Honesty and Transparency in Public Relations

This week, I had the great opportunity to speak with Ferris State University’s PRSSA chapter. Not only was it a chance to give them an idea of how a public relations pro got his start, it allowed me to give them advice they may not normally get in an academic setting.Some of the points I made during the talk:

  • Want a job when you graduate? Use your PR skills & put a plan together.
  • Research and know the company you’re applying to. Go to their website and study the job requirements.
  • PR and marketing professionals need to be open, transparent, and honest.

That last bullet was the one thing I wanted to make sure was driven home. The faster we all learn in PR, marketing, and social media that being honest and open in our communications is important, the easier it will be to do the job right.

Sound like a broken record? Well, unfortunately this is something that needs to be hammered home time and time again. Let’s take BlackBerry and Former NY Rep. Anthony Weiner for example. One is a huge smartphone company; the other was a respected elected official.

BlackBerry has been dealing with PR issues for the last year. The PlayBook was supposed to ship in early 2011. It didn’t. Research in Motion (makers of the BlackBerry) made excuses. What should they have done? Be honest. Tell your stakeholders, fans, and customers that you want to make a great product. They failed to do that. Now, the PlayBook is a joke.

In Weiner’s case, he created his own PR fail. He denied that he sent lewd photos to a follower over Twitter in late May. Then, he sat down during a TV interview and said he couldn’t say “with certitude” that he sent the pic. By mid-June, he finally admitted that he sent the pics and resigned. If he had just been truthful from the start, the end result may have been different.

The teachable moment for both new and experienced pros here is that we can never think for a moment that it is ok to hide the truth. If you are part of the Public Relations Society of America (PRSA), you adhere to the Code of Ethics. Once you are labeled as dishonest, it’s pretty hard for anyone – a fellow pro or the media – to trust you again.

Don’t let your career reach that point.

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  • Be honest. Be nice. Be transparent. I mention this every class I teach. What a great lesson to share. Hope you liked Ferris. I spent six years working north of there and loved visiting campus. 

    • Thanks Dan. The Ferris State chat was great and was so thrilled that the students were engaging. Honesty still is the best policy.


  • Matt LaCasse

    If companies were as open and honest as they needed to be, we’d probably not have the careers in PR that we all want. /cynical’d 

    That said, fantastic post as always Dr. Mollica. Enjoyed reading it. 

    • Matt,

      Thanks so much for conferring me the doctoral degree! 😉 True on open and honest, but I think we’d find ways to make ourselves needed.

  • I do not think we can ever emphasize honesty and transparency enough. I just had a good friend tell me this weekend that he has realized through following my blog that I am using “my powers” for good. While this is a compliment, it shows that many people in society see PR professionals as crooked and manipulative overall, and the “good” PR people are exceptions, when that is not the case. I look forward to the day when PR professionals are simply known for honest, transparent communication. Thank you for continuing to share an important lesson in public relations. 

  • KristinM

    Great post, Jason.  You are spot on that being truthful up front can potentially change the end result when something negative happens.  When I find that someone, either an individual or organization, has been less than honest about a situation, it certainly makes me question any future actions they take.  Thanks for sharing this post!

  • Mollie128

     I completely agree with the importance of being open, honest and transparent and feel that this is not stressed enough in many professions. Do you have any suggestions for the best way to reflect those characteristics to potential employers?

  • Madison112

    I could not agree more with this post! My father has always said that “if you always tell the truth you never have to remember what you said.” I think that in professional settings people will often bend the truth or try to sugarcoat it in the hopes that things will be smoothed over and no one will find out. However, as is proven time and time again, the truth always comes out and causes more problems that could have been avoided.

  • Heather

    Honesty and transparency are two things that can’t be emphasized enough, especially in public relations. People are able to communicate and connect with brands and organizations more than ever now and they want to know they are doing so with a reliable and trustworthy brand. I think Chapstick could have benefited greatly from this post. They received a bad reaction from a picture they chose for a recent campaign, but the worst part was their reaction to the public’s reaction. Instead of communicating with people on why they felt that way, they were deleting Facebook posts. I think this caused a huge amount of distrust and was not good public relations on their part.

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