“Your Fired”

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The following post appeared in the Capitol Communicator, March 8.

Donald Trump’s foray into reality TV has made “you’re fired” an engaging melodrama. But in real life, that’s a very challenging pronouncement.

The recent firing of Kurt Bardella, deputy communications director for the House Committee on Government Oversight, is instructive to all public relations professionals.  From the most junior practitioner to the most experienced executive, we are reminded that we can only be successful if we are credible.

And what is credibility?  At its core, credibility is trustworthiness.  Are you a believable source?  Are you timely and responsive?  Are you honest – when sharing facts and insight – and do you have approval to do so?

For Mr. Bardella, his reputation took a significant hit after Politico reported that he might have inappropriately shared correspondence with a New York Times reporter for a book project – perhaps BCC’ing the NYT contact on emails with other reporters. We will never know specifically the nature of the information, but the Congressional office investigated and concluded his conduct was inappropriate. It was also unprofessional and unethical.

Once Bardella was dismissed from his position, his reputation was permanently damaged.  While I expect that he will, in time, recover from this personal crisis, it will forever be part of his professional history – and Google search results.

Please note, that I do not wish Bardella ill will.  I believe that he will able to demonstrate to future employers that he has learned from his mistakes, which will make him a better practitioner.

What can we learn?  Here’s a refresher on establishing and maintaining credibility.

1)    Honesty is the most important principle of our practice.  Provide information that has been approved for dissemination.  If you can’t disclose facts, say so. Provide a timeline, if you can, for when such information can be made available.

2)    Relationship building isn’t a quid pro quo.  Providing confidential information or sharing information without the owner’s knowledge to curry favor with a journalist isn’t a constructive way to establish a relationship with a journalist. Take time to learn what the journalist needs and be responsive when she calls.

3)    Trustworthiness is essential to provide counsel to senior leadership.  Once you lose the trust and confidence of an executive, you will have a difficult time doing your job effectively.

4)    Follow the PRSA Code of Ethics, which includes among its values the protection of the free flow of information and privacy.

Credibility is an essential part of professional development and advancement. With it, you are a trusted advisor and source. Without it, you risk the pronouncement – “you’re fired.”


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