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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, an integrated marketing communications firm. She is the author of Spin Sucks, co-author of Marketing in the Round, and co-host of Inside PR. She also is the lead blogger at Spin Sucks and is the founder of Spin Sucks Pro.

97 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

NancyD68
NancyD68

Nobody wants to tell the truth Gini. Everyone wants to have their hand in the cookie jar until they get busted. Then they want to blame someone else for why they did it. Murdoch is probably going to try to lie.. Why would he tell the truth?

Unless he is given a damned good reason to tell the truth he will lie like a rug, just like Donald Trump's ridiculous comb-over. I swear that thing must be fake. Who has hair like that?

Howie Goldfarb
Howie Goldfarb

Its kind of funny often it is Agencies lying to clients by over selling what they can do for them, and Mr Weinberger is telling Edelman to drop News Corp the minute they lie. Well seriously news Corp has allowed their news media to blatantly lie over and over (not just talking Fox News here) to make money. They have no ethics in the news media division. Just make money. So any Agency who gets hired on should know that or they have no game.

I often tell people to observe how people treat others. If they screw others they will screw you. Don't care how deep a friendship or how long you have known someone. So Edelman knows who;s bed they decided to lie in.

But I wonder if the real problem here is they are guilty and might go to jail. If they use the tact of accountability and then it turns out they knew this was going on not only do they get arrested for the acts, but also for lying to parliment.

Remember this is what has been going on with the Baseball Steroid Congressional Testimony. Players aren't in trouble for doing steroids, they are in trouble for lying to congress.

On that note reports have claimed that James knew this was going on. So he might wind up either in jail or in exile with a permanent warrant in the UK for his arrest if he dodges a trial.

John Falchetto
John Falchetto

Fire them Gini?

I guess in this case you are acting a bit like a lawyer, every person deserves a decent defense but where do you draw the line. When is the behavior so bad that you can't help them anymore?

Also there is a thin line between making themselves look better and spinning a lie. Where do you draw that line? If this was in the US they can be protected by the fifth, are they lying by omission?

Perhaps this should be better left to lawyers rather than a PR agency. FWIW as Davina would say.

KenMueller
KenMueller

I would pay big bucks to sit and watch @ginidietrich lecturing the Murdoch's in her office. Oh man, what great theater!

BestRoofer
BestRoofer

Great advice Gini. I think that they should hire you. I would love to see you give them a talkin to! It really is advice that all CEO's should take to heart.

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  2. […] the truth” and that they are ready to make large strides to increase transparency. Gini Dietrich writes that communication professionals must counsel clients to tell the truth. “Not to spin a lie. Not […]