Honesty in Communications: Not Only The Right Thing, But The Smart Thing

Whether its politics, drug pricing, or bank lending practices, there’s a strong argument to be made for more honesty.

The crisis communications mantra has always been get all the information out as quickly as you can when bad news happens.  Sometimes that’s practical and sometimes it is not.  But it is the right instinct.

It is tempting to be too clever for your own good when the truth isn't pretty.

This has a habit of coming back to bite.  Being honest means you never have to remember what you said - a lesson shared with me by a former Vice Chairman at Morgan Stanley.  Ultimately the truth will come out – the longer you dance around it, the longer you will be in the spotlight.  The American public, clients and journalists are not stupid. 

The communications industry has a powerful role in telling clients’ stories.  Occasionally, we all need to be reminded that not owning up to problems or stating what you will do to fix them may cost far more over the long term.  We don’t have to look far to be reminded of this basic truth. 

It is important to note that using legal or technical definitions to justify actions that seem instinctively wrong ignores a fundamental reality - the most important court is that of public opinion.  Its judgment is not based on the law.  That’s why communications and PR professionals have such a a critical role to play during a crisis.      

There’s one more important point to make – good communications or PR don’t make problems go away.  Communications cannot fix business problems.  You have to fix the business problem and then communicate the solution.     

Telling the truth has always been a basic pillar of good communications practice – not just because it’s the right thing to do, it makes business sense.  It's a principle of the Arthur W. Page Society, the world's leading professional association for senior public relations and corporate communications executives.  As we are seeing, this has never been more valid than it is today.      


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