Tell the Truth

In my Rider Public Relations class the other day we began discussing the history of modern-day public relations and the role a man named Ivy Ledbetter, known as Ivy Lee, played in its foundation.

Lee was a former Wall Street reporter who began a public relations practice in 1903. He was instrumental in fostering the concept of informing the public, not by hyping up his clients in a style practiced by press agents of the time or not caring about what the public thought, such as railroad titan William Vanderbilt’s famous words, “Public be damned.”

It was Lee’s belief that the only way business could answer its critics and tell its side of the story was to present its side honestly, accurately and forcefully.

In 1914 Lee was retained by John D. Rockefeller Jr. in a time of crisis. Labor unrest at Rockefeller’s Colorado Fuel and Iron Company in Ludlow, Colorado led to the involvement of the Colorado militia and the eventual tragedy of a dozen women and children being slain.

Lee’s advice to Rockefeller was:
“Tell the truth, because sooner or later the public will find it out anyway. And if the public doesn’t like what you are doing, change your policies and bring them into line with what the people want.” *John E. Harr and Peter L. Johnson, The Rockefeller Century: Three Generations of America’s Greatest Family (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1988): 129

Lee went on to encourage Rockefeller to create a joint labor-management board to mediate all worker grievances. He also began humanizing the Rockefellers so that the public could relate to them. In the end though, the lesson Lee left us was the best three words in the public relations bible: Tell the Truth.

Just think of athletes, teams, coaches, politicians, corporate executives, celebrities, etc. who become mired in a crisis because by failing to tell the truth right away, they bury themselves in the cover up, which eventually is exposed by the media.

Imagine if President Richard M. Nixon had simply took blame for the Watergate break in, fired those involved and apologized to the American public. The country could have been spared two years of political chaos and his administration could have focused on governing rather than saving a government.

For those individuals entering the work force or for those navigating to new positions, how you communicate plays an integral role in how you are perceived, respected and rewarded for your work. Those that hide from the facts, think they can fool their employees, bosses or the fans they serve will end up being exposed.

No matter what, keep Ivy Lee’s mantra. Tell the truth. If you do that, nothing else will matter.

Tom Cosentino

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One Response to “Tell the Truth”

  1. Abigail F Shipley Says:

    “Honesty is the best policy” was tough in our school days and from that day I rarely lied in my entire life. It always better to tell truth rather then lying and get caught later.
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