We all like to think we have integrity in our work. But how do you define integrity? Technically (I looked it up), it’s the “quality of being honest and having strong moral principles.” But, can it really be just about being honest and having pure motives? When you’re working in communications, it’s not that simple. And credibility is our livelihood, so integrity is everything.
I’ve worked in PR for the last 18 years (the majority at the Ad Council) and, as a “do-gooder,” it never occurred to me that integrity was something that I had to consciously focus on (and that there were actual principles) until I joined the Advisory Board of the Arthur W. Page Center last year.
Given today’s environment where news is entertainment, everyone can be a news source, algorithms determine how we’re getting news, bots are everywhere, and everything is politicized, the attention to integrity in communication couldn’t have come at a better time.
I love how the Page Center looks at both sides of the aisle. On the PR side, are we telling the full story or a partial story? Sharing the full research findings (even if it doesn’t all support the lead)? On the journalism side, who are we deciding to interview? Which quotes come first (if included at all)? Are we being totally objective, or are our personal/political beliefs coming through in the piece? Despite our best intentions, our own personal history and experience could have an impact. We’re human after all.
As someone who’s always been fascinated by journalism since the days of All the President’s Men and The Paper (remember that… with Michael Keaton?), and more recently The Post, the power and moral conscience of the news and—more broadly—communications is something I’ve always thought about.
“Integrity should be a verb,” said John Onoda, a veteran Chief Communications Officer who has worked at GM, Levi Strauss, Visa, and Charles Schwab. Onoda was honored at the 2018 Arthur W. Page Center Awards in New York City in February. Other honorees included Bill George, former CEO of Medtronic and now senior fellow at Harvard Business School, and the late Gwen Ifill, an award-winning journalist.
George talked about how the truth is always going to come out and all you do by spinning is encourage others to get out the negative. So true! Credibility can be destroyed in seconds.
Here are some tips he shared that are great to keep in mind:
- Tell your own story. Don’t let anyone else do it. And do it in a timely manner.
- Transform yourself. There’s probably truth in some of the issues that are creating your crisis so don’t be resistant to change.
- Tell the good news every day. Your brand likely has powerful and compelling stories about how your impacting lives every day (I know we do!). You can’t just be on the defensive, you need to play offense.
- Be real. Tell the deep story—the story behind the story. Be purposeful and authentic, not necessarily charismatic. Delivery is important but being real is more. Think about what you would tell your mother. Take the hot questions.
- Have friends. Think about your allies in tough moments and how they can support and amplify your message.
Onoda’s speech was real, inspiring and tangible. It’s incredible to think that PR people used to have a near-monopoly on words in the public space. And now, in the worst climate we’ve ever been in (with cynicism and opportunism everywhere), he reiterated that now is the most important time to focus on integrity.
We can’t just prove it with tweets, op-eds, ads, photo-ops or customized messages for different audiences. We need consistent values and promises fulfilled. There’s no job worth risking your integrity. Stand up to senior management and clients. Be the conscience of the company.
Motives and words aren’t enough. Prove it with action (a simple, yet powerful Page Principle).
Check out the Page Principles for more. I can’t wait to see what they do next.