Maybe it’s the residue of guilt that comes from growing up in a catholic household but I’ve always struggled with lying. I’m ok with little white lie responses to questions like “do gruffalos really exist,” or “is everything ok with your meal.” However, if my opinion were ever sought on the matter, I’d have to explain to Mrs Beyonce Knowles-Z that her bum does look big in those.
I had a few beers with a former newspaper reporter friend of mine last week. Ten years ago he was a reporter on one of the broadsheets and I was running a PR department. While I was on holiday, he called the press office to validate a story that would have been moderately embarrassing for the business and one of its senior executives if published – embarrassing, but not fatal.
The press officer he spoke to denied that the story was true. He unashamedly, knowingly and barefaced lied to the reporter. The reporter, trusting what the press officer told him, spiked his story.
No one benefitted from the press officer’s lie. Another national newspaper ran the story two weeks afterwards so the business and the senior executive were moderately embarrassed anyway. No one died as a result of the story appearing, though the press officer was invited to pursue his career somewhere else.
As a member of the communications department, the only real currency you possess is your personal and professional credibility. Your contacts, experience, intelligence and insight count for nothing if people inside and outside the business can’t trust what you say. If you lose that trust, your work is done and your value spent.
My friend left journalism a few years after that to move to the dark side and work in public relations. Despite the passage of time, he’s still pretty angry about the lie. We were only on our second pint when he raised the matter again.
Viewed through a wider lens, people today have had enough of people that lie. When the economy was booming, the good times hid, but didn’t erase, a multitude of sins.
We now know that politicians lied about their expenses, newspaper executives lied about phone hacking and senior police officers lied about payments they received from the press for stories. We also know that senior bankers lied about interest rates.
Restoring the fundamental foundations for a post-recessionary world is going to require more stringent levels of honesty, integrity and transparency within our institutions. Those institutions’ communications departments have a critical part to play in rebuilding that trust between the institutions they represent and the public. To deliver this, they need unquestionable levels of ethical standards.
Would I lie to you? I won’t. I might refuse to comment or be drawn on the subject. Maybe I’ll withhold details that you haven’t asked me about. But I won’t lie. I might add a little additional context – some might call it spin.
So if Mrs Knowles-Z looks disappointed with the first part of my answer, I could always add that lots of men I know and respect think that bigger is always more beautiful.