Aside from being competent and capable, success for business advisers and consultants depends on two critical characteristics – reputation and trust.
Communications advisers in particular are very aware of this – most of the communication strategies they develop for their clients are aimed at enhancing reputation and building trust.
With the Federal election imminent, trust has again become a focal point in politics, with candidates screaming “trust me, trust me”.
There’s nothing new in this, although more recently there does seem to be an increase in the efforts of political parties not only to boast of their own trustworthiness, but to spend time and money on trying to trash that of the opposition.
In the cut-throat worlds of politics and business, there is always the temptation to demonise competitors when there is nothing positive left to say about yourself. It’s also a fact of life, especially political life, that if you have a huge promotional budget and you’ve said everything about yourself that you can, some will end up being spent on attacking the competition.
It’s not only attacking the reputation and trust of others that is used in political campaigns. There is still old-fashioned propaganda, telling lies or making claims often enough they can become accepted as true.
Fake news on social media is a striking example of the way the use of propaganda has expanded in recent years. Unfortunately, social media has also played a role in enhancing the effectiveness of propaganda.
A study by academics at UC Louvain in Belgium looked at the effect of “Truth by Repetition”. It showed that the more often implausible statements were repeated, the more they slid towards “truth”.
But the study also found that with some respondents, such repetition became counter-productive. I’m sure this is happening at the moment in Australian politics.
Many voters are fed up with unsubstantiated claims repeated ad nauseum, and are simply tuning it out – the good and the bad.
Another aspect of trust and reputation is that external influences and events can change the way people and organisations are seen.
It is perhaps not surprising that during the pandemic last year, the professionals who were the most trusted came from medical services.
The Roy Morgan Image of Professions Survey 2021 showed that nurses, doctors and pharmacists topped the list for ethics and honesty, while at the bottom were the usual suspects of real estate agencies, advertising people, and car salesmen.
Politicians were not ranked in this particular survey, but last year’s “Australian Readers Digest Trusted Professionals Survey” placed them firmly at the bottom of the top 30. Doctors, nurses, and paramedics filled the top three.
Where would public relations practitioners rate if they were included? Probably not very well as a profession. But for us it comes down to the people. Do our clients and the others we deal with and rely on, trust our firm, its principals and its employees? And what must we do to maintain a high standard of service in a way that enhances our reputation? The advice we give to clients applies to us as well – show, don’t tell, that we can be trusted and relied on.