The population of the world is nearing 7 billion souls. And since this is the internet age, it seems that every single one of those folks is “trying to get their message out.” But are those messages “true?”
It is axiomatic—even a running joke—that you cannot believe everything that you read on the internet, and that photo of the attractive potential spouse on that dating site may be a tad bit out of date. But rather than delivering up fountains of new and helpful information, the new media world has become jam-packed with PR spin and stage-craft … and most people are not very good at it.
As a professional communicator, I have been asked many times to deliver a message. But as a professional, I am professionally responsible to ensure that there is truth in the message and that the messaging is in alignment with the core beliefs and identity of the individual or company that employed me. This is vital. It is the amateur that will say anything—do anything—to grab glory and shift blame.
The highest value of PR and Communications is to reveal important truths about yourself or your business. The lowest value is to conceal important truths. It is perfectly fine to polish the apple and shine the shoes, but it is not OK to call that apple an orange or to dance on stage in ruby slippers when you spend your days in workman’s boots. The former delivers value to your audiences, the latter deceives. And ultimately, people will not believe you.
The Lesson of Gerry Spence
Gerry Spence is famous for being the trial lawyer who never lost a case. Some quibble and dispute the minor details, but no one argues that he had a very successful career, including notable wins in some very high-profile cases. In one of his books he tells a story of when he was just getting started. As a fresh graduate from law school working his first trial, he was adopting the uniform of the law firm he had joined: conservative Armani suits, wingtip shoes, black briefcase. Being raised in Wyoming, the clothes made him feel stiff and unnatural, but he was expected to don the official uniform, an so he did.
But the case was going badly. Very badly. He knew he was was losing.
Mid-way through the trial he put on his western cut suit and boots—things that he had been wearing his whole life. The senior lawyers criticized his judgment, but he “felt” like he was being truthful to himself. He believed that everything about him, as the attorney, was being scrutinized by the jury. In his view, you could even “lie” by wearing clothes, or carrying a briefcase, or even talking in a manner that was not true. He believed that these “non-truths” could get in the way of the very important messaging that he had to deliver. The future of his client depended on those truths. When you are delivering an argument—when you are delivering a message—people will respond to “truth” better, even if that “true” exposes faults, imperfections, and flaws. They will trust you in the imperfections.
This does not mean that you put on airs, speak poorly, or “act” a part. In this way of thinking it is all about shining up who you are, but embracing the real you at the same time. It is being the best you in the best light, but still you.
Gerry Spence went on to win that trial, and every trial thereafter.
People respond this way. PR absent conviction & communication without belief are meals that fill, but fail to satisfy. Ultimately they are heaved up like spoiled meat. Long term success is found in the famous words of Abraham Lincoln: “You can fool all of the people some of the time, and some of the people all of the time, but you cannot fool all of the people all of the time.”
Start By Not Fooling Yourself
Sun Tzu said, “Know your adversary and know yourself, and you will not fear the results of one
hundred battles.” That means the best place to start messaging is with the man (or company, for that matter) in the mirror. If you are crafting messages and vision / mission statements that are inconsistent with what you see in the mirror or going on in the organization around you, change those things.
Do not use messaging as a masquerade to portray what you think your audiences want to see. Rather, let your messaging have the power to alter behavior and transform identities and organizations. Bring yourself and your company into alignment with what you want to be able to say about yourself. Then, when you deliver the message, not only will it be believable by your audiences, but you will start to believe it too. If you believe it and act upon it, you become a better leader and your team will start to believe it to (so will your family and friends). Your communications and PR messaging will no longer be just a strategy or a collection of legacy images and half-hearted wish-goals on a user profile page … it will be true.