Transparency and Public Relations

Transparency has become increasingly necessary in our society.  As communicators, we are tasked with sharing information from our organizations with members of the public.  How can a communicator assure the public the organization he or she represents is a transparent one?  How should a communicator handle information that is negative?

2 thoughts on “Transparency and Public Relations

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      The public can be assured that an organization is transparent through traditional forms of communication like newletters, magazines, features on TV(especially after prime news meant to let people know how things in your organization aare run). A new mode of transparency that i have come across whilst reading is ‘social media’ like facebook, twitters, linkedin. A PR Practitioner may create a webpage for the publics(like a funpage)in which they get to interact and share their feelings about your products and services. Once you spot any factual error, it is up to you to use the opportunity to correct it and offer more information, because studies show that people are believing information they get from social media than that which is gotten from traditional media and the source(organization).

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      Playing devil’s advocate, I’d say that transparency is dead. This is a temporary phenomenon, but reality at present. My best evidence?

      The culture of the whistleblower and social activist, popularized after Enron and Worldcom in the early 2000s, is over. The kinds of people who discovered and drew attention to these malfeasances are now losing or in crushing fear of losing their employment. Even if they were to discover something of that magnitude, it is incredibly unlikely they would say anything for fear of retaliation. In robust economic times, other opportunities would be available to mitigate the effects of probable job loss. Presently, being unemployed, losing one’s health insurance, and being forced to live off of dwindling retirement savings with no hope in sight seems undesirable. Few rational people, if any, would risk such an outcome.

      Moreover, the entities people seek the most transparency from–banks–have the fewest resources available. The reason they need a bailout and continued federal intervention is because they lack sufficient funds to operate. A combination of federal reserve requirements and mark-to-market accounting rules have pushed many banks to the brink of insolvency, with several (Bear Stearns, Wachovia, Lehman Bros., Citigroup) pushed over the edge. In this climate, where these companies are fighting for their lives, do any of these organizations care about being seen favorably? Every dollar spent improving their image is a step closer to insolvency. These banks are taking this issue very seriously; before the end of 2008, Citi announced that it would eliminate 50,000 jobs. This behavior does not sound like a firm that can afford to counsel public relations experts, or even retain its own on staff.

      Finally, what more transparency is required? All of these banks, and all publicly traded companies, operate within an intricate federal regulatory system designed to protect consumers. Constant disclosures must be made about revenues, profits, forecasts, performance, holdings, capitalization and executive compensation. Much of this information can be found in SEC filings that are public records on the EDGAR system. What else could people want? Perhaps the information isn’t granular enough for them, or being presented “nicely.” Niceties, however, cannot be afforded during what is shaping up to be an economic depression.

      The only other arguments I can see for transparency regard a) privately held companies, or b) unregulated securities (e.g. derivatives and hedge funds). As to point a, my prior commentary applies. Addressing point b, derivatives and hedge funds are unregulated because they are not for the average investor. Derivatives are the tools of major investment brokerages; by law, hedge funds cannot approach you unless you have $1 million in assets and a certain income. The kind of populist-minded transparency consumers have used to extort other businesses simply will not work in these areas. In addition to being unregulated, these areas do not share or reflect in any way the interests of the average person. Transparency to the broader public is neither required nor in their best interest.

      N.B. – the quote from Leah K.’s comment, “studies show that people are believing information they get from social media [more] than that which is gotten from traditional media” is troubling as a matter of substance. This leaves rivals ripe for counter-PR and the spread of disinformation. Relevant to this topic, The book “The Cult of the Amateur” is relevant to how social media dilutes the value of public relations (as well as media and the notion of “culture,” generally) and why its advance should be undermined by media professionals .

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