Survey Shows Most PR People Still Won't Admit Lying

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This article was first published as "Survey Shows Most PR People Still Won't Admit Lying", PR Watch, volume 7, number 2, Second Quarter 2000. As with all SourceWatch articles, feel free to edit and revise.

"The cardinal rule in public relations, as enunciated by the Public Relations Society of America and followed by every self-respecting public relations practitioner is 'never lie,' " says Fraser P. Seitel, editor of the PRSA's monthly magazine, the Public Relations Strategist.Outside the public relations industry itself, however, many people regard PR as a synonym for spin, insincerity and deception. Now a survey by the trade publication PR Week shows that a substantial number of PR people themselves agree with that assessment.

Published in PR Week's May 1 2000 edition, the survey asked 1,700 PR executives about the ethics in their industry. The result: 25 percent admitted they lied on the job, 39 percent said they had exaggerated the truth, 44 percent said they felt uncertain of the ethics of a task they were asked to perform, and 62 percent said they had felt compromised in their work, either by being told a lie by their client or by not having access to the full story.

PR Week Editor Adam Leyland tried to put the best spin possible on these numbers. "I would really like to survey the world of businesspeople, or the world of journalists, and find out how many of them have lied," he told the New York Times. He noted that the survey has prompted hundreds of reactions from people who work in PR. "Some of them have said they just want to resign from the industry and lie on a beach, examining their navel," Leyland said. "I say, look at the bright side. If 25 percent told a lie, that means 75 percent did not."

PRSA's Fraser Seitel also tried to brush off the result of the survey. "In a society where the President of the United States acknowledges he lied to the American public, the failings of a minority of public relations people is more understandable," Seitel said.

We're tempted to ask how many PR people earn their living helping the President to lie, but let's not quibble. What we'd like to know is why we should believe the 75 percent who say they don't lie. When it comes to truth and lies, our experience is that many PR people don't know the difference.