of Cherry Coke.
Take a look at this misleading poll that attempts to make the public believe that Ireland supports abortion. Or, how about this product’s claim that it provides “hours of energy now, no crash later”, something that contradicts the company’s own research showing that 24 percent of consumers did experience a crash.
Still, Corporate News Could Be the Wave of the Future
An interesting article in the Financial Times entitled The invasion of corporate news talks about how the lines between journalism and PR are rapidly becoming blurred as business interests bypass traditional media to get their message across. According to the article: “…as journalists bemoan such PR obstacles, they rarely admit an important fact: the PRs are winning. Employment in US newsrooms has fallen by a third since 2006, according to the American Society of News Editors, but PR is growing.” Globally, PR revenues are up and there are now 4.6 PR people for every working journalist in America!
But the influx of PR people doesn’t necessarily bode well for brands because now the share of media attention is diminishing. There’s a line that needs to be adhered to. Obviously, we here at Scribewise live between the world’s of traditional PR and journalism. We strive to deliver the truth about our clients into the marketplace, but we certainly aren’t claiming to do the work of investigative journalists.
In the end, PR untruths will eventually be revealed through social media and traditional news channels. Just like the one lie that brought down Walmart’s PR chief, it’s only a matter of time before someone calls you out.
Plus, it’s just wrong. So, why do it?