by Evan Nierman, author of ” Crisis Averted: PR Strategies to Protect Your Reputation and the Bottom Line”
Well, I have to deliver the sad news that we are being misled. No longer should we be telling the truth. In fact, we should never tell the truth. Instead, we should press the truth. I will explain what that means in more detail, but first, let me tell you what it does not mean.
I am not advocating lying, telling stories, making things up, or betraying your audiences — quite the contrary. Truth is under assault. More so today than at any time in our lives, or perhaps in our entire history.
Misinformation has been disseminated from sources that would have been unthinkable just a few short years ago. And being subjected to this pervasive misinformation stream, as we all are, only serves to underscore the importance of making sure that lies do not become a part of our day-to-day reality. Instead, now more than ever, we must be diligent in doing all we can to see that the truth prevails.
The fields that are the focus of this book are public relations and crisis management. And in case you have not noticed, PR people sometimes have a bit of a dodgy reputation. They are often described as hacks, flacks, or spin doctors.
These pejorative terms are meant to suggest that we dance around the truth, which in my experience is not the case at all. The approach outlined in this book is diametrically opposed, focused upon helping clients by empowering them to fight for the truth.
In fact, organizations looking to spread their messages and individuals facing crises both share an overriding need to employ accurate information and commit themselves to advocacy and action. As Benjamin Franklin once said, “It takes many good deeds to build a reputation, and only one bad one to lose it.” The brand equity that your organization has built up, based on your good actions, can vanish in a moment if you make bad decisions — or if you lie.
And for that reason, honesty truly is the best policy. It is a time- honored maxim that should be taken seriously in the service of an ultimate mission to fight for the truth or, to say it even more forcefully, to press the truth.
Own Your Situation
Now I will give you an example of what it means — the difference between telling the truth and pressing the truth. Telling the truth — the old way — is defensive, passive, weak, and slow.
Pressing the truth, on the other hand, is proactive, assertive — aggressive even. It is fast, confident, and strong. Pressing the truth versus telling the truth is the difference between hoping that your message gets out there one day — and making sure that it does.
It is also the difference between reacting, waiting to see what other people are saying about you and then trying to set the record straight, versus seizing the initiative.
To illustrate the distinction between telling the truth and pressing it, I will tell you a quick story involving one of our clients.
There was a situation involving an individual working in finance who was shamefully discriminated against by his employer. He was harassed at work and ultimately pushed out of his job. He was denied earnings that were rightfully due to him from deals he originated and shepherded to a successful close.
Faced with various forms of overt and subtle abuse from his coworkers and betrayed by his company, he finally appealed directly to the CEO of the private equity firm.
During an in-person meeting in the CEO’s spacious office overlooking the New York skyline, he said, “This isn’t right. You guys treated me differently, discriminated against me, and are withholding from me bonuses and pay that I rightfully earned. Yet through it all, I have remained a great employee for the firm, and my work produced enormous profits for the business. I am not asking for special treatment — only that you do the right thing.”
The CEO appeared to be listening intently. With his face cradled in his palm, his eyes looked upward and off into the distance. After an uncomfortable silent pause that lasted about twenty seconds but felt more like twenty minutes, he took a deep breath, looked the young man straight in the eye, and said, “Too bad for you, and goodbye.”
Action Speaks Louder
Now, the employee who was being screwed over could have adopted the passive approach prescribed by the old PR model. Had he opted to simply tell the truth, then he could have just waited for his day in court. And he likely would have waited months, or even years, in hopes the truth would ultimately come out.
Instead, he decided to look for an alternate approach that included pressing the truth.
On his behalf, the members of my team made a few phone calls to a handful of carefully selected reporters. We let them know what happened to this person, how he’d been discriminated against. And it wasn’t long before the reporters called the CEO of the company for comment on the situation.
When the CEO realized that his company’s reputation was about to be destroyed and that people all over the world were about to see what had taken place there, he thought twice about it. He finally made the right decision. He paid the man what he was owed and allowed him to go on with his life.
That story illustrates what it means to press the truth, not just stating the facts, but putting the full weight of influence behind a message. And as in this example, sometimes just knowing that you are not going to back down is all that you need for a situation to be properly resolved.
Evan Nierman is a crisis management expert who serves as the Founder and CEO of Red Banyan. His book, “Crisis Averted: PR Strategies to Protect Your Reputation and the Bottom Line“ is a peek-behind-the-curtain into the unpredictable world of crisis management, featuring real-life examples and sound advice for when life doesn’t go as planned.