Transparency is a big issue in public relations right now. Why? Because of the recent articles on VNRs, the recent Armstrong Williams/Ketchum issue - and, well, the blogosphere and the demand to be transparent on blogs.
The whole transparency thing? At times, it is counterintuitive to public relations. We are in the business of promoting the good, not publicizing the bad. PR is a bridge for reporters and analysts to our clients, but that does not mean we are going to share information that is not pertinent to the story being worked on.
But, are we supposed to air all the dirty laundry of our agencies and our clients for the world to see? No, that's what we're supposed to prevent from happening.
If we are going to concentrate on transparency, though, I think that transparency can't be half done. If you are a PR firm that blogs about clients, blog about the client that just left after you had blogged about the win. If you are a CEO that is blogging but only randomly posts comments, come up with a comment policy. If you are the head of a PR firm and you agree to an interview with a trade publication, go all the way but don't cop out with an email interview.
Case in point: Bob Parsons and his blog for GoDaddy. I have had a few comments on his blog that his comment policy is not posted and that he has not been transparent with his blog. He has even written about his comment policy in one of the many Super Bowl posts:
I appreciate everyone who takes the time to comment on the articles I post on this blog. Please understand that unless your comments get read and reviewed by me, they don’t get posted. Some days I literally receive hundreds of comments, and simply can’t get to them all. I read as many as I can, and then delete the rest (both positive and negative). This might not be the best solution, but at least it lets me start fresh during the next day.He could have easily hyperlinked to the rules he set forth in that post. He did not. But, he also noted to me, in response to the lack of a posted comment policy and transparency:
No comment gets posted that doesn’t comply with the rules that I have set forth for this blog. You can find those rules in an earlier article. One sure way not to get your comment posted, is to start it with the following sentence, “Bob, I know you won’t post this comment.” Because I have so many comments to look through, when I see this sentence, I agree with the writer and immediately press the delete key.
I guess then, that this would not be a truly transparent Blog.But, what was interesting is that he goes on the offensive if he disagrees. Bloggers and PR bloggers like to point to blogs as a way for two-way communications. I had pointed out that he attacked two advertising experts, and he then went on to say that:
I find it amusing that you feel that it was OK for these two "experts" to standup and give a "dead wrong" opinion about our ad, but that it was inappropriate for me to point out that they were completely off base. Hmmmmm. I wonder what local ad firm you might be with?To me, it was funny but just not worth a response. I called him out for not using an ad agency or PR firm in Arizona. Once again, he felt the need to degrade people that didn't agree with his ad. So much for freedom of thought or expression. I don't think it's inappropriate for him to point out that they were wrong in regards to the ad, I just think it is insulting to continue to try to label these people as non-experts.
Plus, if he read my post and the link to my blog, he would have seen that I don't work with any local ad agencies.
In the spirit of transparency, I am waiting to see when Bob posts about ending the contract with the Ad Store, as reported in the New York Times. In the article, his quote makes me wonder if the two advertising experts - who he won't call experts - were, well, maybe right as experts. Parsons noted that they are going to more traditional direct marketing efforts. Somewhat hard to measure the response on a Super Bowl ad, I guess. And, for the love of all that's holy in the blogosphere, post the full text of your comment policy in the sidebar. There's plenty of room.
Case in point: Ray Kotcher and Ketchum have been under fire by the mainstream press for transparency. VNR transparency. Spokespeople transparency. You-name-it transparency. Yes, it's a bit overboard. But, often times, Ketchum executives have not been quoted or available for quotes..
PR Week, though, has been able to get the golden goose. Recently, they printed a Q&A with Kotcher. It's good that Kotcher is going out, and presenting the Ketchum side of the story. But, he took the easy way out by doing an email interview. In an email interview, you have the opportunity to craft every answer and make sure you have the right spin. Email is the safe way out. Safe is boring. Safe is for cowards.
In the spirit of transparency, this is part of the reason I try to conduct all my PR Face2Face interviews on the phone, and why I believe Kotcher should have done the interview by phone. During a call, answers are more honest than when they have been crafted, edited and then recrafted.
While it is obvious on the calls that each PR professional has obviously been media trained - and can spin - they all bring knowledge and viewpoints that differ from person to person. Each has their own take on public relations and publicity which is invaluable to my readers, and just importantly, me.