How to Keep your Message Credible

In a world spun on spin, publicity and infotainment, how can you believe a word anyone says?

Public relations professionals may, gulp, hold the answer: few are better at dancing lightly around the snares of irrelevance, imprecision and even untruth. This month we take advice from Shawn Hall, president of the Canadian Public Relations Society; Alyn Edwards, vice-president of Peak Communicators Inc.; and Norman Stowe, managing partner of the Pace Group.



People are generally smart, and the best way to come off as sincere and credible is to have information that’s sincere and credible, says Hall. Above all, says Edwards, your reputation must be beyond reproach: the credibility of your message rests on your integrity as a communicator. “If you’re suspect,” he says, “any information you put forth will be questioned.” At some point, you may have to tell a client, “I won’t say that on your behalf.”


“People are inundated with so much media, they’ve developed sophisticated BS detectors,” says Stowe. “But a good storyteller is someone who can explain a piece of information to the public so that they get it.” The story itself is less about fictive flourishes than it is about creating a narrative with a clear beginning, middle and end. This allows you to contextualize your message and sound the emotional notes that will make your message memorable. Says Stowe, “You have to be able to meet people in a way that matters to them.”


Neophytes assume that the CEO is the best person to deliver a credible message on your company’s behalf. It’s often not the case. The qualities of a good CEO may not translate well to communications and, many times, the organization is already home to someone who has the communications royal jelly. Find that person. If you’re not sure where to start, follow your ears. “At the end of the day,” says Stowe, “your best communicator is your best storyteller.” That’s the person you want talking to the public, regardless of rank.


“A lot of clients speak in their own language – you know, industry speak,” says Stowe. “But when they’re in public, they need to speak the layman’s language.” The point is that your message lives or dies by your ability to translate the inner workings of your business to a wider audience. Make definite – and, more importantly, provable – assertions. It doesn’t do any good to say that you’re the West Coast’s “leading provider” of technical components, says Hall with a laugh. “I mean, what does that even mean?”


If a reporter asks you a question you can’t answer, says Hall, admit it. “It’s not bad to say, ‘You know, our competitors would love to have this information, so I can’t share it with you.’ ” This is a better response than dodging the question or retreating into impenetrable bureaucratese. Be straight about what you can say, he says, and straight about what you can’t. It’s a much larger danger to come off as slick, evasive or shady.