Walk the Walk: Maintaining Integrity in Public Relations

It seems that many often find the terms “public relations” and “spin” to have a fairly negative connotation. Indeed, there was a time in which PR was all about spinning stories in order to cast clients in the best possible light — even in the face of massive crises or faux pas.

Now, however, the public relations industry has come a bit more under the microscope. As businesses and brands must now conduct themselves with more transparency and integrity, it now falls to public relations professionals and agencies to ensure that their clients are not only “talking the talk”, but also “walking the walk.”

Integrity is not just a buzzword, nor should it be the focal point of any public relations campaign without a true understanding of exactly what integrity in business means. Simply standing up and making a statement that contains all the right words and the right emotions won’t hold up as a strong effort if there is no action taken to back it up.

So this is where public relations agencies must find opportunities to encourage their clients to truly show, not just tell, that they intend to make real and genuine connections with both consumers as well as professional contacts.

A recent Media Update blog on handling crisis for communications professionals refers to a famous quote from prominent investor Warren Buffett: “It takes 20 years to build a reputation and five minutes to ruin it. If you think about that, you’ll do things differently.”

This absolutely rings true and should be on the mind of anyone managing a reputation for a client. It’s easy to type up a statement or a press release, but what sort of strategy can a client follow in order to truly protect its reputation?

For starters, consistency is key. Maintaining a track record of activity that reflects integrity and maturity should be a top priority for any business, regardless of the presence or absence of an actual crisis. Remember, one of the biggest aspects of public relations is not crisis management — it’s crisis prevention through reputation management.

Managing a client with consistency will play a large role in brand reputation. If there is a misstep, don’t try to spread the blame around or cover the mistake up. Handle it with promptness and attention to detail, and never hesitate to take responsibility. Consumers and peers alike will appreciate this show of integrity.

Another common way that brands damage their reputation is to not make good on their promises. This can be as simple as a customer service representative offering to make a follow-up call and then failing to do so. It can reach into the higher levels of a company, too.

Let’s say an executive puts out a statement vowing to increase charitable giving or assistance in a time of need following a recent natural disaster. The press release sounds great, and the corresponding press conference is a rousing hit. But then…the company doesn’t actually do what it said it would. The giving back initiative fades off quickly, a flash in the pan.

Consumer attention spans may be short, but this doesn’t mean that a company can get away with making empty promises. For everything from sale prices to disclosure of an error, communications should be consistently backed up by action.

Having a strong sense of integrity in any industry is a valuable skill, and it should not be as rare to find as it is. A strong public relations agency will assist a company in conducting itself with a higher level of integrity in both communications as well as actions.

-5WPR CEO Ronn Torossian. 5W Public Relations is headquartered in New York City

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