Stir PR, fake news

Opinion: Trust us… we work in brand communications!

Stir MD Alicia Mellish reveals why she believes declining trust is the most pressing issue in PR today – and invites you to a debate the agency is holding on the topic.

Stir PR, Allicia Mellish

Alicia Mellish

Just over 18 months ago, Stir embarked upon a journey to question and challenge its understanding of the world of brand communications. A strange thing to admit, perhaps.

This decision wasn’t based on a crisis of confidence, rather, it was clear to us that the preceding 5-10 years had been a period of unprecedented change in the way in which people, businesses and indeed brands communicate and interact with one another.

The dawn of the digital era had catapulted us all into unchartered territory.

Public communication channels are no longer the playground of the privileged few within the media. Instead, everyday people have embraced a world of interconnectivity and supercharged self-expression.

Social media platforms mean that all of us (at least all in the UK) can broadcast free from geographical restrictions and government censorship. And, while the objective of PR has remained the same, the practice, mechanics and tools have changed dramatically.

The question we wanted to ask ourselves was: “Given the increase in communication the rise of social and online media affords, how are we as a communications agency adapting our approach to cut through the noise, drive value and achieve success for our clients?”

All our analysis kept bringing us back to variations on just one theme – trust:

  • Consumers have lost trust in brands and are instead turning to each other and influencers for advice, tips and other interactions.
  • It’s time to shift away from top-down “brand broadcast”, in favour of interaction with consumers as humans. We must communicate using language and narratives that are empathic and relevant to our audience.
  • In today’s crowded media landscape, qualitative targeting of a focused audience is far more effective than a broad-brush approach with wide reach.
  • Cause-related brand partnerships should be developed from genuine shared values, if they are to be perceived as being authentic.
  • Transparency of brand operations is important above all else.

Our pause for thought 18 months ago has proved timely indeed. Terms like “fake news” and “post-truth era” are now established catchphrases that haunt today’s PR professionals.

Always pushing for progress, the question we ask ourselves today at Stir is more specific than simply “what’s new in communications?” It is focused on audience trust: “In an age plagued with scepticism, how can brands build and maintain consumer trust for tomorrow?”

That’s why, next Wednesday (27 September) Stir is hosting a panel debate to explore this very question. Thought leaders in brand marketing, trust analysis and human behaviour will discuss how brands might go about nurturing trust in order to drive advocacy in our “post-truth era”.

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