The Whole Truth

 By Paul Matalucci, ABC

I interviewed an impressive young woman from Norway this morning. She was applying for a PR scholarship from the San Francisco PR Round Table of which I’m a member and volunteer evaluator.

In addition to emailing to say thank you shortly after we met, she picked up a thread of our conversation and asked a follow-on question, demonstrating in a single gesture three valuable characteristics: careful listening, good follow through, and the importance of building relationships.

She wrote, “I am really curious to see how PR will change over the next few years and it got me thinking of what you mentioned with internal communication. How do you see this changing in terms of social media and transparency in the upcoming years?”

Here’s what I wrote her back:

My view has long been that employee communications differs from Marketing and Public Relations in one very significant way. We know that Western “best practices” call for transparency and timeliness, but in Marketing and PR, there’s a strong pull toward what I call cheer-leading, and tendency to focus on the positives and ignore or minimize the negatives. (Practitioners debate me on this, but my response is to say, “If your product has flaws, you don’t write about them in your brochure.”)

In employee communications, however, you’re trying to build a relationship between workers and leadership, which hinges upon trust. Employees have a more urgent need than customers or external stakeholders because their livelihood depends on the relationship. Also, as I tell my clients, “If you’ve hired the smartest people you can find, believe that they’re smart enough to know when you’re not telling them the whole truth.”

When long-time Marketing and PR practitioners attempt to communicate internally, they invariably try to sell the workforce on a strategy or vision. Employees smell it a mile away. At best, they ignore it; at worst, they resent it.

You ask about social media, which some have described as a Truth Machine. Leaders have fewer places to hide. Bad news is harder to bury. Smart communicators know they have to build stakeholder trust long before there’s bad news to share.




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