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In a Crisis: If you are going to take a bath, you might as well come clean

If you are going to take a bath, you might as well come clean! We say that a lot in public relations when things go wrong. Hiding facts, and the truth, is never a good idea. The problem is, sitting on information becomes its own story — and can destroy trust.

And, for the media - get caught in a lie once, and you’re done. Unfortunately, we see this in current crisis points, time and time again. Like the school board that won’t share a report with the public that paid for it. Regardless of what valid excuses that can be offered, the absence of truth leads to rampant speculation.

The same can be said of political leaders who hide emails and documents, and refuse to allow key people to testify. The end conclusion is simple: if you act like you are guilty, you probably are.

There is little difference between perception and truth in a 24-hour news cycle — so hiding facts, blocking witnesses, and refusing to share the truth has two bad consequences — it burns up any good will backed by an organization. And, it builds on a growing suspicion and disconnect among key publics. As outlined in the PRSA Code of Ethics, an organization has a duty to be open, direct and honest.

If a rumor is out there that is not a fact, it is the responsibility of the organization to correct it. If an organization can shed light on an issue, especially in a crisis, it must come forward. And while hiding facts, and hiding your head, may seem like a natural reaction — all it does is put off the inevitable — and it can prolong a crisis.

The classic example is Equifax. They discovered a security breach on July 29th, but only announced it September 7th. While their response was well thought out and well planned (hey, they had a whole month) the very fact that they waited so long broke trust on day one.

And, with the coronavirus, China’s much quicker and more transparent response is a good sign that they learned from the SARS epidemic of 2003, where information and the facts were withheld for months.

But the biggest truth shielding scandal this past year belongs to Boeing, the company stands accused of deliberately covering up the truth about the 737 MAX’s anti-stall system issues. The truth came out, but only after two deadly crashes. Hiding the issue cost trust, the CEO his job, and it cost company $10 billion.

If you are going to take a bath, come clean — get everything out there and move on. The opposite is a recipe for disaster.

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