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Why the truth is central to our public relations advice

By Deirdre Campbell
Monday, June 11 2018

Telling hard truths is a difficult job. However, we’d be failing in the public relations advice we give our clients if we didn’t do it when it’s required.

Sometimes, clients are too close to a situation, too close to their brand, to see the Go Train to Reputational Damage racing down the track towards them.

It was astonishing to see Kathleen Wynne throw herself in front of the train to protect what she believes in during the Ontario election campaign. Politicians are not normally known for such selflessness.

Having been the bearer of tough news in a reputation management situation, I’m familiar with the bravery such an action takes if not the platform it was made on.

Choices for the future

Wynne, the Liberal premier of Ontario, saw she was trailing behind Doug Ford’s Progressive Conservatives and Andrea Horwath’s New Democratic Party (NDP) in the polls and conceded before the ballot had even opened – but used her concession to remind voters their choice was about their future, not hers.

Wynne admitted: “This is a hard thing to do. I don’t know who voters will choose, but I am pretty sure that it won’t be me.

“I’m OK with that because, as I’ve said many times before, it’s not about me. It’s about the people of this province. It’s about their well-being. And their futures. It’s about their jobs. Not my job.”

Wynne knew she was done for. By admitting the truth, she tried to detach her brand from her party’s for what she saw as the greater good. You might not want me, she was saying, but let my party try to balance extremes.

Facing the fear of failure

The change of tactic, in this case, didn’t pay off as Ford’s party won a majority with the Liberals back in third.

She was facing the fear of failure that we all encounter. Mostly, people try to cover up their fears or keep going despite them. But there is nothing wrong with admitting: “This isn’t working.”

That’s part of our job as PR people, and it relies on the trust that we build with our clients. We do more than boost their profiles – we listen for what people are saying about them, positive and negative, and consider the reputational damage that might accrue. Our job is to tell our clients the hard truth.

There’s no hiding in reputation management. Silence and ignorance only harm a brand. Instead, anything that may cause reputational damage has to be confronted.

Being the bad guy

That means we sometimes have to be the bad guy who tells the client to stop and course correct, to give our clients public relations advice they often don’t want to hear.

On occasion, we have to tell clients they have to come clean about the situation they are in. That’s because truth is the best defensive weapon – anything else leaves you exposed.

This honesty is an essential part of our public relations advice. It’s at the core of everything we do, from building brands to crisis management.

We work with companies we believe in. It’s only through their success, and the brand trust they build, that we can thrive. Our success is linked to our clients’ growth which is more sustainable when they realize their consumers are the ones in charge of their brand’s reputation.

The trust that accrues

If our advice makes us briefly unpopular, so be it. It’s the results of that advice – the continued protection it affords the brands we work with – that are important, and the trust that accrues as a result.

We admire people who are brave, who stand up and take a hit for the greater good. We see that as our job for our clients’ brands. We have to stand up when it’s needed so that they stand up when they have to.

At Beattie Tartan, we look out for Number One – it’s just that Number One is not Beattie Tartan, it’s our clients.

Beattie Tartan is the integrated communications specialist. Call 800 400 3831 to learn how we can boost your brand.