Alternative Facts and PR

By Chris Navalta

By now, we all know what Kellyanne Conway’s now-infamous term “alternative facts” means. When asked by the media why U.S. Press Secretary Sean Spicer mischaracterized the size of the crowd during President Donald Trump’s inauguration, Conway replied simply by saying that the Trump Administration was supplying the media with ‘alternative facts.’ I spent the past week-and-a-half stewing over the outrage that ensued, followed by mockery … then more outrage. I could no longer sit silent.

It’s easy to be up and arms about this particular topic purely as it has to do with politics (these days, anyone will get riled up when it comes to anything political – regardless what side of the aisle you’re on.)

But let’s take politics out of this issue. As a matter of fact, this shouldn’t even be about politics. The U.S. Press Secretary, who has historically been among the most trusted sources of information by the American people, is now sharing “alternative facts.” It’s never right to mislead people, but when you represent a person of power, let alone the leader of the free world, your credibility is based on maintaining trust among the people you serve and/or represent. The last time I checked, a fact is a piece of information presented as having objective reality (according to Merriam-Webster). And when I look up the word in the dictionary, there are no variations of what this word means. A fact is simply a fact. 

Working in PR, we don’t have the luxury to think about alternative facts because, well, there’s that thing I mentioned above called trust. See, there’s always going to be a trust situation between PR pros and the media. If providing alternative facts were an actual “thing,” everyone would be doing it. But it’s not a thing because it’s called lying. Sometimes, media and PR don’t see eye-to-eye, but this relationship is always straightforward and based on trust, as it is the basic fabric of how we communicate.

As PR professionals, we must also maintain trust with our clients. It’s our job to provide a service that works toward achieving our clients’ goals. That cannot be done without trust. As a someone who works in PR and previously worked in the newspaper business for over a decade, I pride myself in delivering information to the media and my clients with accuracy, transparency and honesty. And while I can’t speak for the entire industry, at Blanc & Otus we are not spin doctors, we do not intentionally mislead and we certainly do not deliver alternative facts. We respect our clients – past and present – and applaud their work toward continued innovation. And we value our fellow media colleagues and their hard work in reporting “just the facts,” as they used to say … and not the alternative facts.