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Public Relations Conference Promotes Truth, Credibility

November 13, 1996

ST. LOUIS (AP) _ Cynics might call a public relations conference about truth an oxymoron, but workers in the field are hoping to put a new spin on their reputation.

``Telling the Truth″ was the theme of the Public Relations Society of America’s annual convention this week in St. Louis. The three-day conference featured lectures and seminars about the importance of honesty.

``Truth is the foundation, we believe, for effective public relations,″ said Luis Morales, the society’s president. ``If we don’t have that among the people we’re trying to reach, our jobs are made almost impossible.″

He said the public has grown increasingly cynical of public relations professionals. The society picked the theme of truth, he said, to promote a code of ethics among its members.

Among the seminars were: ``The Truth About a Crisis _ Beyond Damage Control,″ ``Borderless Believability: Building Trust Around the World″ and ``Correcting the Credibility Crisis of Public Relations.″

James Lukaszewski, chairman of a New York public relations firm, told the ``Credibility Crisis″ seminar that public relations workers get in trouble only when they don’t tell the whole truth.

``Everything we do has to be unassailable,″ he said. ``If something is stupid, we ought to say it is stupid.″

Most in public relations know lying is no way out of a bad situation, he said. To maintain the balance between a company’s interests and the public trust during a crisis, he said, the good employee will offer a solution rather than avoid the problem.

Nancy Wolfe, communications professor at Elon College in Winston-Salem, N.C., said a few bad seeds have created the image of the ``spin doctor″ that Hollywood associates with public relations.

``One of the problems of our profession is that anyone can say they are a public relations professional,″ she said. ``As in any profession, you are going to have those who will bend the truth, who will lie.″

Members of the PRSA must adhere to a code of ethics and can be stripped of their accreditation if they violate the rules, she said. But there is no way to monitor non-accredited workers, she said.

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