Most of us have grown up with our parents telling us that honesty is the best policy – and we believed this when we were younger. We knew that if we told the truth upfront, the consequences would never be as severe as a straight out lie.
So, where did it all go wrong? You only have to read local and international news headlines to realise that honesty is not a priority for many. And I am not talking about fake news – but rather the authenticity of businesses and people who are in leadership positions. So, what happened?
I know authenticity has been written about so many times – but let’s be honest, today, it should be a de facto standard for people when weighing up which business they want to work with or people they want to hire (or work for) or even people they hold up to a higher standard. Are they authentic?
As a PR professional some people may accuse me of being ironic – isn’t it my job to make brands and companies look good – to spin their news into something worthwhile or interesting – make them look authentic?
Sure. My job is to make businesses more engaging, but I certainly can’t, and won’t, lie for a company. Rather, for me, it means focusing on supporting authenticity with no pretensions. This means being true to the personality, characteristics and spirit of a person or company – sincerely. Not an easy task at all.
Today, companies are scared to show their true characteristics – they want everything carefully scripted and managed. But to what end? Social media today is like living in a glass box – people can see in – and get bombarded with so many different views on a topic, brand or person – that scripting your PR and communications is often just disingenuous.
I always advise companies or people to understand that they cannot be authentic without first possessing a strong sense of character – of the business, its leaders and its people.
This then translates directly into not say things you do not mean, promises are not made that you cannot keep, and you stay in a place of integrity in all of your dealings, in and out of work. Seems like a simple list, but I can assure you, that when you drill down into the details of these points, you often hear excuses as to why promises are broken, or businesses can’t do ‘exactly’ what they said they were going to do. Don’t get me wrong, I am a pragmatist, of course businesses and leaders are bound by confidentiality, or regulation or are even beholden to stakeholders to deliver stronger results – but then, they need to be careful of making a promise upfront – of really being authentic.
Companies and leaders must remember that the reason people trust is because your word has been kept. Your actions will always speak louder that your PR programme.
So, are businesses doing this – are leaders keeping their promises – are they staying true to these promises? Unfortunately, not enough. And whose role is it to make sure they do? Well it’s us, the public, their customers and consumers.
Don’t be fooled by great campaigns. Take a closer look – how do businesses or leaders treat employees, customers and stakeholders – how have they dealt with a crisis or customer query? This doesn’t mean owning the mantra of the ‘customer is always right’ – but rather examining how they engage their audience in a way that reflects the promises they made. And this is an important point, as too many consumers believe that with social media, if they don’t get what they want – they publicize this on social media. But is that authentic – is getting what you want the same as getting what was promised? Is it the same as a brand still engaging you with respect? Authenticity to my mind works both ways – brands and consumers both have a responsibility.
What I am also seeing, which I am really enjoying, is that brands and companies have also understood that to be authentic you don’t always have take yourself too seriously and are able to laugh at yourself. Being genuine also means having fun or owning up to genuine mistakes or asking for help. And this sometimes is the best form of authenticity – as consumers get a far more real version of the company culture, but again, it needs to be tapered with responsibility.
So, in a world where negative headlines dominate our news on a daily basis – I would urge all business and leaders to never sacrifice their integrity to “win.” Be authentic – that is real market leadership.