In some people’s minds, if you work in public relations, you’re a ‘Spin Doctor’ who drinks champagne all night long and occasionally writes clever speeches to make dodgy politicians and corporations look good in public.
Given media portrayals of PR pros and other creatives (Sex in the City and Mad Men, we’re looking at you), most people would be forgiven for thinking that PR is all about soirees and spins.
This is certainly not the reality of most PR professionals – actually, transparency in PR is a large part of the industry’s aims.
Recently, the PR industry has consciously made a move towards a universal ideal of transparency and honest communications in an attempt to shift the stereotype. If you visit the CIPR website and browse their about me pages, the first two things you’ll see under their values are ‘Honesty’ and ‘Integrity’. But why are we making this conscious change? Is total transparency in PR always a good thing when the goal is to advance reputations?
Why is transparency in PR important?
One reason transparency in PR is taking the industry’s centre stage is because of social media. It’s easier now for users to hold brands accountable for their actions. Whether it’s a bad review on a blog, or a petition circulating Facebook, the public are increasingly influential in shaping company reputations. As a result, companies are clamouring to give their customers more of an insight into their processes and to help them stay informed.
Another reason is that a perceived lack of transparency reflects badly on a person or organisation, regardless of whether or not they have something to ‘hide’. Take David Cameron’s recent involvement in the Panama Papers scandal. When asked if the Prime Minister was holding money offshore, a spokesperson for Downing Street replied with, “It’s a private matter”, which, of course, lead to widespread suspicion about the PM’s financial dealings. Cameron later revealed details about his personal finances, but it’s safe to say that Downing Street’s press office could have saved themselves an awful lot of hassle had they been transparent and released the PM’s tax records sooner, rather than avoiding the question.
Often, transparency in PR is the right thing to do, even if it’s not necessarily the easiest, as David Cameron shows us. However, when handled correctly, transparency can be a great thing for a brand’s reputation.
What is a good example of transparency in PR?
A great example of this was Mars’ announcement in April that recommended its Dolmio and Uncle Ben’s sauces should only be eaten ‘occasionally’ due to their high salt, sugar, and fat content. Lots of people questioned whether such an announcement was ‘brand suicide’, and would bring on a decline in sales, but many PR practitioners applauded the move, saying that it was rooted in social responsibility and genuine commitment to the customer.
At the time of the announcement, PR Week spoke to PR professionals for their opinions. Rickki Weir, director of consumer brand at PR consultancy Cirkle, said,
“It’s an innovative nod to the educational role that many manufactures will continue to take. It informs consumers and leaves them with the choice of how often they consume the product.”
Ultimately, the response to the news was largely positive, with lots of professionals commenting on how it reflected on Mars and their duty to their customers over sales. Fiona Dawson, Mars’ global president of food, drinks, and multisales, reinforced the role of trandparency in building relationships with the public, stating that the move was all about delivering what customers want,
“Consumers have becoming increasingly confused about what is healthy and what is not healthy. We need to step in and ensure that we deliver the transparency they say that they are looking for.”
But how transparent is transparent PR, really? And where do you draw the line?
What is a bad example of transparency in PR?
Last month, pop star Meghan Trainor took her latest music video down from YouTube, claiming that her waist had been Photoshopped. As a result, Trainor was lauded for her honesty and showing respect for her relationship with fans. It was also picked up by lots of major media outlets, making it a nice little bit of publicity for the pop singer.
However, after it was later revealed that Trainor did indeed approve the video before its release, some people questioned how she could have missed her obviously heavily photoshopped waist, suggesting the plan was to pull the video all along. As said, the story was covered extensively, and it conveniently fitted in with Meghan Trainor’s image as the poster girl for body positivity …perhaps a little too conveniently. So was this a clever PR stunt which played on the public’s need for transparency? It’s hard to tell, but it definitely cements the idea that transparent PR (or what looks like transparency in PR) is good PR in the public’s eyes.
It’s worth a mention that it is kind of ironic that if the move wasn’t made out of a genuine concern of maintaining openness with fans, Trainor’s team is going to have to keep quiet about it – proving that your levels of transparency depend on the activity you’re undertaking and what limits you set yourself.
The bottom line is that, in the open community that the digital world provides us with, honesty still seems to be the best policy. Transparency in PR is more or less a must, as often if something is in the customers’ best interests, it’s probably in your client’s best interests too. Yes, PRs are storytellers, but a trip to any book shop will remind you that not all good stories are fiction.
At Digital Glue, open and honest communication is one of our core values – with clients, colleagues, and customers alike. If you want help communicating your story, get in touch and see what we can do to help.