Early in my PR career, one of my mentors made that simply yet profound statement. It sounds, well, obvious, not to deny the obvious. Yet, how many times have you seen or heard someone caught in the act of wrongdoing and then turn around and deny it?
One of my favorite examples, which I use in my media training seminars, is an AP photo of Padres pitcher Chris Young taking a swing at the Cubs’ Derrick Lee. With his fist just inches away from the Lee’s face, the caption ends with “Young says he wasn’t trying to hit Lee.”
There’s a saying that credibility is gained in inches but lost in miles.
Whether dealing with your client or a reporter, honesty is the best policy. Tell the truth—but don’t necessarily tell everything you know. In other words, don’t answer questions that aren’t being asked. Some people use a media interview to confess all sorts of things best left unsaid. Barbara Walters has built her career around extracting embarrassing information.
But, if you get caught in a photo about to punch someone’s lights out or something equally obvious, don’t deny it. Instead, acknowledge that you were really upset and acted inappropriately, and then apologize without making excuses. You and your agency will regain some lost respect and the matter will go away much more quickly.
Don Beehler provides public relations consulting services to small- and medium-sized advertising agencies and businesses.