Public Doesn’t Mistrust PR Pros – It Mistrusts Everyone

By Nick Paradise, Ethics Chair

PR practitioners: are you worried that the general public doesn’t trust you? That your neighbors, colleagues and the people watching on TV think you deal in lies and deceit? Don’t feel so bad. They don’t trust anyone else either.

The 2017 Edelman Trust Barometer,  the international PR firm’s 17th annual effort, found what it calls a “global implosion” in trust.

“Trust is in crisis around the world. The general population’s trust in all four key institutions — business, government, non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and media — has declined broadly, a phenomenon not reported since Edelman began tracking trust among this segment in 2012.”

Among those four institutions, only NGOs and business had a majority of trust, though both still barely hovered above the 50 percent mark. The media saw the largest year-over-year decline with 5 percentage points. Shockingly, the survey found that people trust search engines more than they trust any form of media out there.

As PR professionals, the survey’s results may be a double-edged sword. On one hand, they don’t just look suspiciously at us; they look that way at everyone.

Yet, our profession is inexorably tied to the media, and we certainly play a role in the perception of businesses, government and executive leadership. Is this noted decline in trust an indictment on the work we do as PR pros? Or an indicator that too many organizations out there are ignoring the advice of those paid to burnish their employer’s image?

Whatever the answer, we need to work to change this. But how? A critical component is to encourage ethical behavior in communications and operations. Full transparency isn’t possible in many fields, but openness needs to be valued over opaqueness. The PRSA Code of Ethics states its primary values as Advocacy, Honesty, Expertise, Independence, Loyalty and Fairness. We must remember that these traits are not only to be exhibited in service to our employer, but equally so towards the public.

It’s not easy, and we may not win the boardroom battle every time, but it’s on us to push the organizations we represent to adhere to high standards of truth and knowledge, to be accountable for our actions, to seek to ultimately serve the public interest and to deal fairly with everyone we interact with— whether it be clients, employers, competitors, peers, vendors, the media or the general public. Only through upholding these values, and steady changes in how we all do business, can we hope to begin restoring trust in the institutions we represent.

Part of being an ethical PR practitioner is to put yourself in the shoes of every stakeholder when considering courses of action and to serve as a sort of conscience for your client or company. After all, if you’re not doing it, who will?


Nick Paradise is director of public relations at Kennywood Park and also serves as Ethics Chair for PRSA Pittsburgh.

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