Financial Services Client Relations in the Post-Truth Era
In today’s news landscape of loose fact checking, carelessness in telling the truth, and the ease of outright lying, it can be tempting for clients to encourage their public relations professionals to play fast-and-fancy-free with words to improve the companies’ public profile. The proliferation of fake news and alternative facts seem to offer the opportune time for a few bad actors in the public relations world to expand their reach. However, we strongly believe today’s post-truth environment allows the firms with integrity to serve clients even better. At the end of the day, good public relations firms are careful stewards of their clients’ reputations and understand once the trust between reporters and companies is broken, irreparable damage is done. “Dishonesty is likely to be discovered, and no climate for credibility can be reestablished,” the International Public Relations Association IPRA explains.
While fake news campaigns have largely been the domain of politics, the financial services sector was hit with its own scandal just this past week. Public relations and communications professionals in the industry were charged by the SEC with fraud for allegedly creating and publishing hundreds of articles hyping specific stocks of publicly traded companies on tip-sheet websites without properly disclosing that the authors were compensated to write the articles. These pieces appeared on some of the most widely trafficked investment sites on the Internet. “These companies, promoters, and writers allegedly misled investors by disguising paid promotions as objective and independent analyses,” said Stephanie Avakian, Acting Director of the SEC’s Division of Enforcement, in a statement.
Public relations professionals have a significant responsibility when it comes to disseminating information, particularly in the financial services space. This deception is dangerous when readers invest their money based on these tips as part of their due diligence and is exacerbated further when these people are “unsophisticated” investors for whom a loss would be far more painful than accredited investors.
Some of the best counsel a public relations firm can provide clients includes refusing to execute a less than honest communications plan. Having a frank and transparent relationship is key to optimizing the impact of a PR plan for the client. “When clear expectations are set from the beginning, and both client and PR tell the truth about their capabilities, limitations, and passions, the results of the engagement are desirable,” writes Forbes.
As a client, you want to make sure your public relations representation has a reputation for honesty. One quick way to do that is to check if individuals within the agency are members of the Public Relations Society of America (PRSA) and if so, that means management has agreed to abide by the organization’s code of ethics which states: “We adhere to the highest standards of accuracy and truth in advancing the interests of those we represent and in communicating with the public.”
The very best public relations firms know full-well the value they bring to their clients’ long-term business goals. Public relations firms are on the front line of today’s struggle between truth and so-called alternative facts in the media. As such, impactful communications requires truthfulness, honesty and veracity. “Good character or ethics lies at the heart of public relations like any other profession,” explains IPRA. “Taking this into consideration, ethical public relations as a part of the management is very important to the success of organizations.”