PR in the Era of Obama: Why Transparency is Important

One of the early focuses of Obama’s administration has been on government transparency. On his first day in office, the president promised, "Transparency and the rule of law will be the touchstones of this presidency," and already, he has instituted new policies supporting this policy of government openness. The administration has begun to post documents from official meetings with outside organizations on its Web site – the first administration to do so.

In PR, the push for greater transparency began long before Obama – driven by a changing media landscape where information flows more freely than it did a generation ago. Mark Hanna notes this in the post “Transparency as a PR Strategy, not a Tactic” on PBS’s MediaShift blog:

“The old rule was really about discretion. PR professionals must constantly consider how even their most seemingly inconsequential statements can be interpreted, contextualized (or de-contextualized), and publicized to unintended audiences. In a profession that encourages out-of-the-box thinking, it's a good and useful rule. But in the digital media era, it's a bit outdated.”

In the era of Web 2.0 communications, a company that isn’t forthcoming risks being exposed by bloggers, reviewers or others online. “What you don't admit to in public will hit the news in a nanosecond or two anyway,” Nick Morgan notes in a post on corporate transparency on the Harvard Business Review blog.

There are other reasons, too, that the public values transparency today: you only need to look to the Madoff and Stanford Financial scandals. In these financially treacherous times, openness is reassuring – and people value it in the companies they work for, work with, and invest in. In addition, the influence of Obama’s transparency policy reaches out of the White House and into the private sector. For recipients of stimulus bill funds or government bailout money, transparency and accountability are mandated, as the government ensures that its money is used wisely.

The take-away? Transparency isn’t just a mantra of Obama administration – it’s a new principle of PR that should be an important consideration in any PR plan.

- Contributed by Katherine Leahey