We now live in a world where we can say anything we like, unchecked, and as long as someone believes us it’s fine. That’s free speech right? Isn’t that what democracies are made of? After all, it just comes back to basic communication – to be successful, it requires a message to be sent, received and understood by the recipient. No problem there then.
However, in that message the truth matters doesn’t it? Unless it is a deliberate lie, surely it is the moral duty of the sender to offer the truth for the recipient to accept or reject. That’s where the problem starts. Back in the old days when we had a few channels (I remember Channel 4 launching) people had trust in institutions. If BBC news said something, you pretty much accepted it was true on the basis they had investigated each side of the story and reported the facts as they saw them. These days of course, the BBC represents the left wing elites of course… This stuff used to exist around the fringes but it is now mainstream.
Widespread distrust presents danger for all sorts of professions, not least PR consultants and advertising agencies. After all, if people don’t believe (or attack) the messages from our clients we’re all in big trouble.
Of course in public relations there is always an agenda. I can remember when ‘spin’ – a way of presenting facts/information to suit an agenda was demonised by the media, the Blair government were constantly accused of it.
At a more sinister level, today’s political advisers know that social media offers them the perfect opportunity to influence and increase the number of people following them. I’ve just heard President Obama suggest that it started with the Tea Party in the US. This leap from spin to screaming “FAKE NEWS!” is worrying – is as if the politicians and their advisors thought “F*ck it! We aren’t trusted anyway, we might as well go the whole way”.
Of course, advertising agencies have always been under suspicion. I’ve seen many proud people cry “I’ll never be influenced by advertising” only to be influenced by the so-called dark arts! The fact is we are all biased. How you view the world is made up of so many influencing factors – upbringing, education, workplace, social circles…
The problem really is the erosion of institutions as a filter for establishing the truth. It is compounded by cyber warfare and social media platforms allowing anybody to advertise or upload anything they want.
In a world of instant need for answers, lack of patience in debate; listening and respecting the opinions of others has gone out of fashion. Throw in that people see more messages than ever and the human attention span is now apparently less than a goldfish (or perhaps not) – PR consultants and advertising agencies have a huge challenge to cut through the noise and distrust for their clients.
With so many big problems in the digital media ecosystem, what can be done? Thankfully, here at Fuel we realised long ago that brand communications is less about barking out big messages and more about influencing conversations amongst consumers. The power has shifted from brands to consumers and it won’t be returning. In order to succeed in this changed environment, more attention needs to be paid to research and data to spot trends and act upon them with winning strategies and engaging creativity.
PR consultancies and advertising agencies all over the world need to play their part in restoring trust. It is encouraging to see initiatives such as the Coalition for Better Ads and the IAB Gold Standard certification with so many agencies involved along with brands such as Tesco and McDonalds. There’s a long road ahead but we are on the journey.