Lying In PR: “If You Don’t Have Anything Nice to Say….”

Lying In PR: “If You Don’t Have Anything Nice to Say….”

There are mistakes I have made over the years, and mistakes that I have watched others make. Every time one is made, I like to see it as a lessoned learned. It’s much better than repeating the same mistake over and over again. One big mistake a publicist can make is lying in PR.

One would hope that a publicist wouldn’t flat out lie in PR, but it happens quite often - more than I would like to see. Information will get embellished, or a factoid that’s not quite true

There are mistakes I have made over the years, and mistakes that I have watched others make. Every time one is made, I like to see it as a lessoned learned. It’s much better than repeating the same mistake over and over again. One big mistake a publicist can make is lying in PR.

One would hope that a publicist wouldn’t flat out lie in PR, but it happens quite often - more than I would like to see. Information will get embellished, or a factoid that’s not quite true will get told. Sometimes it’s done out of ignorance, and sometimes it’s done to make the client look better, but no matter what the motives are, it’s still wrong.

It’s kind of like dating. When you go out on a date with someone for the first time, you want to show them the best possible you. So you embellish your history a little, you put on extra make-up to cover up any flaws, and you definitely don’t mention any of your horrible past relationships. But once that date turns into a relationship, that person is going to find out who you really are, and they’re going to find out exactly how much you lied….er, “prettified” your rep. Not a good way to start a relationship.
Because some people aggrandize and some even have lied in the past, PR sometimes can get a pretty bad reputation for “spinning.” You really have to mind your P’s and Q’s regarding this.

Here’s a personal example a time I violated this rule, and how it blew up in my face. Now, I didn’t do it knowingly, and I definitely didn’t do it out of some evil intention. It was an honest mistake, but it still did not turn out well.

Back when direct mail was in its heyday, I had gotten an article about a client published in a respected and well-known marketing magazine. The article was a case study about the effectiveness of direct mail.

This company’s income statistic would mirror its direct mail statistic. When they would send out direct mail to their clients, their income would directly correlate to how much mail was sent out. If their direct mail numbers went up, sure enough, their income would follow. Sometimes, there would be a lag of a few weeks, but the two were synced. It was a very interesting case study.

I had the client answer all of the questions the journalist answered, but just before the article’s deadline, the journalist came back with some very salient questions she wanted to get clarified. Now, this particular client was very hard to get on the phone. He usually had an executive secretary answer most of his traffic. So when the question came back from the journalist, I wasn’t able to talk to the client before the journalist’s deadline and the secretary did not have the answers I needed.

I was in a pinch. I couldn’t get the question answered, but it had to be answered right then.

So I decided to just give him the information I had been given in the past, or at least what I thought was the information I had been given. And I also put in my own opinion of a particular statistic that wasn’t really based on fact - a deadly thing to do. It was actually a minor point, and it wasn’t caught by the journalist.

It wasn’t an outright blatant lie, but it still wasn’t the truth. What I had done was make it look good with the intention to portray the client in a certain light. If I had taken a look at the two previous figures, I would have known that the data I said was incorrect, but I didn’t.

The article got printed, and the client was very happy, of course. It was a great article.

Besides being the publicity agent for this company, they also had an in-house PR department which handled internal activities with their clientele. The in-house PR ordered plaques with the article on it, which was then sent to their clients who were part of this case study.

The next month, someone who has an eye for numbers wrote in. He asked for clarification, because there was a discrepancy in the case study, and it couldn’t be so. He was completely right. It wasn’t so.

The in-house PR had spent all this money for multiple plaques to acknowledge their customers. How could they send out those plaques now? It was a great article, and it was ruined. Just that one discrepancy made the whole thing null. The message, which was to help other businesses understand the power of direct mail and what it could do, got tainted despite being a great message. Who would believe it now?

I had egg on my face, and I had to clean up the mess. While what I did wasn’t outright lying, it did fit into this category.

Lesson learned.

Lying can come back at you. In PR, it’s deadly.

Here’s another example of how lying in PR can backfire on you. There was a PR firm which was blasted in the news for posting their own book reviews for clients on an online bookstore.

This PR firm hired to publicize this author and the book, but they were going online and posting reviews that were directly cut and pasted out of their own press releases which had even been published online elsewhere.

On the surface, this may seem totally OK. After all, they were spreading good news about their client. However, this was completely against the online bookstore’s rules (which were publicly posted), and when it was revealed, the online bookstore had to crack down on fraudulent book reviews. Not only did they crack down, but an investigative journalist went sniffing and exposed it for the online world to see, making an example out of them. Ouch!

It’s false PR and it’s not good. Not only did that backlash on the PR firm in a huge way, but I’m sure that it affected the client and the way the client felt about them.

Lesson learned.

When looking at a PR company, make sure they have a firm “tell the truth” policy. We know firsthand how bad violating this can be - even when it was not intentional. It’s a huge mistake, and it has many ramifications that go unseen until it happens…then it’s too late.

The advice mom used to give is especially relevant in PR – “If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all!” And definitely don’t lie.