30th April is National Honesty Day in the US, but there are plenty of lessons we can learn from it here in the UK. With fake news increasingly rearing its ugly head, it can be difficult to decipher good-old-fashioned-honesty from utter nonsense in the media world. The explosion in bogus stories is challenging for PRs, because we rely on media authenticity to generate positive results for clients in terms of coverage. With media mistrust comes the undermining of our hard work and the impact of client publicity on audiences.
This week has seen the announcement that Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales is taking action to fight fake news with the new Wikitribune site, joining professional journalists with a mass of volunteer community contributors. Facebook alerts over disputed content and Channel 4 bolstering its FactCheck service are further examples of how proactive steps are being taken to stay truthful in challenging times.
Here are three lessons PRs can learn this National Honesty Day to help combat the epidemic of false news and stay at the top of their game:
- Be prepared
Learning how to handle the negative attention if a fake story breaks is paramount to protecting a client’s business reputation. Rather than responding aggressively or defensively, (despite our natural instincts), it’s important to combat the news by spreading positive, truthful stories and reaching out to the media to state the claims are false before they approach you for comment. News stories, true or false, can be found first by setting up online alerts, through services like Google Alerts or Talkwalker. In addition, don’t be afraid to speak up on social media: better to tackle the fire than just hope it goes out.
- Be transparent
Craft the most straightforward messaging possible when it comes to telling your client’s story. By proactively showcasing truths of this kind, prospective and existing customers of your client will know exactly who they are dealing with in terms of the brand and its core values. Socially, we tend to value those who are consistent and reliable, with strong values: the PR industry is no different.
- Be open
It’s commonplace, but not always the best strategy, to tell a client exactly what you know they want to hear. PR agencies often adopt this approach in attempt to keep existing clients happy or to win new business, but is this sustainable? Probably not. Instead of setting unreachable targets and failing to meet these in the eyes of clients, agencies should counsel clients on what is achievable and set realistic goals which can be actioned immediately.
In the words of Oscar Wilde, “The truth is rarely pure and never simple”. As PRs, it’s up to us to decide for ourselves and our clients the most straightforward truths that we can. As people, we lead by example: because honesty really is the best policy, in PR and otherwise.