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Gini Dietrich

PR, the Murdoch Affair, and Telling the Truth

By: Gini Dietrich | July 27, 2011 | 
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On Inside PR this week, Joe Thornley, Martin Waxman, and I chat about Rupert Murdoch’s appearance before Parliament.

What started the conversation was a really interesting blog post from Jeff Jarvis called “PR and Corruption Theater.”

Side note: I totally have a crush on Jarvis. It started when I read “What Would Google Do.” It’s only increased since reading his blog consistently. But I’m finally willing to admit it publicly after he went off on Washington about the debt ceiling. I won’t repeat the vulgarity here, but it’s worth a trip to his blog to see it.

Back to Murdoch. You see, Edelman counsels News International and, by way of that relationship, also Rupert, and his son James, Murdoch.

And, when the two Murdochs testified last week, I think we can all agree they seemed too scripted.

Jarvis says:

Was Rupert Murdoch’s dottiness a strategy handed down from Edelman or was that him abandoning his libretto to declare himself suddenly humble (if that’s humility…)?

Was James coached to be a parody of a droning MBA? Was it in the crisis-management script for Rupert to decline responsibility for the scandal in his company and to blame those below him and those below them? Was it in his PR script to lash out at his competitors to for causing him to lose BSkyB, and not at himself?

When we chat about it on the podcast, the thing I take biggest issue with is not that Edelman coached these guys or that they were well-timed or well-scripted.

It’s that, as business leaders, it’s our job to take responsibility for the actions of our employees.

Sure there are times that you don’t know what’s happening right under your nose. Illegal actions can take place without your knowing it. And you have to protect yourself so you don’t go to jail for the stupidity of others.

BUT.

From a communication perspective, the father and son duo should take responsibility and say something along the lines of, “My team screwed up. I don’t condone it. I don’t like it. Here is what I’m going to do to make sure it never happens again.”

Having worked crisis communication for many hearings, I get the lawyers are there handcuffing them a bit. But there are ways to negotiate telling the truth and taking responsibility without hurting legal proceedings.

David Weinberger makes another interesting point on his blog post “Edelman and Murdoch.

If I were Edelman PR, I would probably agree to take on NewsCorp, but only if I were satisfied to a reasonable degree (yes, them’s fudge words) that NewsCorp was ready to tell the truth. (Clients do lie to their PR companies. The first time Edelman catches NewsCorp lying to them, Edelman should quite publicly drop them.)

So, here we have a CEO who is blaming everyone but himself. A chairman of the board feigning humility. And a duo who clearly have been overly scripted and rehearsed to not serve the best interests of their public.

If it were Arment Dietrich counseling them, I’d pull the Murdochs into my office and have a stern talk with them. If they continued to behave this way, we’d fire them. Quickly and publicly.

It’s our job, as communication professionals, to counsel our clients to tell the truth. Not to spin a lie. Not to make themselves look better.

To tell the truth.

After all, Spin Sucks.

About Gini Dietrich


Gini Dietrich is the founder and CEO of Arment Dietrich, a Chicago-based integrated marketing communications firm. She is the lead blogger here at Spin Sucks and is the founder of Spin Sucks Pro. She is the co-author of Marketing in the Round and co-host of Inside PR. Her second book, Spin Sucks, is available now.

96 comments
NancyM.
NancyM.

'It’s that, as business leaders, it’s our job to take responsibility for the actions of our employees'

That's the right thing to do, but since not everybody does the right thing, this rarely happens. Higher management would be more than glad to blame their low ranks on problems even if management was directly responsible.

fayfeeney
fayfeeney

Gini, great post! We're both on the same page this week. I wrote a blog post: How To Tell Board Chairs Your “Digital Zipper” is Down. http://risk4good.com/blog/

Agree that as professionals we can and should tell our clients the truth. Thanks for reminding me "if you see it, say it".

SpinSucks
SpinSucks

@brianhogg thanks for the feedback. we had a few people with technical issues. I'll have to look into this more.

brianhogg
brianhogg

@GoToMeeting Mac, 10.6.3 currently, there's a chance the failed 10.6.8 upgrade caused some issues but it works fine with FF3

KRLRose
KRLRose

Quite simply an obvious and cynical attempt at humility and buck passing. Whilst I am sorry people lost their jobs. I am absolutely happy the News of the World is no more. Reactionary, harmful, verging on bigoted, and often crossing that line was a specialism. Pandering to ignorance in all its forms. Rupert Murdoch has far too much control over the media in the UK. In no way is it healthy or conducive to a strong democracy and freedom of speech for one organisation to have so much control. I am absolutely in support of getting rid of spin in all its forms.

Spin definitely Sucks.

MightyCaseyMedia
MightyCaseyMedia

This entire affair touches on two of my hot buttons: the death of the news business, conflated with our global obsession with celebrity. What is still called "the news business" is now simply the celebutante-message-dissemination-process. With the occasional sprinkling of actual news.

The term info-tainment got coined around the time I started my career in news. Which coincided, time-wise, with the arrival of the 24/7 news cycle. Take 24/7, add celebrity news, stir in human herding instinct, and you get the perfect tabloid-news storm.

Truth has fallen under the wheels of the spin-bus, accelerated by the incestuous relationships between media owners, national political figures, and lobbying firms. I'm not a conspiracy theorist, I just know from my time working in major-media news that those are some VERY tight relationships that get maintained literally across generations.

I doubt that either Murdoch submits to much coaching, from any source. James is undoubtedly a droning MBA in most circs, and Rupert likely seemed confused because he WAS confused: that the very politicians who have been buttering him up for positive coverage for years had the temerity to ask him questions about his business practices.

Which business practices are driven by consumer demand, which he and his ilk have created over the last few decades with endless screaming headlines about [insert famous name here]'s drug addiction/latest bedroom romp/divorce filing/whatever. Or Casey Anthony. And so forth.

I tell all my clients - and anyone else who'll listen - that the truth is the only answer. It will set you free, even if, in the short term, it creates some smoke and fire. Rupert and James haven't told the truth - to themselves, to each other, to their boards, to their employees - that they wouldn't know authenticity if it came up and bit 'em on the a**.

Rupert and James don't listen much, either. Lost cause, in my opinion ...

barryrsilver
barryrsilver

Hi Gini,

Should Edelman ever fire/be fired by NewsCorp, B/M will be there before the contract is out of the shredder. As for the inability of ownership to actually "own" the business, it's not news. Too many businesses teach risk avoidance as opposed to excellence chasing. After setting up a business that way the disease infects ownership as well. In this case, the Murdoch's aren't looking for PR to clean up the mess, they want PR to preach that the stench of feces is actually rose petals. Good for you for being willing to fire a client that consistently lies to you. You don't stand alone, but you stand with the minority on this.

Leon
Leon

G'Day Gini,

I'm in no position to comment on Rupert's veracity or the ethics of his advisors. But I do know that he was OK when he left Adelaide.

Cadel for President! And don't you dare say "Cadel who?"

Make sure you have fun.....along with Danny and his Brownies.

Regards

Leon

danielnewmanUV
danielnewmanUV

It is an interesting and age old debate about the CEO having to earn the trust of the public vs. the trust of the people and do so while always being honest but not necessarily sharing everything (that is one fantastic run on sentence)

Murdoch at risk of losing thousands of jobs and sinking the ship is in a position where everything he says has risk.

I don't sympathize with him whatsoever, and I certainly have never run a company close to that size. But, I do have some empathy for him because pretty much anything he does is a loss at this point. So now he needs to worry about losing the trust of the people who may continue to work for him or the people that he depends on to consume his content.

Interesting piece by an interesting writer. Well played Gini.

janbeery
janbeery

Very true, Gini. It's too hard to keep track of lies and you get tripped up. We call it back stroking in our family. When you get caught, you try to cover your tracks and, oh crap, you're busted!

Interesting that my youngest was dealing with one of his troops and told me what he'd been doing. Then he said, "yeah, he was totally back stroking!" Love those aha moments!

janbeery
janbeery

Because it's harder to maintain integrity then to look for a quick, easy way out. People who lack in integrity and live with a "we'll get out of it" mentality think they'll always come out ahead.

Scum always, always floats to the top of the pond, eventually.

People may get rich quick lacking in integrity, I'd rather maintain mine and get rich a little slower, measuring wealth in more then $$.

The truthful road is definitely a tougher road, but more rewarding in the end.

janbeery
janbeery

The truth will always find you out. Better to maintain integrity then suffer the consequences of deceit down the road.

Nic_Cartwright
Nic_Cartwright

Be responsible and tell the truth (or at least don't lie) - life lessons #topten

wabbitoid
wabbitoid

Excellent! I was thinking of you when I watched an awful lot of their testimony before the Parlimentary Committee. The only problem I have with your advice is that it might be a bit too obvious. :-)

Remiliz
Remiliz

Yes! Testify, sister!

TheJackB
TheJackB

Gini, your comment about firing them makes me wonder how many companies are willing to fire their biggest clients. All that money does funny things to people. I am not directing that at you, just thinking out loud.

When I worked as an account executive in manufacturing I had a major client tell me that if I found him companionship he would sign a very large contract with me. I was 27 and we were in Vegas where there was "access" to the kind of companionship he wanted.

It is not a perfect comparison, but I won't lie and say that I didn't think about it. That commission would have made my year and I would have been a hero in the company.

So I wonder about this, what happens when a client is big enough to make sure that you never have to worry about hitting payroll and there is something more left over. Can't help but think that Murdoch has been able to use that sort of "power" in different ways for quite some time now.

pocojuan
pocojuan

@ginidietrich what a concept - transparency authenticity integrity delivering real value -build trust passionate loyalty = soc capital

ginidietrich
ginidietrich moderator

@Leon Cadel who?! :) I got a sneak peek of your guest post that is running today. Looking forward to it!

ginidietrich
ginidietrich moderator

@danielnewmanUV Unfortunately I think you're right in that he's a lost cause. But, like the leaders of so many of the gigantic failed businesses, when you conduct business unethically, it'll get you eventually. The best thing he could do is take responsibility for the actions of the people he hired and potentially go to jail. The worst thing he can do is keep blaming them and potentially go to jail.

Nic_Cartwright
Nic_Cartwright

@ginidietrich i love the Bob Arum quote - "Ah yes, but yesterday I was lying, today I am telling the truth"!! #promotiongonecrazy

Timberry
Timberry

@ginidietrich Hi Gini, doing fine thanks, enjoying summer, some new projects ... hopw all is well for you.

ginidietrich
ginidietrich moderator

@janbeery I would think not telling the truth would be too hard to keep track of...you never know when you'll contradict yourself.

ginidietrich
ginidietrich moderator

@Nic_Cartwright One would think they'd learn from other company leaders. But maybe @thornley is right and they think they're above it because they're so filthy rich.

ginidietrich
ginidietrich moderator

@TheJackB It's really, really hard to fire a client. We did it, for the first time, two years ago. But I'll tell you what, the relief you feel and watching morale bounce back is worth the big firing. I agree that most company leaders won't do it, but I love the Jack Welch philosophy - fire the bottom 10% every year.

KDillabough
KDillabough

@ginidietrich @janbeery There's a great "Hi and Lois" cartoon from 1979 (yes, and I have clippings dating earlier than that:) that I'd like to paint a picture of:

two boys, downtown, First says: "I'll be in big trouble if my mom finds out we came downtown alone." Second boy: "Aw, just tell her you were at my house."

First enters home: "I was at Skip's house"

Mom: "Well, all right, but call the next time."

Boy now in bed...picture these talk bubbles: "What if someone saw me downtown? What if mom call's Skip's mom? Where's that ticket stub from the movie we saw?" "I'll have to bury it first thing in the morning." "I can't sleep"

Picture boy at sunrise in backyard, digging a hole: (drum roll, tahdah moment...)

"I don't think I'll ever lie again to stay out of trouble. It's too much trouble".

Now I hope that didn't lose too much in translation, without the visuals. Attribution to Dik Browne, June 1979. Couldn't be truer if it was written today!

Nic_Cartwright
Nic_Cartwright

@ginidietrich @thornley I read somewhere that great wealth generally lasts a maximum of 3 generations - because families A - get carried away with their own importance, B - don't learn the lessons of the past..... Generation #2 for the Murdoch's is close to beginning!! #watchthisspace

wabbitoid
wabbitoid

@ginidietrich Oh, absolutely! "Lawyered up" was the term I was using. It was impossible to watch James for any length of time without wondering if he was telling the truth or not - and it turns out that some people in the know are saying he didn't. But the perception that he was lying came from how robotic he was at times, as if he'd carefully rehearsed his story carefully. Even if he was telling the truth his rep was permanently damaged..

I'm glad to hear this from a pro like you, however, 'cuz hearings and that are just not my bag. I'm far more likely to be giving testimony than coaching someone (very active in Saint Paul).

pocojuan
pocojuan

@ginidietrich its common sense CRM best practices - why would we do it any other way #PR smoke and mirrors is a non-starter

janbeery
janbeery

@KDillabough @ginidietrich @janbeery my oldest, the Captain/ranger tabbed tough guy would kill me if he knew I shared this but, it's worth a yuk! Qoute from him as a high school sophomore, I believe. "Mom! My tongue does NOT turn green if I'm lying!" my response, "hmmm, too bad you don't have 'mom vision' only moms have that special vision." I may have taken it too far but to this day, and he's 30, I'll ask to see his tongue and he says, "no way!" you're welcome to use this great tool. ;)

KDillabough
KDillabough

@ginidietrich @janbeery And I've always told my boys: I will ALWAYS find out the truth, so why not just 'fess up now and save us both some time and energy. My phrase: "No matter where I go, somebody knows somebody who knows mommy...I WILL find out."

ginidietrich
ginidietrich moderator

@Erin F. Ug. I feel like I should know the name, too. I'll think of it.

ginidietrich
ginidietrich moderator

@KDillabough @janbeery It's so true. When we were kids, my mom would tell us they'd go a lot easier on us if we just told the truth. Turns out they were right.

Erin F.
Erin F.

@KDillabough @ginidietrich @janbeery Your illustration reminds me of a children's book in which the kid tells a "little, white lie." By the end of the book, the lie has grown to monstrous proportions. The only way to defeat the monster is for the kid to tell the truth. I wish I could remember the name of the book. :/

ginidietrich
ginidietrich moderator

@wabbitoid I'd be scared to death to give testimony. I'll stay behind the scenes!

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