Truth In Labeling
Monday, April 17, 2017
Posted by: Catherine Roman
By Douglas K. Spong, APR, Fellow PRSA
Remember the advertising jingle for Libby Foods? The TV spot with the music and lyrics that refrained, “Libby, Libby, Libby on the label, label, label. You will like it, like it, like it on your table, table, table.”
The TV spot had a simple, but effective consumer promise: You can trust any packaged-goods food product with the Libby label on it.
Funny thing about labels. We don’t just label consumer brands. We also label people and organizations. Our own profession, public relations, has had several labels over the years. Edward Bernays, the father of public relations, first labeled PR as the “Engineering of consent.” Other labels haven’t been as generous. We’ve been called “flacks” by our kissin’ cousins in the news media. Yes, even some of our friends and family playfully refer to us as “spin doctors.”
Throughout my 36-year career, I’ve always believed our label – in other words, our promise to our employers and clients – is to be advocates for the truth. Not just advocating for an employer, a client, brand or a cause. But advocating for the rational understanding of and emotional belief in something. All with the purpose of willfully earning the trust of others.
There’s an assault on truth right now in America. Amassed at the front line of this assault is our current administration in Washington. There’s nothing new about authoritarian leaders wanting to concoct their own version of the story, twist the necks of the news media responsible for disseminating that story and insist that the public swallow their version of the story hook, line and sinker. Never letting the facts get in the way of a story, propagandists have long been a tool of authoritarian regimes. As Americans, we’re just not used to such a bold, frontal assault armed with so many weapons of mass deception.
Before the fall of 2016, when did we ever hear so many derogative terms intended to discredit and cast as untrustworthy anyone or any organization that stands in the way of the current administration’s agenda? These labels include:
“Alternative truths.” Who would have thought there were so many versions of the truth? Silly me: I always believed there was either fact or fiction.
“Dishonest media.” A label used to describe traditional media where editors insist that reporters source information and facts from credible individuals and organizations in search of the truth. The fraternity of dishonest media, according to our current administration, includes The New York Times, Washington Post, CNN and other long-standing, professional news gathering organizations that have the gall to question others’ facts, sources and stories.
“Fake news.” Anything reported by the dishonest media. Apparently, the only news you can trust originates from only one source and is laced with fact-free claims and hyperbole.
Emboldened by the current assault on truth are nontraditional, fringe media with more interest in advancing their point of view of the world than they are in digging for facts and scrubbing the opinion out of their story.
As PR professionals, this no time to hunker indoors, pull the shades and hope this dark cloud blows over. The best thing we can do right now is to affirm to one another and anyone and everyone who we reach that the foundation of trust is cemented in the truth. The Arthur W. Page Society recently released its commitment to truth among its members.
The other resistance to propaganda is to offer our full and unconditional support to the print, broadcast and online news media we’ve come to know and trust in our careers. Even though we took a different path following graduation from journalism school – shaping the news that others report versus reporting the news that others make – we are very much co-dependent upon one another. The labels of “Dishonest media” and “Fake news” are as much an assault on the public relations profession as it is the news industry.
I, for one, won’t stand by idly and be falsely labeled.
About the author
Douglas K. Spong, APR, Fellow PRSA, is founder and CEO of The Doug Spong Co. LLC, a consulting firm for PR, advertising, digital and social agencies as well as a select portfolio of clients. Previously, he was founder, president and managing partner of Carmichael Lynch and Spong for 25 years. Doug is the recipient of the PR industry’s highest individual honor, the 2013 Gold Anvil Award for a lifetime of achievement by the Public Relations Society of America (PRSA). He also received the 2011 SABRE Award for Individual Achievement from the Holmes Group. He a member of the PRSA College of Fellows.