Thursday, July 19, 2012

2012 – Top Ten Reasons to Embrace Honesty in PR and Pitching

Over the course of my career, I’ve met a lot of charlatans. You know the type, entrepreneurs or big company marketing types that spout numbers and stats over breakfast, claim market leadership over lunch and are deep into revolutionizing industries by the time last call is rung as they tell their story one final time over a final dirty martini at 2 am. And while I admire their enthusiasm, support their idealism and in general, am as easily charmed by them as are most others, I typically don’t believe a word they say.

So what got me started on this topic? I read a really interesting blog post today on ReadWriteWeb by Rieva Lesonski called “How to Get Bloggers to Write about Your Startup: Insiders Advice.” She provides solid advice about relevance, using supporting stats, presenting your pitching using lists (see – I’ve embraced that recommendation in this post!) and ensuring you are reaching out to people that care about your industry. I thought, however, that the blog post failed to mention a key element that is probably more important today than ever before: honesty.  
There are two reasons why honesty is so critical in today’s 24/7 news cycle: first is that honesty equates to authenticity, and is a critical element for building long-term relationships; and as Rieva points out, the Internet’s insatiable appetite for news and information creates the ability for bloggers, journalists and media organizations to fact check stats and figures easier than ever before. Many times, however, given the rapid pace of today’s news cycle, fact checking has been sacrificed on the altar of speed and unique page views, so the reporters want and need to trust you. The good news is that reporters and bloggers are rational, inquisitive people that are often skeptical in nature, so they can tell when someone is blowing too much smoke with no evidence of a fire. But they are really busy, their organizations are understaffed, and they are required to cover multiple beats that push the limits of what they can possibly have deep, first-hand knowledge of in all the markets they cover.

To be clear, honesty is what keeps the reporter engaged. Sure, numbers to back up your honesty is great, as is the ability to tie your truth into market trends, but ultimately it comes down to a reporter’s willingness to believe what you tell them and then convince their readers that they haven’t been duped.
So to stay true to my headline, my Top Ten Reasons to Embrace Honesty in PR and Pitching:

10.   Relationships are built on trust

9.       The time and intelligence of the blogger/reporter needs to be respected

8.       Pinocchio couldn’t pull it off and neither can you

7.       Integrity is something that is very hard to get back

6.       There is always someone out there waiting to call you out

5.       Long-term planning (for your company or your career) cannot be based on hype

4.       No one likes to have their pants on fire

3.       Spin is fine, spinning a web is not

2.       Authenticity is memorable

1.       Truth will always win out
It’s never easy to play the role of bad cop to clients when the excitement they are trying to generate is based a little too much on fiction and not enough on fact. I have had to counsel clients in the past that if they over reach in their messaging, they will permanently damage their reputations (and ability to succeed) and ours. As you can imagine, that doesn’t always engender my firm, or me, to certain clients. But, as I said above, the truth will always win out, and authenticity and honesty will always get you further than fiction. I would rather be a few-client, honest broker than a have a portfolio of companies that prefer fiction to fact.