Richard Edelman,  president and CEO of Edelman, a leading global communications marketing firm, told participants at the National Press Club Communicators Summit on Oct. 18 that Americans “don’t trust institutions” – specifically, media and government –  and this is a growing trend worldwide.

Citing from a report prepared by his company – the Edelman Trust Barometer – he said Americans are becoming more polarized because the system is “failing them.”

The theme of the growing lack of trust was a central focus of his remarks as he stated the “new battleground is trust” and the growing “middle class divide” is at the “crisis level.”  According to Edelman, another growing area of distrust is related to business, and he cited the increased focus on sexual harassment cases, such as Harvey Weinstein.

The one area that, in the past, has done well in surveys, he said, was NGOs, which have been “sainted” institutions, but their “lack of performance” is impacting their positive image.

One consequence of this pervasive lack of trust has been that the public now gets its news through peers on Facebook and other social media outlets, where information goes directly to end users rather than through the traditional media.  In fact, he said, peer-to-peer information, for many, is “much more believable” and it has reached a point where the traditional media is considered by many to be highly politicized, the bastion of the elite, ignoring the lives and voices of everyday people – and a source of “fake news”.  He said the media needs to  go to Des Moines and make news relevant to people in America’s heartland. He stated that “the decline of trust in media is the big story of 2017.”

He also stated that public relations has contributed to the current crisis because, in business, “it was an instrument for defense of the old order” and, instead, “must be forward looking.”   In short, he said, PR can move companies from defense to offense.

One way to address this lack of trust, he said, is for organizations to understand that they are part of society and need to develop an employee-first attitude and, where there is an issue, show “both sides of the story.”   It’s time, he said, for business to “stand up and speak up” and the public must be educated “so they stop operating on emotion.”

During the Q&A part of the event, led by NPC President Jeff Ballou,  Mitch Marovitz, Chair of the PR program at the University of Maryland University College and Vice-chair of the Universal Accreditation Board, the organization that oversees the Accreditation in Public Relations certification in coordination with its member participating organizations, including the Public Relations Society of America, brought up the inadequacy of ethics training for PR professionals – not more than an annual one-hour computer-based training from industry associations – and Edelman agreed, citing the need for more training.  The conversation morphed into a greater need for journalists and PR professionals that would create greater trust between these communicators.  The result was a handshake by Ballou and Edelman to develop a joint ethics training program for journalists and PR practitioners.

The National Press Club Communicators Summit was a half-day event held at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C.

You can read more of Edelman’s remarks here.

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