These days, as the World PR Festival in London (June 23-24) comes closer, the public benefit of Public Relations returns once again to the top of our agenda. But could it be that this time we can no longer rely on the argument, so often used in the past, that PR have a positive impact or at least are neutral for the public when practiced respecting the “truth”?
I fear that what once sufficed to convince ourselves about the responsible practice of PR (tell the truth) is no longer sufficient (although it is still necessary).
In a moment in which PR professionals (and thus to the profession) are constantly criticised for contributing to manipulation and the loss of autonomous judgement by means of non-sincere communication (aka spin), we may ask ourselves if “good old truth” is still valid as a guiding principle.
After being stated as one of the guiding principles of Ivy Lee’s “Declaration of Principles”, “truth” as a value in PR evolved putting emphasis on the “content” of what was said, but not so much on the “process” of how it was said. It was very important to say something (meaning not withholding information) and guarantee access to information, but it didn’t really matter a great deal how that information was presented.
Then the evolution of our profession made “truth” a concept much more related with the process of “reception” than with “emission”. This was crystallized in the maxims “If people believe what we tell them, then we are telling the truth” or “truth is 20% facts and 80% perception”. This “relativism” applied to the notion of “truth” has had strange impacts and certainly didn’t help in our credibility. But the most important result is that we no longer seem to believe in one single “truth”, and we accept that there can be different “truths”. This might be understandable in a world where facts are changing every day and the rhythm of transformations and the flow of information make “truth” a sort of metamorphosis. Could this mean that that the basis on which PR professionals are (increasingly) judged these days is whether they are sincere or not?
But how do you measure sincerity? Is being sincere the same as telling the truth? Can you be sincere when you only tell “your” side of the story? How can sincerity be a condition on which to rebuild a notion of “truth” which is not relativistic? Your views?