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How to Avoid a Questionable Professional Reputation

Posted At: January 1, 2008 10:08 AM
by Amy Kassis

Anyone in the field of public relations would agree that slander and libel—spoken and written defamation, respectively—are real and critical issues in our industry. Slander is spoken defamation and libel is written defamation. According to Christine Pfendt, CEO of Citigate Cunningham, a strategic public relations firm in San Francisco, Calif., it is crucial for practitioners to scrutinize everything their clients say. Otherwise, one might end up in court with a defamation suit, which could ultimately lead to a questionable professional reputation.

“Public relations practitioners must have a sense of self confidence and integrity when dealing with clients; we need to believe that everything we and our clients say, write and publish is true,” Pfendt said.

David Bartlett, the senior vice president of Levick Strategic Communications LLC in Washington, D.C., would agree with Pfendt’s theory of reliability.

According to Bartlett, “Defamation should definitely be of concern to public relations practitioners because of the potential risk of harming someone by publishing statements about them that are untrue.”

While slander and libel factor into many professions, public relations practitioners in particular need to be extremely cautious to avoid slander and libel because of their constant communication with the media. According to Pfendt, practitioners are actual extensions of the companies they work for. Hence, they are oftentimes their company’s spokesperson—the face of that company—which is even more reason to be careful when addressing the media.

“To protect yourself and your clients from actions of defamation you should do whatever you reasonably can to make sure that anything you or your client publishes is verifiably true and properly attributed,” Bartlett said.

The first step to avoiding defamation is simple but extremely important: get your facts right and be sure not to assume anything. A practitioner must do whatever he or she can to ensure that the statements that he or she uses are 100 percent accurate. According to Bartlett, avoiding slander and libel involves not publishing anything that could potentially be false, which is a common mistake that leads to defamation suits.

“Truth is the best defense,” Bartlett said.

As a public relations practitioner, keeping a positive image for your company should be your absolute goal. Avoiding slander, libel, a questionable reputation and a lawsuit is simple: always tell the truth.

E-mail: David Bartlett
E-mail: Christine Pfendt

What precautions do you take or do you intend on taking in order to avoid a defamation suit?

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