Over the course of my career I’ve been fortunate to work with a number of successful projects and companies. One of the things that never fails to amaze me is how once a successful project is over how quickly people are to take credit for its success.
I worked for the Salt Lake Organizing Committee for the Olympic Winter Games of 2002 (SLOC). After the Games, I’d run into people in various capacities and was impressed at times and surprised at others with how well they had leveraged their Olympic experience to further their careers. In some instances the career advancements were deserved. In others they were totally bogus.
About a year after the Olympics I was working at a public relations (PR) firm in Utah and the firm was looking to hire some new employees. After one interview, my boss came to me and said she had just finished interviewing one of my colleagues from the Olympics. I naturally asked who it was and when she told me his name I had no idea who she was talking about. It was somebody I had never met or even heard of.
She went on to explain some of the things he claimed to have done for SLOC. I knew for a fact that he had not done some of the things he claimed. It was obvious to my boss that he had embellished as well.
Recently, with another client, my team and I completed a highly successful event. At the completion of the project one of the clients team members left to take a new job. After she left somebody directed us to her LinkedIn account where we discovered that she had taken credit for not only her responsibilities, but those of the entire marketing, PR and events team’s accomplishments. Without a doubt, these claims helped her secure her new position.
From a PR perspective this practice is fraught with potential pitfalls. My best advice in these situations is to be honest. Honesty is always the best policy. If you start embellishing or lying about your contribution to a project or business it becomes difficult to remember what lies you’ve told and to who you told them to.
The media is always looking for facts. Their job is dependent on building trust with their audience and the way to do that is by providing the facts and being honest. If you lie to them, they’ll catch you. You may get away with it once or twice, but when you get caught in a lie the results can be devastating.
Former United States President Richard Nixon lied to the country and to the press. Rather than own up to his lies he essentially challenged the media to catch him in a lie. Washington Post reporters Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein did just that. The two reporters uncovered information suggesting that knowledge of a break-in at the Watergate hotel, and attempts to cover it up, led deeply into the Justice Department, the FBI, the CIA, and the White House ultimately costing Nixon the Presidency.
In the late 1970’s FBI agent Joseph D. Pistone went undercover as Donnie Brasco. His undercover work was designed to infiltrate the Mafia n New York City. Pistone worked undercover for six years infiltrating the Bonanno crime family and the Colombo crime family, two of the Five Families on the mafia in New York City.
During these six years, Pistone’s story was challenged many times and he was consistent in his cover story. After his undercover operation ended, Pistone credited his success to not lying or embellishing unnecessarily. He stuck to his cover story and never deviated making it easy to keep track of the facts and be consistent even under the intense pressure of working with the Mob.
In the examples I gave above of former colleagues, neither lasted very long in these next positions. They had taken so much credit and lied so extensively about their qualifications, abilities and overall contributions to the successful projects that expectations were off the charts and so high that it was only a matter of time before their new employers discovered that they weren’t capable of actually doing what they said the could and had already done.
If you lie to the media, it won’t take long for them to catch on either. Once they do uncover the truth your credibility will be destroyed and they won’t want to have anything to do with you. If you stick to the facts and are honest you’ll build successful, long-term relationships of trust that will benefit you for years to come and will do more to help build your brand as a trusted source than any lie could ever do.