The answer is: Never. Really. Lying to the press is essentially an open invitation to become an even bigger target for both journalists and the public. One of the easiest ways to give a bad story a longer shelf-life is to lie to a journalist. Equally important, lying to the press ruins your own reputation as a communications professional and that of the organization or person you are representing. For more, you can see my interview with Simon Locke of CommunicationsMatch.
Although there are times when lying, or misleading a reporter, may seem easier and you may think it will yield a positive result, the long-term effects can be detrimental. Here, we will address three topics that may lead you down the wrong path of being dishonest with the press and how to better handle these issues.
Answering every question from the media: Depending on the whether your company is public or private, and for an individual, if you are an elected official or private citizen, every question that is asked does not have to be answered. In some cases, there are legal or regulatory reasons to choose to or not to respond. But in every instance, the answer needs to be true and consistent over the long-term. If you cannot be honest, then decline to comment. The right PR guidance and media relationship can only serve to benefit you.
You don’t want the facts to get out: The reality is that if a reporter has verifiable facts, they have the right to share what they have with the public. Facts are different than opinions or rumors and reporters work hard to adhere to the standard of presenting facts. At times, data can be manipulated to highlight a certain element of a story, but it would serve you to present your interpretation and explanation, or an updated set of facts if they are relevant. But the underlying information needs to be truthful.
A crisis or sensitive situation is gaining traction: When we get early signs that a bad story is about to come to light, it is critical that the organization’s leadership and communicators spring into action quickly. We cannot kill a story by denying the very existence of the issue or overtly downplaying what is happening. No matter the size of your organization, planning ahead with a crisis plan, including a working group, is crucial. Keep your eyes open to social media, industry events and regulatory issues that may impact your firm. Be prepared with the right messaging, supporting information and a plan of action as to how to communicate with your key stakeholders, not just the press. It is imperative to be honest and accurate with the information that you decide to divulge. Having a positive and trusting relationship with the media will go a long way in helping you and your firm.
Whether you are a spokesperson or a source working for a business, person, government entity, or non-profit, building honest and positive relationships with journalists will be the one of the best ways to ensure that your side of the story will be heard. Lying to the media will put you further under the microscope and undermine your own efforts to get a better story in the press.