7 rules for being transparent
Fostering transparency means being honest, open and forthcoming with
This, in turn, builds respect and goodwill in the short term. It also
solidifies a strong bond of trust over the long run.
Don’t forget that withholding key information from reporters, or letting it
out piecemeal, is never a good idea, and will only gives legs to a damaging
The result of trampling on transparency is a multi-day negative news cycle.
Plus, PR pros will likely take the blame for any negative fallout, even if
such a stupid strategy was mandated by on high.
3 things you (probably) didn’t know about crisis communications]
No communicator wants to be forced into “damage control” mode due to lack
of transparency. This only hurts the organization’s brand image and leads
to a loss of accountability, consumer confidence and public trust.
Transparency involves going the extra mile in maximizing information
dissemination and minimizing spin.
Empowering PR pros
Meaningful transparency will only succeed if and when PR pros are empowered
by executive leadership.
In today’s fast changing mobile, digital and virtual media landscape, your
job in PR requires seamless access to all necessary and relevant
information (to the extent possible). Beyond access, you must also have
advance approval to share certain kinds of information with journalists.
When a damaging news report starts spreading online, there’s simply no time
to waste. Every minute lost in a crisis communications is another minute in
which tens of thousands of people potentially consume negative news and
pass it on through social media.
Talk to your boss about difficult media situations that might arise and
agree on a response before bad news goes viral. If information is being
withheld for bureaucratic reasons then PR pros need to ask why, because the
company will be held accountable by journalists anyway.
Cover-ups only make it worse
Many leaders have learned the hard way that the cover-up is worse than the
This adage was made famous by the Watergate scandal that brought down
President Richard Nixon. The Washington Post’s persistent investigative
reporting exposed the existence of the Watergate tapes, which Nixon refused
to release and allegedly tried to destroy.
The president’s attempt to keep the tapes a secret and subvert the legal
system to avoid scrutiny eventually brought public condemnation and the
The story is a cautionary tale for PR pros: Covering up misdeeds can be
just as damaging to your public image as the release of unflattering
Consequently, before you reject a reporter’s legitimate request for
information, follow these rules first:
1. Don’t withhold information unless it’s absolutely necessary for legal
2. Don’t make a reporter file a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request
if you are able to provide information or data without one.
3. Don’t ever lie to the media because trust is difficult, if not
impossible, to regain.
4. If you’re wrong about the facts or can’t immediately answer a question,
admit it up front and then follow-up quickly with accurate info.
5. If you cannot fulfill a media request on deadline, explain why. It’s
better to under-promise and over-deliver.’
6. If you can’t speak “on the record” for name attribution, then suggest
other credible external sources for journalists to contact.
7. If you must get negative information out, do it quickly and all at once,
if possible, to avoid a prolonged negative news cycle.
Transparency is what builds or repairs public trust, accountability and
enhances a company’s brand image. Stonewalling reporters will only make a
bad news story worse.
David B. Grinberg is a strategic communications consultant, freelance writer and
former federal government spokesman based in the Washington, D.C. area.You can also find him on