Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Why do some publicists lie?

According to Michael Sitrick's public relations book, one of the cardinal rules of spin is "Credibility is the spin doctor's ultimate resource." He adds: "No matter what, don't lie -- lying is the one sing the media will neither tolerate nor forgive."

Yet, there are a handful of publicists who go on the record and lie.

When they lie, not only do they add to whatever distrust people have of this profession but they dig themselves into a hole.

For example, today it was announced that the department store chain Century 21 would replace Barnes & Noble at its Lincoln Center space sometime in 2011. When the New York Observer inquired yesterday, "a representative for Century 21 denied that the company was opening a store in that location." However, real estate broker Cushman & Wakefield issued the press release 24 hours later saying that in face, the chain was moving in. The Observer, strangely enough, let the Century 21 rep off the hook by saying "That denial is now turning out to be incorrect."

I wouldn't have let them off the hook if I was a journalist. When the client says no such thing is happening and the broker confirms the opposite the next day, that's a tale of two companies operating on different wavelengths and that can't happen.

Frankly, why would the Century 21 rep deny what was only going to be announced in 24 hours? Didn't they realize how incompetent it was going to make them look in a short amount of time?

The fact is: like this Century 21 gaffe, there is no reason to lie to a querying reporter.

Publicists often have all kinds of artillery that goes back to when dinosaurs roamed the earth, by-the-numbers yawn-inducing responses such as "We don't comment on rumors and speculation" and the amusingly semi-fictional "We have a policy that we do not discuss any deals we may or may not be involved with." Hey, I'd like to see where that policy is written down!

My theory about lying publicists is that they have a trigger defensive reaction to anything that rocks the boat, sounds like an accusation, or comes close to hitting the truth. Instead of giving one of those aforementioned stock-in-trade phrases which takes any kind of fibbing out of the equation (except maybe that mystical "policy"), it's just easier to say no.

Publicists need to be less defensive and think about what the consequences of their actions are before they do them. Nobody is holding a gun to your head. You're not a contestant on "Who Wants To Be a Millionaire" and the clock is ticking down. You're allowed to think. You're allowed to call a reporter back. Why not take a few minutes before calling them and mull over your reply. You never want anything you say to a reporter to backfire on you because you'll never be trusted again, and most likely, they will hang you out to dry on the record.

And I ain't lying.

No comments: