At what point does a PR pro have to draw the line to spare his or her own public relations credibility?
It’s a question that’s being asked a lot among the White House Press Corps about Sean Spicer. As the press secretary, it’s his job to be the voice of the President – to give support to his point of view and explain the reasoning and perspective to reporters and the general public.
But many have said what Spicer is doing at his afternoon press briefings has transcended “spinning” and has become lying. Either way, it’s apparent Spicer’s credibility among the media has been tarnished. Everything he says is now greeted with an excessive amount of doubt – even more so than a reporter’s natural inclination to question anything that’s said. And that weight will be on his shoulders each time he stands at the podium in the briefing room.
But what happens after his time at the White House podium is done?
At 45-years-old, Spicer still has a long career ahead of him. There’s likely going to be a next step for him after ending his time at the White House, since the average tenure of the Press Secretary is about two and a half years. What impact will these scuffmarks on his legitimacy have on his next job and the jobs that follow?
It’s something that we talk a lot about here in the PR wing of DDCworks. Though our first priority will always be to help our clients meet their goals to the best of our ability, we here at DDCworks have to take pause and think what our actions will do for the reputation of our client and of our agency. If we pitch a reporter with something we know is wrong because that’s what a client wants, we’re doing the client, ourselves and, potentially, our future clients a disservice.
We decided to see what some of our reporter friends had to say about it all. We decided to keep their names to ourselves, since they’re still working with some of the people referenced below.
If it’s one bad interaction – maybe even sparked by intense pressure of a PR person’s client or boss – Reporter Friend No. 1 (RF1) is more than likely going to offer a second chance.
“There are PR people I will always make sure to connect with and put the extra effort to work well with because I know we both play a part in the same ecosystem,” RF1 said. “It’s a symbiotic relationship.”
But a continued negative working relationship filled with high pressure and off-target pitches led RF1 to start ignoring anything that came from a particular agency, hurting its clients across the board.
And, selling a stretched or non-existent angle of a story won’t win much credit with RF1 either.
“I get that catching attention and being convincing is part of your job, but once you mislead me, I’m not going to take anything you pitch as seriously. Don’t become the PR person who cried wolf,” RF1 says.
Reporter Friend No. 2 (RF2) talks about a company that wouldn’t allow access to its founder because of his advanced age and illness for a feature story. RF2 was surprised when the founder called after the story ran to pass along his displeasure over the coverage. He wasn’t as sick as RF2 was led to believe.
“I find myself looking a little bit more skeptically at things I get from this particular PR person,” RF2 says. “It does make me hesitate to decide whether whatever she’s sending me is worth my time digging into.”
For Reporter Friend No. 3, it’s usually hard to tell who might be driving a wrong move, “but it’s potentially damaging nonetheless. I would give the PR person another chance — especially if they are someone with whom I already have a good working relationship.”
So can one faulty PR move completely ruin a PR pro’s credibility? Unless it’s egregious, our Reporter Friends say no.
But in a business that’s built on relationships and trust, it’s a theory you don’t want to test.