Why PR Should Be Replaced by 'Trust Relations'

If all companies focused on what they could do for their customers, not what their customers could do for them, the world would be a much different place.

Two diverse businesspeople chatting sitting behind laptop
fizkes/stock.adobe.com

I once asked someone I greatly admire: "How can we convince people of something we want them to know?"

"Respectfully, it's the wrong question," he replied. He went on to compare controlling the narrative to mind control.

"I don't think you should spend one minute focusing on how what you say translates to the other person. Instead, you should be concerned with weighing and measuring your deeds and actions so that they resonate with one's true self."

This response jarred me, considering I am a veteran public relations professional who has spent nearly the last two decades trying to convince people of the concepts and ideas my clients put forth.

I first got into the field of mass communications in college because I was interested in sharing information I believed people needed to hear — not tricking or bamboozling them.

Even so, what my friend said made a lasting impact. If persuasion itself was invalid without authenticity, then the entire premise of public relations — my profession — needed a paradigm shift.

It was so obvious once he said it that I couldn't believe I hadn't realized it before. Trying to convince others of something you are not fully embodying is a fool's errand at best and, as he put it, "spellcasting" at worst. It's true as an individual, and it's true as a brand.

You can't convince someone you're trustworthy. You have to be trustworthy to be trusted. You can't convince someone you're an industry disruptor. You have to be disruptive. You can't convince people you're diverse. You have to be diverse. Whatever you want people to believe about you, you have to be — and you have to try to embody it more and more authentically over time.

Why the Term 'Public Relations' is Outdated

After I got to thinking about it from this perspective, I became convinced that the term "public relations," which fundamentally implies that a brand is the actor and the public its audience, was passé — or, respectfully, wrong.

A brand should not use psychological manipulation to dictate what its customers should believe about it, or how they should feel about it.

In recent years, expectations around authenticity have changed dramatically due to two-way communications created through social media channels, which smashed the old actor-to-audience model to bits by giving customers an equal voice and a sounding board with astronomical reach.

As a result, simply spinning the story — controlling the narrative and staging public stunts — is a thing of the past. These old-school techniques rarely sway today's savvy and discerning audiences, unless the story is based in truth and reality. Now, it's all about building trust among target audiences by putting those values into action and then communicating them in a persuasive way. In other words, if there is no integrity behind a narrative, or if a brand isn't providing real value to make the world a better place, today's consumers will know (or quickly figure it out).

Brands today must instead authentically position themselves to customers in the way they want to be perceived, and then communicate from that place of congruence. If successful, they will be handsomely rewarded by a positive, customer-fueled feedback loop.

Replacing Public Relations with Trust Relations

This realization inspired me to coin the term "trust relations." Why trust relations? In technology, trust relationships are an administration and communication link between two domains. In communications, I believe they are a bond of mutual respect between a brand and the people it serves.

In other words, trust relations is the art of conveying a brand's authentic actions, value and goodwill, and illustrating them through great storytelling and creative brand activations that demonstrate how the brand best serves its target audiences.

The more brands increase their resonance, acuity and integrity with what they are trying to become, the easier it will be to convince others of this reality. Instead of luring people into believing what they want through messages that manipulate their audience's minds and emotions, they are true to their authentic self and actually represent what they say they are. They talk the talk and walk the walk.

The Role of Companies in Ushering in a New Era

Brands, like people, are ultimately intended to be servants of the divine in others. This is a universal truth, whether one believes in the golden rule or that we must be the change we want to see in the world.

I am a big believer in the fact that if you see something you think can or should be done better, and you have the means or talent to do it, then it's your assignment from the universe to complete — and not via an invisible complaint box.

When companies and organizations set out to do this, and make the world a better place by providing a new or improved product or solution that people authentically need or want, it's awe-inspiring. People who work in concert for the same purpose — to serve humanity — can have a far greater impact than if they did so separately.

If all companies focused on what they could do for their customers, not what their customers could do for them, the world would be a much different place. Of course companies must remain profitable; but if their primary focus is on how they can serve the greater good of all by improving the lives of their customers, it would mark the dawning of a new era.

Not only will companies then serve the divine in others, but they will naturally draw their target audiences into their force field through their authenticity and coherence with their higher purpose. When this happens, strategic communications will shift away from PR as we know it — and attempts to control others' perception — and toward trust relations through an organic sharing of the brand's higher calling and true value proposition.

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