Bath Business News Expert Panel – Sorry is sometimes the hardest, but best, word

January 16, 2013

Integrity and honesty is the key to a good reputation, says Linda Donaldson, director at Bath-based Geometry PR, in the latest of Bath Business News’ weekly Expert Panel series.

Disgraced cyclist Lance Armstrong is to appear on the Oprah Winfrey show this week after years of defiance and denial over claims of doping offences on the international cycling racing scene. The global media speculation over what he will say – will he confess or attempt to shift the blame or say something else entirely? – is understandably high. Whatever is said in the interview the label ‘serial drug cheat’ is not one that can be easily shaken off, even with the help of the most experienced PR practitioner.

As PR professionals, we are very often portrayed and referred to as spin doctors by the media, thanks in no small way to the manner in which our politicians stage manage their public communications. But spin implies deception and manipulation, a somewhat creative presentation of the facts. That is not what good PR is about. When you market any business, the aim is usually broadly to communicate that you are a good company to do business with, and for your customers to associate your company brand name with one of trust. While some may argue marketing is to an extent about convincing and persuading someone into action, it should still be about integrity and honesty rather than all smoke and mirrors.

Whether you are managing a crisis, lobbying for change, communicating a difficult message such as staff redundancies or simply raising awareness of a product or service, there is no need to abandon your ethics. If something happens under your direction which has a negative implication for a customer, supplier or a member of your team then communicating openly and truthfully is the key to beginning to manage the fall out.  

‘Sorry’ is a powerful word and there are times when it is necessary to publicly apologise and admit you got it wrong. After all, we can all make genuine mistakes at times, but it also provides an opportunity to communicate how you will right a wrong and ensures new processes and procedures are put in place to mitigate against the same thing happening again.  Whatever your organisation – whether commercial, a charity, school, or not-for-profit association – rarely can you be completely sheltered from a storm. But you can and should have a communications plan in place which will prepare your business and team to manage any future negative eventualities as they arise.

The Chartered Institute of Public Relations (CIPR) is the PR industry body that maintains the professional standards in the public relations profession.  Member practitioners must follow a strict ethical code of conduct which ensures accountability in those in charge of the management of corporate reputations.  Dealing honesty and fairly is at the heart of these standards, as are integrity and honesty. Geometry PR is a member of the CIPR. 


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