Many of us have heard the story of The Boy Who Cried Wolf, a folktale where neighboring villagers come to the defense of a boy who claims he has seen a dangerous wolf that was never really there. When the wolf does show up and he yells, no one is there to come to his rescue because they no longer believe him.
Like this folktale, credibility is everything in the public relations world, and what you say can and will either help or hurt your cause. During the 2016 Olympics, American swimmer Ryan Lochte came under heavy criticism after filing a false police report claiming to be robbed at a gas station. The attention of the scandal reached all corners of the globe, placing all eyes on the United States. Below are lessons public relations practitioners can learn from this Olympic scandal.
Ryan Lochte did not share the full story and left questionable facts to be investigated. This lead to even more trouble when it was discovered that his claim of being robbed was not true. As public relations professionals, lying or over exaggerating is not an option. This not only diminishes the credibility of the client, but also places the audience at a disarray because they are unsure whether they should believe in the message or your brand.
The investigation of the incident took a different turn when it was discovered that there were two versions of the story Lochte gave to the police and the media. As public relations practitioners, we need to be sure that the message we relay to media outlets is truthful to avoid confusion and creating an even bigger crisis.
If Lochte had disclosed all of the details of the events that occurred and owned up to his shortcomings, he may not have received as much backlash from the public and his fans. As a result of the false report, Lochte lost sponsorships with Speedo, Ralph Lauren, Airweave and Gentle Hair Removal.
Being transparent and forthcoming with all parties involved provides a better depiction of your client. No matter how bad the situation is, be humble and admit when there are shortcomings within an organization.
Many things were compromised in this scandal, including respect and admiration of fans, sponsors and the trust of the general public. However, public relations professionals can learn from the mistakes Lochte made.
Lauriane Abbey is a senior majoring in strategic communications with a professional writing minor at The Ohio State University. She enjoys chatting on social media and following the news on her Flipboard app. She also loves traveling, learning to cook, going on new adventures with friends and taking walks around campus. Follow her on Twitter @Lauriane_Abbey.