Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free – John 8:32
As a young PR student, one of the first things you’re taught — or should be taught — is that the only thing worse than a lie is the cover up that tends to follow (and lying is pretty bad).
I understand that some of my colleagues are allergic to telling the truth. With the most notable exception of political communication, lying will get the rest of us fired.
The antidote to this is simple: Tell. The. Truth.
Seriously. Honesty is the best policy. As a former journalist, I can tell you there’s nothing more damaging to a relationship with a reporter than feeding false information. No matter how tight you think you are with the press, any reporter worth their salt is going to call out a lie (It’s good for their careers. As a general rule: Reporters will value their career over yours).
So what should you do when confronted with some unflattering information. Tell the truth. Whatever comes out of your mouth or from the mouth of the entities you represent needs to be factual. I’ve seen organizations and people run their good will into the ground, only to act shocked — SHOCKED! — when nobody believes anything they say (a history of lying will also dog you when/if you decide you want to be honest).
I saw a news story the other day where a high-level official went on the record stating their demotion, pay cut and stripping of responsibilities was a “great opportunity.”
You can’t make this stuff up.
Are there degrees to telling the truth? Yes. Here are a couple caveats:
Follow the law
Due to privacy laws, there are times when personnel decisions can’t be gone into with any significant detail. You can’t fight the (successfully). When you’re constrained by the law, say so. No reporter will fault you for it. They will also not fault you for violating it if you slip up and give them something good.
Less is more
Answer the questions asked. If you’re asked, “What is 9/3?” the answer should be “three.” Not “three… because three goes into nine three times.” Simply three. Giving extra information invites a follow-up question.
If you don’t know the answer to something, or aren’t sure what the official word should be, tell the reporter you’ll find out and get back to them — and actually get back to them.
Solutions. Solutions. Solutions.
One of my mentors always encouraged bring solutions to problems. One of the few times to break the less is more rule is when you are taking action to address an issue. In fact, you should be putting out what you’re going to do to solve a problem before you’re asked about it. While this may sound like deflection, it isn’t. Conflicts have solutions — and you’d be wise to publicize yours before the public starts to wonder if you have any.
At the end of the day, when you tell the truth, you’ll never have to remember what you said.