Truth and Consequences in Public Relations

When creating public relations and advertising materials, there is always a temptation to oversell.

There are a few reasons for this: the competition is doing it, you’d rather err on overselling than underselling, and the belief that big promises can lead to big results. It’s understandable. However, it’s important to recognize that the goal of public relations and advertising is to inform and not to deceive. It’s true that we must put forward information in the best light we can manage, but deception is not only unethical, it’s also, ultimately, self-destructive because it opens us up to the possibility of litigation.

While advertising that’s deliberately and obviously fanciful is safe, making promises you can’t deliver on in a realistic context is not. And while advertising has a certain degree of fanciful leeway, public relations work, because it deals with the press, does not.

The content of websites, brochures, and press releases all needs to be backed up in fact. If you are confused about what can or can’t be proven, one simple way to think about whether you are simply painting something in the best light or a deceptive light is to ask yourself how you would prove that you weren’t lying in a court of law. If you can’t think of any way to prove your assertion, can’t find a client or customer who would agree with your statement, can’t find anyone who actually paid the low, low prices you seem to be offering or can’t find any documentation backing up your claim, it’s best not to take risks with your money or reputation.

PR isn’t an easy field. Don’t let anyone deceive you into thinking otherwise. Deception may seem like an easy path to success, but it’s an even easier way to cause damage to your business and that of your clients. There is a delicate art to this work that needs to uphold the twin values of honesty and working in the best interest of a company. Failing to uphold both values simultaneously is failing to do your job.