Do I know you?

News bureau chief, Adam Reuter has interviewed Richard Edelman, CEO of the world’s biggest independent public relations firm, in SecondLife (well really at the World Economic Forum in Davos). 

Presenting this in a virtual world is rather peculiar since Edelman’s latest Trust Barometer research highlights the importance of “people like you” as the most trusted.  I’m bemused to see an interview of an avatar rather than a straight video post – isn’t this impersonal and less trustworthy?

The results have been covered from a number of angles in blogosphere – owing to the attendance of many big hitters at the launch of the survey.  But I haven’t seen anyone noting the irony in the methodology.  The reports the 3,000 opinion leaders surveyed are college (University) educated, have an annual income of $75-100,000 and have a significant interest in economics and politics; reading or viewing several media each day.  Does this make them like most people – or are respondents saying they trust others with these “above average” characteristics?

presents an interesting table from the research that reveals declining credibility for most types of spokespeople (in UK, France and Germany).  Academics in particular have fallen in credibility – which could be the consequence of their participation in pseudo-surveys.  Similarly celebrities (entertainer/athlete) are seen as a credible source of information by only one in ten respondents (from 12% last year).

This is mirrored by low ranking – and a slump in credibility – for PR executives – down to 9% of respondents (from 16% a year earlier) reporting information from this source as credible.  What the general categories don’t necessarily draw out is whether a personal connection with a PR person, for example, makes them more credible.  I feel such studies rely more on stereotypes than drawing on anyone’s real life experience.  Reinforcing the negative reputation over the professional reality for many in PR.

Trust also depends on the context, which can get lost in a broad survey.  The Oxford English Dictionary provides many perspectives on trust – from belief in reliability and reliance on truth without examination, to confident expectation and obligations of responsibility.

So if public relations practitioners want to be more trusted – and likewise their spokespersons – a greater focus on the reliability and truthfulness of communications, delivery on the expectations we create and fulfilling our obligations to be responsible must be key.

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Heather Yaxley PhD

Dr. Heather Yaxley is passionate about sustainable careers, reflective practice and professional development. I am a rhizomatic educator, practitioner, consultant, academic and scholar. As a qualified academic, I teach the CIPR professional qualifications with PR Academy and have experience teaching at various Universities. I run the Motor Industry Public Affairs Association (MIPAA) and my own strategic consultancy. I was awarded by PhD researching Career Strategies in Public Relations by Bournemouth University in 2017. I'm a published author, with books, chapters and academic papers to my name.

2 thoughts on “Do I know you?”

  1. As I understood it, WEF is more open to a wider group of people and through presence of media and journalists, etc, some aspects are being reported. Although Richard Sambrook was posting about Chatham Rules being applied for discussions outside the main presentations – so clearly selectively open.

    I believe that Bilderbergers is a group of only a hundred of so and little is known about what goes on at these high security events. Probably nothing as exciting as conspiricy theorists speculate, but all the same, it seems like a secret and powerful group.

    This all belies the fact that we’re supposed to have democracies. The people excluded from any of these forums are ordinary people – so those with power whether in NGOs, governments, big business, mega media etc – let us little people in only on selective snippets.

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