Trust, credibility and playing the game

If you say that you work in Public Relations, you’re likely to get “the look” – either that you don’t have a real job (I was told that once), or that you “specialise in lying” (I heard that recently) or, even worse, “how can we trust you?”

“Trust” today has multiple meanings – it’s the trust in politicians, in your family, friends and, for the greatest majority of us, trust in whatever media and public information platforms we use.

In my view, the biggest hurdle we have to overcome as Public Relations practitioners is that of gaining back trust. Unlike 20-30 years ago when trusting a PR person was directly related, most of the times, with our ability to cover one’s mess, spin the life out of every single story, master the craft of propaganda and manipulation, today is about telling the truth.

For those of us who still work in a bubble of dark arts, black hat, misinformation and military style disinformation, truth is hard, and trust has nothing to do with it.

Social purpose and corporate social responsibility are no longer in the form of mere website or brochure statements – to be believed, they need to be trusted. Similarly, in our sector’s case, trust in what we say is in its infancy stages.

There’s an even more complex issue here, past the truth, honesty and integrity with which we – members of either CIPR or PRCA – need to exercise our duties: that is our own credibility.

Lately, the narrative on various blogs and Twitter chats is screaming for a “seat at the table” and “board recognition”. While it is, of course, necessary to constantly argue both in our own echo chambers, we need to hold that discussion with those who have the power to give us the seat at the table or appoint us with that much coveted board position.

In a business setting, trust in our competencies and skills, in our ability to see a business concept through its entire journey – together with its various ramifications and impacts on the business (financially and reputationally) has a lot to do with the truth.

If we are to have the skills we need, we need to be trusted that we tell the truth – that we don’t beautify it, spin it, inflate or deflate the potential consequences. And here comes one of the biggest paradox of the business world: your competency and ability to get the job done does not necessarily help you climb the career ladder or get a seat at the table. Your ability to “play the game” does.

And this ability, funnily enough, is also deeply rooted in trust: can you see the full picture and the agendas at play? Do you understand that if X gets appointed as Vice President (let’s say), Y may not get the funding or the board approval for his/her project to proceed?

Being an “observer” in our line of work, knowing when to sit back and watch or wait, knowing when to grab an opportunity and run with it, knowing when to demonstrate that you can be trusted (in all respects I mentioned above), and being confident that you can achieve what you committed do will give you much more than trust: they will lend you credibility.

Photo by The Climate Reality Project on Unsplash

Founding Chartered PR Practitioner, CIPR Board member (2018), former UK Government Communication Services and Institute of Directors mentor, published author and university lecturer, Ella has almost 20 years of high level government and international organisations experience in corporate reputation, leadership and crisis management, across business disciplines and governments, including investment markets, lender organisations, national and international media, NGOs and affected communities. She is a 2014 Service Award Winner of the Society of Petroleum Engineers, Assessor of CIPR's Chartered Scheme, an elected member of the CIPR Council (2017-2018), Founder of CIPR’s Energy Leadership Platform, former Chair of CIPR’s Foresight Panel and a Fellow of the Institute of Leadership and Management. She handled some of the most prominent international crisis of recent times, she developed the Leadership Development Programme for SPE’s MENA young engineers and she has also been an adviser to several governments on their national branding strategies. Her list of clients includes McKinsey & Company, Boston Consulting Group, Total, BP, Shell, Centrica, KazTransOil, Averda, The World Bank, Private Investment Development Group, the European Commission, the European Bank For Reconstruction and Development and many others. She is also Robert Gordon University's Lead Trainer for the Crisis Communication Diploma (CIPR Specialist Diploma).

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  1. Thanks for an insightful piece Ella. Sometimes we have to stand up to our senior leaders and explain the consequences of a communication (or lack of) if we see potential issues. Being brave and considering all options and eventualities means we will build more trust and credibility amongst our peers, in the PR community and eventually beyond so ‘PR spin’ becomes an antiquated concept!

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