Public Relations at a Crossroads: Post-Truth Should Not Signal the Return of Spin

By | January 11, 2017

post-truthPost-Truth analysis has been front and center since the Presidential election, with the “post-truth” terminology named the “word of the year” by Oxford.

At the heart of the debate about the post-truth environment is the apparent decline of the importance of facts, in favor of emotion. Repetition seems to be the new truth. Because people are making decisions based entirely on emotion, in some cases despite the facts. This conversation has been accompanied by much hand-wringing, often in the context of Brexit and the results of the U.S. Presidential election.

This is nothing new.  And while that may put me in the category of “telling the emperor he has no clothes” – marketing and communications pros have known about the power of repetition, and the role of emotion as a decision driver for a long time. It’s why we buy into “lifestyle brands” and premium products of all kinds. People believe that the products they buy and use also make a statement about them. It is as much a part of their social resume as the company where they work, the neighborhood where they live and the school they attended.

So, what’s the big deal about “post-truth” for public relations practitioners? There is plenty.

First, I believe that PR plays an important role in helping brands create emotional connections with their constituencies….and that doesn’t just mean consumers. We rely on emotion when we decide about a job offer. And the term “irrational exuberance” is a clear indicator that emotion impacts the financial markets and investment decisions, even if it is emotion disguised as analysis.

But perhaps more importantly, as we counsel clients on the ever-changing dynamics of content, the role of paid social amplification, and the opportunity to for brands to become channels, what you do and how you do it are equally important. We must help clients avoid the dangers of “fake news” sites, and perhaps most importantly we must continue to be honest brokers of information. Because the power of reputation should not signal the return of the “spin doctor” – a moniker that we’ve worked hard to shed as an industry.

For public relations, one of the biggest dangers of the current environment would be the return of behaviors that invite the cringe-worthy names for our profession – Hack, Flack and Spin Doctor, to name a few. We’ve worked hard to establish ourselves as valuable advisers to clients and brokers to media of all kinds.

As we help clients navigate this new world order, let’s remember that we have a dual responsibility to safeguard our clients’ reputation, as well as the reputation of our industry in the process.

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