beyond the press release


Bowled Over By Blagojevich

Maybe he thought his retro mop-top/’80s-poof hairdo would equal the success of the mop-top-clad likes of John, Paul, Ringo and George? Well, it didn’t.

Then again, when it came to Rod Blagojevich, the eccentric former Illinois governor, who was sentenced to 14 years in prison last week for crimes related to his attempt to profit from then-president-elect Barack Obama’s vacated Senate seat, his voice – and the less-than-truthful words he was known for spouting – was really what was on his mind. Never mind his head.

Despite some of the most theatrical grandstanding and public performance antics from any politician since the likes of Ronald Regan proclaiming his televised innocence (or ignorance) to the weapons-for-hostages Iran-Contra scandal, an uncharacteristically muted Blagojevich accepted the 14-year fate handed down to him by U.S. District Court Judge James Zagel.

"The harm here is not measured in the value of money or property. The harm is the erosion of public trust,” said Zagel.

Sometimes, even in our 24-hour, talking-heads news cycle, no matter how loudly you say something, fact trumps fiction and public trust is preserved. (Score one for us.)

It’s a lesson Mr. Blagojevich will have some 5,110 days to ponder in prison. For public relations companies and communication experts, trust is the currency we necessarily deal in – both for our clients and through what prism the non-PR-world views our work. And it’s a lesson refresher we can work on right now.

Perhaps the greatest lie propagated about our profession is the myth that we’re all in the business of outright Blago-style distortion. (Minus the federal wiretaps and profanity.) Pardon the pun, but nothing could be farther from the truth. Where in the PR rulebook does it say it is okay to lie? Nowhere. Are there times when the industry, by design of its client-driven nature, requires positive spin? Of course. But I’d like to think that that relationship has an inherent self-correcting nature to it. There are far too many examples of companies whose in-house and out-sourced communications teams alike throw too great a curve ball on the proverbial spin.



The result? A failed company; a failed politician; a failed business leader, and a failed PR message.

Imagine if a modern cigarette company tried to promote the safety of its products as it once did decades ago? Talk about blowing smoke.

To be sure, not all lies—like claiming one’s innocence when trying to blatantly sell a senate seat – are Blagojevich big. Some, as posted by a recent socialmediatoday article, are almost funny and a little disturbing. Here’s a snapshot of some winners:

  • Ford Motor Co.’s admission that some of its gas gauges read full when they actually weren’t. The logic? With soaring gas prices, it was felt that the faulty fuel readout would inspire positive thinking.
  • Famed New York City restaurant Tavern on the Green chef claimed to be serving gluten-free pasta. Their logic? What’s a few allergic reactions versus the savings?
  • A report that Office Depot sales people upsell their customers, duping them to spend more, telling them those certain items aren’t in stock, when in fact they are.

As communication professionals, it’s our job to ensure the message our client puts forth is credible — and that’s not always exactly what they want to hear.

To do anything less, however, would violate the trust we have with our clients. Maybe it’s not the same level of public trust Judge Zagel was speaking of, but breaking it comes with its own sentence, too.

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