The Truth as a PR Tactic...Who Would Have Thought?

December 15, 2015 AJ Bruno: Founder, President


Before I joined the PR industry, I thought that public relations was all about spin, covering things up and painting the brand in a positive light, no matter what. And you know what? For a long time I think that really was the essence of PR. Things have changed. Modern buyers don’t want fast talk or corporate speak. They want – often demand – transparency, access and authenticity. The truth, as they say, will set you free. Here are a couple of examples.

Hubspot’s Recent Outage

Anyone with children knows that inanimate objects move by themselves all the time. Your child didn’t knock the lamp over, the lamp fell. Too often when businesses make mistakes, they use the tactics of a clumsy child to explain. “It was determined that the NYSE and NYSE MKT customer gateways were not loaded with the proper configuration compatible with the new release,” said the New York Stock Exchange after a four-hour outage back in June. That sentence makes it sound like no humans were involved at all and does nothing to signify accountability.

Marketing automation provider, Hubspot has a different approach. After a recent outage, they posted a lengthy explanation of what happened, including the sentence, “We are very sorry to have let you down.” After describing the problems that happened after a planned database upgrade during the weekend before Cyber Monday, they admitted, “The timing of this upgrade was poor. … In hindsight, it was avoidable risk, and we should have been more thoughtful about the timing.” As a customer, I appreciate the candor and absolutely believe that a lesson has been learned (by humans who care about what the outage means to clients) and that this same mistake is unlikely to recur. In fact, by the end of the post, I was feeling more sympathy for the engineers involved than any upset about the outage. Well done.

Buffer Puts It’s Cards on the Table

Transparency isn’t only important when something goes wrong. It can strengthen the connection between brands and customers every day. The online social media management platform, Buffer takes a radical approach. They share everything. Want to know how much money Buffer employees earn? It’s on the website. Curious about revenue, customer growth trends, how much money they have in the bank, or what they are telling investors? It’s all there.

Why? Buffer co-founder, Joel Gascoigne, explained, “There are many reasons we default to transparency at Buffer, and perhaps the most important is that I genuinely believe it is the most effective way to build trust. This means trust amongst our team but also trust from users, customers, potential future customers and the wider public who encounter us in any way … By sharing all our decisions, numbers, successes and failures, we are showing our customers and supporters that we are responsible and strive to do the right thing.”

Why Openness Makes Sense

There are a lot of reasons that more brands are embracing frank honesty. For one thing, modern customers are beginning to expect it. Sharing, after all, is a way of life these days. In addition, coming out from behind the curtain, so to speak, exposes the people behind it all and humanizes the brand. People become more engaged and connected when they know that someone like them is behind the products and services they buy. Smart brands also know that these days it is almost impossible to keep secrets anyway. The cover-up is most often a bigger problem than the crime. Finally, in addition to attracting buyers, brands are also courting potential employees. Today’s workers care a great deal about culture and a high level of transparency gives them a glance of what it means to work at the company.

You might not be ready to post your salary list on line, but Buffer’s motto of, “Default to transparency,” is a good message to take to heart. Most of the time, it makes sense to tell it like it is. Your audience can, indeed, handle the truth.

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