When Your PR Problem is Your PR Agency

Image representing Wikipedia as depicted in Cr...

A friend of mine got a job in the PR department of a large corporation, one that prides itself on the veracity of its products. It wasn’t long before s/he was pressured to “fix” information on Wikipedia that the company felt reflected poorly on its management. This is a “PR Fail.” Here’s why:

What critics and skeptics fail to realize is that Wikipedia is self-policing, with published policies and standards  — in particular regarding Conflicts of Interest (COI) — and about 100,000 regular editors who add or review. Try to game the system? You’ll succeed short-term but, eventually, you’ll be found out. The latest case in point: PR firm Bell Pottinger.

One of the largest lobbying firms in the UK, Bell Pottinger is under scrutiny for allegedly editing entries about its clients, violating Wikipedia’s COI (see article links, below). Worse, it apparently sees this as “business as usual”, stating:

I can’t see any bad headlines for our clients,” he told the BBC. “You won’t find anybody, including journalists, who doesn’t do exactly the same thing.” – Lord Bell, Chairman 

I disagree. Every client involved will suffer damage to its reputation. What Lord Bell fails to comprehend is that social media is a self-correcting organism. There’ll always be someone with the time and resources to ferret out the truth. Attempts to misrepresent or obfuscate information get discovered and the blowback is worse than facing the facts from the start.

This concept is nothing new. In 1596, Shakespeare wrote: “but at the length truth will out.” And, in a quote generally attributed to Abraham Lincoln, 1858, “you cannot fool all of the people all of the time“. My advice to organizations and individuals alike, is to conduct social media with accuracy, integrity and transparency. That’s how it works.

As for my friend, s/he left that company over a year ago, in part because of the lack of support for social media done right. But the all-too-often encountered attitude of PR bigwigs that social media is something to “handled” persists. So choose your digital PR firm wisely.

Oh, and that old saw about all PR is good PR? Hardly.

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About Ron Casalotti
I am part of that lucky generation that started out when watching TV meant choosing from three networks, three independents and PBS. Now, I work in new media for businesses and organizations - but these thoughts are my own.

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