“If you tell the truth, you don’t have to remember anything”
Mark Twain’s quote is arguably more relevant today, in our age of internet-fuelled transparency, than when he wrote it nearly 120 years ago. He was warning against the knots we tie ourselves in to avoid being caught out by friends and family, society and colleagues.
Today, telling the truth makes organisations a whole lot less susceptible to accusations of hypocrisy from everyone from traditional media to alert pressure groups and curious citizen journalists. True, it might reduce the number of fat fees paid to PR people to unpick or distract from bad news, but hey, we’ve all got to make sacrifices.
I’m not just talking about companies behaving less than honourably in their supply chain or to their workforce, or being cavalier in their environmental or social impacts. Of course these need to be cleaned up, and I’ve written previously about this. It’s more the little lies that creep in and make life more complicated than it should be, where companies would do well to heed Twain’s advice.
The little lies when corporates start talking to charities about a partnership and say “We’re doing this because we believe in your cause”. No you’re not. You’re doing it because you believe it will improve the reputation of your company, that it will encourage customers to choose you over your competitors, that it might keep a regulator off your back, that it will make your staff happy, that it may take you into new markets.
But that’s OK.
And the little lies when charities tell potential corporate partners that they understand and welcome their commercial motives. No they don’t.
But that’s OK too.
It’s OK for the corporate to have its motives and the charity to have its different ones, as long as they can find a common, overlapping goal.
It’s so much easier to answer the journalist question, “You’re in this to make money, aren’t you?” with a “Yes of course we are”, than with protestations about your commitment to development and helping the world’s poor. That’s when companies start tying themselves in knots.
The danger of all these little lies is trying to remember what you’ve said to who. How you’ve pitched the programme in the boardroom, compared to how it’s pitched to the partner and the public. Each little difference serves to erode trust, with the result that these partnerships don’t last as long as they should.
Of course, all this soul-bearing might reduce the crisis and clean-up fees for PR, but far better for us to be able to tell authentic stories. And it means we don’t have to remember anything, which for us simple PR folk is a real blessing.