PR, truth and consequences

When I was out running this morning I was thinking about how easy it is to be pessimistic about things. Reuters reported yesterday that “the confidence of American consumers continued to plummet as a result of weakening economic conditions and escalating gasoline prices.”

That was based on results of the ABC/Washington Post consumer confidence survey.

I didn’t need survey results to tell me that Americans aren’t very confident — or happy — these days. I waited in a long line yesterday to get gasoline. I didn’t know this but apparently there was a rumor making the rounds that the price of a gallon of gasoline was going to go up today to $3.95 from $3.75 for regular yesterday. Not a shock even if true. I figure gasoline will be well north of $4 a gallon by Memorial Day. But the idea of a 20-cent price hike was enough to get drivers scrambling to the pumps. Gee. Haven’t had this much fun since the gasoline shortages of the 1970s. (Photo: The good old days.) In line for gas in 1979. Ah, the good old days.

Then I made my way to the post office. The number of people in line would have been an embarrassment even to Starbucks. But people wanted to beat the price hike — even if it only saved them a penny a letter. Oh, mama. Next thing you know a company will pull a stupid stunt like selling 23-cent pizzas.

Might as well. Here’s the latest from the ABC/Washington Post poll:

Eighty-two percent of Americans now say the country’s seriously off on the wrong track, up 10 points in the last year to a point from its record high in polls since 1973. And 31 percent approve of Bush’s job performance overall, while 66 percent disapprove.

I expect that one reason for this low approval rating is that many people no longer trust the president to be honest with them.

By the way, Jimmy Carter’s approval rating was lower. But that was in 1979 when we were sitting in line hoping to get a gallon of gasoline at any price. I digress.

I’m not so sure what gets us back on the right track — but something tells me that some honesty on the part of our elected officials — and those seeking elected office — sure would help to alter the perception that the glass is not only half empty but has a hole in the bottom. Tell the truth. In public relations, isn’t that the advice we give to clients and employers? And you know what, it works.

Actually, Thomas Friedman got we thinking about this a week or so ago when I read his column in The New York Times, “Who Will Tell The People?” Here’s one part of what is really an excellent commentary:

Much nonsense has been written about how Hillary Clinton is “toughening up” Barack Obama so he’ll be tough enough to withstand Republican attacks. Sorry, we don’t need a president who is tough enough to withstand the lies of his opponents. We need a president who is tough enough to tell the truth to the American people. Any one of the candidates can answer the Red Phone at 3 a.m. in the White House bedroom. I’m voting for the one who can talk straight to the American people on national TV — at 8 p.m. — from the White House East Room.

Tell the truth. It’s the foundation for effective public relations. Given a chance, maybe it will work in government as well. Might as well be optimistic about it. Who knows. Miracles happen.

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4 responses to “PR, truth and consequences

  1. At IU (or was it Tarkington) I took a class with a Professor from Spain (I still remember her name—Leah Savingon—she was a semi-professional salsa dancer) called THE DARK SIDE OF RATIONALITY. It was a liberal arts elective from the Philosophy department cross-listed as linguistics. It was a mix of upperclassmen and masters students trying to fight through the complex notions of prepositional calculus and that:

    The semantic theory of truth has as its general case for a given language:

    ‘P’ is true if and only if P

    where ‘P’ is a reference to the sentence (the sentence’s name), and P is just the sentence itself.

    But I digress. Aristotle, Kant, Kierkergaard, Nishida, they’ve all tried it. I prefer Foucault’s ideas, though they are an offshoot of Nietzsche. But basically, the idea is that TRUTH exists only within a power structure. Therefore it must, by its nature, shift throughout history. And we start to think in terms of KINDS of truths.

    How many times is it appropriate to digress in one post?

    Getting back to Professor Leah Savingon. At one moment during our class, a moment I will never forget in my whole life, we were figuring out, through prepositional calculus, whether or not it was TRUE that the barn was red. She stopped dead in her tracks, put down the chalk, walked toward the class and said (in her thick Spanish accent):

    We are all the heroes of our own lives. That is the most important thing you must know. You can do anything in this world. Just do it the most honestly that you know how. Say and write the truth.

    This, probably more than anything else, changed my life.

    So I’m adding it to this comment because I think that we’re in a time where we forget the basics. The basics as Cheryl Moeller writes, “tell the truth, tell the truth, tell the truth.”

  2. Of course you should give the context for the Tarkington reference. It came from Vonnegut during a commencement speech he gave in Indianapolis a year ago, shortly before he died.

    He suggested naming IUPUI Tarkington University, to honor Booth Tarkington, a writer who lived in Indianapolis.

    I learned that in Vonnegut’s last book, Armageddon in Retrospect.

    And I knew that Vonnegut worked at one time in PR for General Electric. But I didn’t know that he also wrote for Sports Illustrated. Here’s from the introduction of the book written by Vonnegut’s son Mark.

    “Back in the mid-1950s, he (Kurt Vonnegut) was employed by Sports Illustrated, briefly. He reported to work, was asked to write a short piece on a racehorse that had jumped over a fence and tried to run away. Kurt stared at the blank piece of paper all morning and then typed, “The horse jumped over the fucking fence,” and walked out, self-employed again.

    Getting back to the original post: If you can’t tell the truth, maybe it’s better to just walk out.

  3. Pingback: Gas prices, honesty and tough decisions « PR on the run

  4. Pingback: Public relations and the holiday weekend « PR on the run

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