Washington cuts down cherry tree
Presidents’ Day has special meaning for PR people who are charged with getting the truth about subjects to the American people.

Today is Truth Day in America.

George Washington set the example when as a six-year-old he tried out his new hatchet on various plants including taking a slice off the bark of a small cherry tree. That killed it.

His furious father demanded to know who killed his prize planting. Washington responded that he did. “I cannot tell a lie,” he said. Washington’s father took his son tenderly in his arms and said, “Truth is worth more to me than a thousand trees!”

Lincoln knew well that large segments of the public can be led around by the nose for considerable periods of time. He said “You can fool some of the people all of the time and all of the people some of the time, but you cannot fool all of the people all of the time.”

People Want Truth, Not “Relationships”

Some elements of PR have been trying to spin PR as “building relationships” rather than telling the truth.

Thirteen PR groups worldwide have come up with three choices for a new definition of PR and two of them talk about “mutually beneficial relationships” which means the totality of an institution’s contacts with public and/or members.

Institutions want to show how friendly and well-meaning they are, how excellent their products are, how quick their service is, what good public citizens they are, etc. They want any abusive practices to be placed against the context of the entire history of the company.

What the public wants is the best products at the lowest possible prices. It wants its questions answered about a company and if the company doesn’t provide them it will find the answers on the web, assisted by social media. The public doesn’t want to be “stroked,” “cuddled” or whatever. It wants information high and hard.

Although social media are a target of PR these days, positive mention in traditional media is also what clients want.

Truth Can Be Smothered for Years

As Lincoln pointed out, it can take a period of time for the truth about something to emerge and in the meantime lots of affected parties can be damaged.

Public debate, as exemplified by the nearly 20 debates conducted by the Republican Presidential candidates, is the way truth is arrived at in America.

Not only are the debates fully public, but complete transcripts are available for anyone who seeks them.

The definitions being discussed by the 13 PR groups leave out details of how “relationships” are to be conducted.

Will CEOs face roomfuls of reporters with flocks of questions? Will PR dept. heads of major companies identify themselves and answer questions? Will PR organizations face the low standing of PR with the public and try to do something about it?

The 1999 PR Society/Rockefeller study found “PR specialist” ranked 43rd on a list of 45 believable sources and on Jan. 29 New York Times columnist David Carr said CEOs “live behind a wall of communications operatives, many of whom ladle out slop meant to obscure rather than reveal.”

He also complained about too many PR people hiding behind “underlings” who answer phones and e-mails.

Nothing has been done by any PR organization, including the 13 seeking a new definition of PR, about answering either challenge to the credibility of PR.

Legal Definition of Truth Needed

PR groups and PR depts. of institutions should adopt as their goal the pursuit of truth and accuracy the way courtrooms go about this.
Participants must swear to tell “the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth.”

This would eliminate agenda-setting, mis-direction and any diversionary tactics. Institutions would be required to present themselves for questioning.

Defendants sometimes don’t testify in court but their representatives must or they will be held in contempt of court.

Refusal of institutions to face the press and public in a public venue shows contempt for the press and public. PR groups, which are big fans of “social media,” should try practicing it themselves. Also what needs to be dropped is limiting the spread of information to information that is “accurate and truthful.”

That allows a subject to say that while all facts presented about it are accurate, they concentrate on negative aspects and are therefore not “balanced” nor “truthful.” Facts should “stand by themselves” and the approach should be, “Let the chips fall where they may.”

Facebook Hosts Lively PR Confab

An excellent discussion of PR in general and its problems in getting materials posted on Wikipedia is taking place on Facebook in a site called “Corporate Representatives for Ethical Wikipedia Engagement.”

CREWE was started in January by Phil Gomes, head of digital for Edelman based in Chicago. Hundreds of comments and links have been posted by the more than 170 members including nearly a dozen by this writer.

We have not only traded e-mails with a number of the participants but have had actual phone conversations with some of them—a rarity in PR these days.

No one on CREWE is making much headway against WP rules which bar “original sources” (recognition of such sources by “reliable” media is needed) and its aversion to controversy, promotion, anything that benefits the author of an entry, and its concern about entries that may violate someone’s copyright.

WP says it’s a “reference source” that relies on “references” in “reliable media.”

It does not agree with other definitions of encyclopedic that say such a work is “complete” and “all-encompassing.” WP has placed many limits on what an encyclopedia is.