Post 8, 2009. PR “Truthiness”

When I practised PR, there was often a certain amount of truthiness involved in the way I communicated with media.

I hope it was pretty harmless, because what I was trying to do was to explain to media how an event, issue or product could become a story for them, even though I knew the content on offer would not be 100% about the matters I felt could make a good story for an individual journo.

I’m pretty sure the practise is common, because many of the representations made to me by PR people today polish the truth to make it shiny and attractive. For example, I’ve been told an upgrade from version 3.4 to version 3.5 is a “revolutionary” change. And I was certainly never counselled by management not to do so during my five-and-a-bit years in PR.

It’s just part of the game.

But in the last few days, I feel I have been involved in an incident that tipped beyond the usual “standards” of truthiness.

Here’s what happened. I was invited to an event that I saw little value in attending but made further inquiries on the off-chance it was important. After some back and forth by email, I was told the event would include unusually deep levels of access to a vendor’s security team and its labs. On that basis, I decided to attend the event.

But at the event there was no access to the security team, other than a short presentation from its leader. And we were only able to view the labs through a window. I asked the PR agency concerned why the promised access had not taken place and they explained that the agenda had changed just prior to the event. I had not been informed of that change, an omission for which they apologised.

I have since checked with about half of the other journos who attended the event and, surprisingly, none of them were ever offered the unusually deep levels of access to the vendor’s security team. Nor did any of them receive a notice about a change of agenda for the event.

In my correspondence with the PR company concerned, I stated that I do not feel there was an intention to deceive in their offering me access to the security team. As I am not privy to all of the information sent to all the media in attendance at the event, I cannot say for sure if I was the only attendee offered the chance to access the security team. So it’s not certain I was misled.

But the incident smells. Badly. And I sure feel like the usual and accepted standards of “truthiness” have been abused.

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2 thoughts on “Post 8, 2009. PR “Truthiness”

  1. Yes it does smell. But I think the smell might be of desperation.

    Let’s assume for the moment it was a cynical move by the company or person concerned.

    The gain is very short term and very minor. One more head at a function to make the PR company look good in front of the client.

    The loss is much bigger:

    First, that extra head is disgruntled. There was always a chance it might show to the client. Hell, there’s a chance you might dob the PR into the client.

    Second, the next time that company wants to pitch anything to you, it will be ten times harder.

    And third, there’s a good chance you’d mention all this to other journalists.

  2. Pingback: Post 08.1, 2009: PR truthiness fallout « JargonMaster

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