Is it possible to build trust through PR?

Today Robert Philips made an important, yet controversial point concerning PR and trust in his article PR is dead: Public leadership is the future in PR Week.

He said the following:

“PR has abused and exhausted trust. The restoration of trust is not a function of PR. Trust is not a message but an outcome. It is complex and fragile. There is no single action, no silver bullet campaign, to resolve the trust deficit. Trust is hard-fought, hard-earned, hard-won every day – by actions, not words. If trust is the desired outcome, then PR is not the appropriate sol-ution. Beware the PR firm that talks and promises otherwise.”

Although there are some brilliant points made here, let me generally disagree. PR is the bridge between an organisation and its stakeholders (or at least it should be). It helps the organisation understand what their stakeholders’ expectations are and how they should behave to be successful. On the other hand, stakeholders can gain valuable information about the organisation through PR providing information and explaining the organisation’s motivations and actions. This is essentially what a lots of PR definitions mean by ’mutual understanding’. And yes, most of the times this process is carried out utilising the written or spoken word. Following on this line of thought, if there was not this bridge (=PR) between organisation and stakeholders, there would be no way to make a connection between them and there would be no way to understand each other. In other words, there would be no way to trust each other.

Reputation, a huge part of which is trust, is defined by John Doorley and Fred Garcia in ‘Reputation Management’ (2nd ed., 2011) as

 REPUTATION = SUM OF IMAGES = Performance + Behaviour + Communication

All of the above are “critical components of reputation”, they say.

Accordingly, although it is true that PR in itself will not make an organisation trusted, if the trustworthy behaviour and performance of an organisation is not communicated effectively and clearly towards its stakeholders – using PR and words – trust will never develop or never will be maintained. In a nutshell, if stakeholders do not know about that an organisation is trustworthy, it is not trustworthy.

Indeed, according to the Edelman Trust Barometer 2014, communicating frequently and honestly on the state of the business and listening to customer needs and feedback are key to build trust. Thus, PR can build trust – if used well.

edelman trust

Finally, watch a thought-provoking video about the importance of trust below.

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