This one is personal for me. My daughter had been talking for weeks about a special teacher that has been helping her fifth grade class, and many others in our school district, prepare for the state-administered exams, NJ ASK. As a reward for their great work, this staff developer (not her regular teacher) promised the children that Lady Gaga would visit the school via videoconference and talk to them. Since the staff developer claimed that she had worked for MTV and knew Lady Gaga personally, she could make this happen. For weeks the children had been anticipating this event, and even parents and teachers were impressed and anticipating this exciting event in the school district. This week, the big day arrived and my daughter arrived home thrilled to tell me about the Skype conference she had with Lady Gaga and to proudly show me the autographed photo she received, personalized just for her. Later that night, she watched Lady Gaga on American Idol and felt so proud to have had the chance to meet her personally – even if it was just over the Internet.
Unfortunately, it was all a lie. Today we received a notification from the school that it turns out that this staff developer duped all of the children, teachers and principals in four separate elementary schools by conducting the videoconferences with a Lady Gaga Impersonator! How did this all unravel? One of the kids in the district searched the Internet and found that the Lady Gaga signature on her autographed photo did not match what she found online – and thus, the thread unraveled the whole story.
As furious as I am – that the school allowed this person to lie to hundreds of children, and permit an unknown person into their classrooms (albeit via Skype), I am also sad that this will probably be the first time my daughter finds out that you can’t always trust those close to you. That disappointment and suspicion will probably stay with her and all of the 3rd, 4th and 5th grade students in our school district and color their trust and belief in teachers and educators for much of their academic career.
How does this relate to PR and business?
1. Lying is never a good option.
2. One lie can damage your credibility and reputation for life. It can also cost you your job and future opportunities.
3. One lie from one individual can have ramifications far beyond that one person. It can cast your associates, your organization and your industry in a negative light.
4. It will come out, one way or another.
There are many people that think public relations is about telling tales or ‘spin’. I have never knowingly lied on behalf of a client or intentionally lied to a colleague or reporter and I would never ask a staff member to do so either. I have kept things in confidence or shared information on a need to know basis – but that is not the same as intentional deception. It takes much more strength of character and integrity to tell the truth than to use a lie as an easy way out – whether or not you think you will get caught.
It’s a valuable lesson for PR professionals as well as anyone in business.
I will give a nod to the school district for notifying parents and children as soon as they uncovered the truth. I just wish they had done their due diligence beforehand to prevent this type of incident from happening.