The public relations professional is ethically bound to tell the truth and to serve the public interest. Most PR folks and professional communicators I know struggle with ethics constantly because, frankly, honesty doesn’t always make the customer look good.
But not everybody really cares what the Public Relations Society of America has to say about ethics. That’s why we call them “flacks.”
(I don’t mind “PR dummies” so much. Those people are sort of funny, in a sad way.)
But the worst thing about watching liars cover for other liars is that they’re following the “best practices” I helped to write – but in a demented way. Like “transparency” that is really just pseudo.
In the hope that information is the best weapon, here are some ways to weed out truth from lies in professional discourse:
I. Get Smart About Slick PR Tricks
· Going on the attack to avoid being put on the defensive
· Making broad generalizations that divide people by class, gender, race, religion rather than speaking in unifying terms
· Saying the same things over and over again rather than being in the moment
· Dressing or grooming that is either overly slick or overly “casual”
· Using “pseudofacts” or “pseudostatistics” rather than real numbers, and being unable to provide a checkable source
II. Watch for Signs of Lying In An Interview
· Body language is a dead giveaway, especially eyes darting around, stiffness, and touching one’s own face
· Answering in a way that is technically true, but misleading (after all, it wouldn’t be perjury, right?)
· Not answering the question asked, and/or using canned “message” language
· Acting angry, raising one’s voice, or saying that a question is “offensive,” attacking the questioner, trying to make them seem “crazy”
· Not allowing questions in the first place
III. Don’t Settle for Superficial
· PR professionals are engaged with news professionals all the time. So watch news on different channels, including Internet websites, deliberately. Watch hearings directly and fully. Read headlines covering the U.S. from other countries. Always reflect on the larger context and issues and think about why these media channels make particular editorial choices. And of course, question whether “leaks” are really “leaks” or whether they were “dropped” on purpose.
· Locate bloggers and non-mainstream news sources who doggedly pursue a subject over time. Also consider their biases, their sources of funding, and whether they are trying to sell a product.
· Go to small-scale blogs, discussion boards, Twitter, and YouTube for unfiltered discussion of the issues. Don’t exaggerate the importance of, or discount, these sources just because they are non-professional.
At the end of the day, Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s advice is pretty good: “Those who talk, don’t know.” But by learning the tricks of professional liars, at least you can avoid being taken for a fool.
How to Spot PR Flackery: Tips From a Professional Communicator
Dr. Dannielle Blumenthal has pioneered best practices in the federal government while spearheading dozens of digital/social media campaigns, integrated marketing initiatives, and communication efforts. Blumenthal began her career in branding at Young & Rubicam's Brand Futures Group/Intelligence Factory, and launched pioneering social media programs externally and internally at The Brand Consultancy, U.S. Customs and Border Protection, and USAID. She currently serves as the communications director of the Advanced Manufacturing Program at the National Institute of Science and Technology.
A frequently sought-after speaker and frequently published author who has taught marketing at George Washington University, the University of Maryland University College, and elsewhere, Blumenthal has received numerous industry recognitions, honors and awards. These include Klout Top 20% social media producer (2014); SlideShare Top 5% (2013); Meritorious Group Honor Award for website revitalization at USAID (2013); Featured Blog of the Month, USAID (2012); Top 1% most viewed LinkedIn profiles (2012); #2 Most Influential GovLoop.com member (2012); Commissioner's Award, U.S. Customs and Border Protection (2011); IABC-DC Silver Inkwell Award (2008); and more.
Blumenthal is deeply ingrained in the Washington, DC branding and social media best practices community, having revitalized the Institute for Brand Leadership (2001-2003) through a social media campaign; serving on the board of the Journal of Brand Management (2003); co-launching the Federal Social Media Subcouncil (2009); and re-launch the Federal Communicators Network through a successful social media campaign.
She holds a bachelor's degree from SUNY Empire State College, a Ph.D. in sociology from CUNY Graduate Center, and a Graduate Certificate in Organization Development from Fielding University.
Her website is located at www.dannielleblumenthal.com. Follow her on Twitter @thinkbrandfirst.