It’s Time to Banish “Do As I Say, Not As I Do”

It’s remarkable that even in these days of media saturation and social media explosion, so many business executives and politicians are seemingly tone-deaf to the consequences of their poor behavior.

Nationally, John Edwards finally admitted fathering a child outside of his marriage, after years of denying the relationship.  Some of the financial institutions that eagerly accepted public money turned around and awarded large bonuses to the executives who managed the firms into trouble in the first place.

Here in Detroit, the former mayor and several members of his political circle have been indicted – some of them jailed.  The Detroit public school system is known around the country for its total inability to fulfill even a sliver of its mission, but the teachers’ union continues a very public fight against any kind of meaningful change.

Yet, when reporters cover these issues, too often they are accused of bias and excoriated for “focusing on the negative.”  Hello?  In 2010, can people really be that clueless about the role of the media?  Reporters look for inconsistencies between a subject’s words and actions; if the two don’t match, they’re going to write about the misalignment.  It’s what they do.

As marketing and public relations “experts,” we are obligated to tell internal management and clients that we can’t make all of their problems go away.  We can issue statements and corrections, coordinate interviews with key media, and even stage events that put us or our clients in the best possible light, but none of it will matter if we don’t forcefully counsel the need to “walk the talk.”

When someone is caught lying to stakeholders or has their misdeeds publicized, it is not a “PR problem.”  It’s a behavioral problem and the only way to recover from it is to change the behavior and tell customers and other stakeholders about it.

Want to make your image problems go away?  Behave ethically.

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