For some decades already, what citizens in the Netherlands are permitted to know about public administration has been growing. While King William II made unilateral decisions, there is now, fortunately, the transparency of parliament and policy makers and, of course, the Government Information Act (or WOB, in Dutch). These days, we live in a world of openness and transparency, even in business and healthcare: the decision-making processes, the production chain, the financing, the mistakes made, the business partners… People want to know everything. And they want their say in those matters. It has become a precondition for continued acceptance as a player in our society. A precondition that we, at FleishmanHillard, also defend to all our clients: the necessary transparency and open dialogue with society.
The only remaining hesitation then is that, although they are perfectly willing to communicate openly, clients fear having to indiscriminately expose everything to public view – strategic plans, age-old family recipes, contract agreements, chain partners, research facts behind their product innovations, et cetera. We reassure those clients: the art of our reputation profession is finding the right balance between what you can share without (competitive) risk and what the interested citizen wants to know about your policy, company or product. It is always good to engage in dialogue about your vision of the future, for example, your added value for society, the relevance of your product and what it consists of. And to listen and respond to your public. Better even… to anticipate their questions and act accordingly. After expert consideration, we determine which information can be shared, when, with whom and through which channels, and how it should be worded. Methodically, as all information is stored online and inconsistency in reporting can harm your credibility. Many companies with a healthy reputation have been striking that balance every day for many years. Backed by genuine openness and a professional approach to dosing and planning. Because they want to engage in dialogue, including listening and therefore learning from society.
There are those, however, who use the transparency to gather ammunition for their own, individual purposes. Parties who call for ‘openness for the public at large’ and ‘dialogue’, but are actually only following their own principle agenda. These are often criticasters of policy or of a company’s vision. I am referring to a number of NGOs that perceive facts selectively, insinuatingly bring controlling authorities into discredit and within that entirely singular perception of reality often employ creative communication virtuosi. These communicators are masters at framing, producing emotional one liners or video content and sketching doom scenarios. That is the easy way to get the popular vote. But the dialogue has been violated. This creates situations in which, for example, our parliament enters into debate over factually incorrect agenda items. Or where the integrity of a government body is unjustly undermined. Or where a company is forced into defence rather than dialogue.
This blog is, in fact, a call to action. A call for fair play. Because government and business organisations cannot afford to make a single error in terms of truth and facts; otherwise, quite rightly, they come under heavy fire. They are therefore – often with support from communication agencies – sincerely sharing facts openly and correctly with the outside world. So that we remain in dialogue. Even – or perhaps especially – if we have a difference of opinion. In both PR and PA, for professional communication agencies the essence is nothing but the truth when supporting their clients, while respecting each of the target audiences. Fair play is what I ask of those few NGOs that find their own principles so important that it seems permissible to play communicatively with the facts, truths and respect for parties that think otherwise.
Everyone is entitled to his own principles, but not his own facts. Strong communication must be based on truths; within the truth, the real communication professional has sufficient means to convey his argument as powerfully as possible. Many companies and governments and their communication professionals have taken that step. And most NGOs also recognise the benefits of increased transparency as an invitation to fair, factual discussion. Are we all on our way to more fact-fair play in communication in 2017? I’m sure the final result will be the better for it, for all concerned.
PS on 28 February, non-profit organisation De Rode Hoed will be organising a debate on who can actually deliver ‘the real facts in life’, with scientists, philosophers and research institutes. FleishmanHillard will be there, in dialogue.
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January 20, 2017