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Mary Beth NevulisPublic Relations

What PR Pros Can Learn from Eric Garner’s Legacy

By November 11, 2017 September 5th, 2019 No Comments

We may be the rat capital of the country, but living in Chicago has plenty of positives, too; for starters, there’s never a shortage of things to do any day of the week or time of the year.

One of my go-to events every spring and fall is the Chicago Humanities Festival, during which established and emerging talents in the creative disciplines give performances, screenings, exhibits, and discussions, all centered on a predetermined theme.

This fall’s theme is “Belief,” intended to explore how we choose what and who to trust, and what affects what we believe.

One of my picks: Matt Taibbi, New York Times best-selling author and Rolling Stone contributing editor, discussing his new book, “I Can’t Breathe: A Killing on Bay Street,” which explores Eric Garner’s death in 2014 during a confrontation with police. Taibbi’s hour-long dialogue with Chicago Police Board President Lori Lightfoot was captivating for many reasons, but he made one important point PR professionals would do well to remember.

Taibbi said he was motivated to explore Garner’s life and death so comprehensively because the media reporting on him in the wake of his death made him seem like a “cardboard figure” – less a real person than a symbol of police brutality and systemic racism, reduced to the barest fact of his death.

In addition to the media’s making Garner a token figure rather than showing him as a human being, Taibbi also said some of what was presented at the time was “not accurate.”

Taibbi acknowledged that not every reporter has the “luxury” of doing what he did – immersing himself for years in a single subject – but everyone has a responsibility to check their facts and hold themselves to the highest accountability when it comes to accuracy, and this applies to PR professionals as well. No matter how badly we want the media placement or to make the client happy, our first allegiance should be to the truth. Intentionally distorting or disregarding the facts destroys your (and your agency’s) credibility with media and with clients’ customer bases.

Shaping what an audience believes in a way that is favorable to a client is a pinnacle of successful PR – but creating a belief that isn’t reinforced by truth borders on dishonest. PR pros need to strive for the right mix of positive messaging and truth to remain credible in their pitches, content, strategy and campaigns.

Mary Beth Nevulis

Author Mary Beth Nevulis

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