I was eight months pregnant with my third child and one of my daughters, then 16 months old, looked at me and said, “Mommy, you don’t have a belly button.” Really? I didn’t need to be reminded of the fact that I wasn’t my trim self, but nevertheless she stated the truth, ugly or not. We all have those “kids say the darndest things” moments. In fact, there are a number of books on the topic, some of the most popular by the talented Bill Cosby and Art Linkletter. As they point out, children have the innate ability to state the truth at the most inopportune times, even if it hurts.
A debt crisis, global economic uncertainties, war in the Middle East, earthquakes and hurricanes — everyone is dealing with some sort of uncertainty in their lives. This is the time to communicate more than ever and to tell the truth to your associates. The truth is usually much less scary than the rumors flying around.
As public relations professionals, we have to be able to communicate the truth, even if it hurts!
It is courageous to tell the truth. Working in public relations means that you are often privy to internal organization information before others are told — if they are told at all. Our job as communicators is to disseminate the information, not to arbitrarily interpret it. That means not stopping short and leaving something out. Not telling the whole story is lying. If you tell a reporter something that you did not communicate internally, then you are not telling the truth. Keeping information to yourself is not telling the truth. (Keeping confidential information confidential is telling the truth.) Telling one reporter the organizational stance on a particular topic and then telling another the exact opposite is not telling the truth. Purposefully misleading and manipulating someone is a form of not telling the truth. Openness, even if it hurts, deals with telling the truth.
As members of PRSA, we are all held to a greater standard of ethics. Our Board of Directors has set out “principles and guidelines built on core values. Fundamental values
like advocacy, honesty, loyalty, professional development and objectivity structure ethical practice and interaction with clients and the public.”
How often do you review these principles? Are they words you review annually when you renew your membership? Perhaps they are words that you haven’t even read.
With 2012 drawing near, make this the year of your own professional ethics review. Spend a few minutes to take the PRSA Ethics Quiz. Review the Code of Ethics Pledge. Do you act ethically and truthfully even in the most difficult situations?
Truth and honesty is in short supply right now, but we have a high need for it. While we may cringe at the simplified honesty our own children possess, perhaps this is the time to take cues from them. The next time your own child, niece, nephew or neighbor looks at you and tells you something with that look of pure honesty, appreciate that honesty and perhaps use it as a renewed outlook on your professional career.
Rebecca Andersen, APR, M.S. IMC, is Vice President of Marketing Communications for Pacific Bridge Marketing, and program graduate and professor at the Integrated Marketing Communications program at West Virginia University. The Integrated Marketing Communications (IMC) graduate program at WVU’s P.I. Reed School of Journalism is offered exclusively online with no on-campus classroom attendance required. This enables a student to earn a valuable master’s degree or professional certificate in this fast-growing field from anywhere in the world.