Is Edelman right about being authentic?

Global PR consultancy Edelman is merging its online “brands” with a mission of creating “authentic communications” – I quote:

Edelman Digital’s mission is to create authentic communications programs that enable conversation and collaboration between companies, brands and their audiences across an increasingly complex digital landscape.

A new blog expands on The Principles of Authentic Communications:

Our USP / point-of-difference at Edelman Digital can be summed up in two words: Authentic Communications. Frankly, getting to those two words was the easy part; delivering on that promise is anything but. That said, it is what we will strive to acheive for every client, every day.

[Yes, the typo was in the original post]

Staking claim to the term was always a risk – not just for the consultancy, but its clients.  Already Wal-Mart’s latest online efforts, an employee blog (apparently not even created by Edelman this time) are being criticised for lacking authenticity.   

I find the concept of trying to “own” a word to be rather bizarre, but at least Edelman doesn’t appear to have tried to trademark “authentic”.  Nevertheless, Strumpette has already turned her wicked eye to the initiative – so I decided to check out this word: authentic.

Its etymology is from the Greek “to accomplish or master”, meaning authoritative, indicating a basis of fact, conforming to an original, trustworthy, not imitating.  Synonyms are genuine and bona fide – implying sincerity of intention.

Who could argue with an aim of mastery or authority?  If PR is to be respected, it needs to be trustworthy, genuine and have sincerity of intention. 

But authenticity is quite a claim for any form of communications – it seems to rule out any attempt at persuasion, unless you are open and honest about your motives.  Can you guarantee that every statement is 100% factual and accurate?  What about perspectives or interpretation?

Creating a “brand concept” is easy – but living any promise is harder, especially when it appears to be value driven.  It will be very hard to achieve a reputation for authentic communications.  So is Edelman right to even strive for this goal – are such mission statements of any use in reality?  Will staff be assessed on the authenticity of their communications – from the pitch process to every client statement?  Does that rule out gossip around the watercooler?

Authentic communications seems a worthy ambition (although very badly expressed in corporate gobblygook), but is it just a normative ideal or will Edelman be able to live up to their claims in reality.  That takes real authenticity.

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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.

5 thoughts on “Is Edelman right about being authentic?”

  1. Hmmm. “Authentic” PR (i.e., real, traditional, genuine, significant, purposive, factual – take your pick from my dictionary). Makes me wonder what they’ve been doing for the past umpteen years.

  2. Hello! I’ve been reading your blog for a while and thought this was an interesting post – this was the first I heard Edelman was merging its online brands. As you wrote, Heather,…authenticity is quite a claim for any form of communications. While it’s an admirable mission, it makes one wonder why Edelman hasn’t strived to be authentic in the past? And furthermore, how are they going to assess their authenticity?

  3. Greg and Lindsay – thanks for your thoughts. It is interesting that if you say you are now doing something, the implication is that you weren’t doing this before.

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