Sunday, February 08, 2009

Did PR fail the banking industry? Arguably so says Edelman

Richard Edelman was the principle guest in a wide-ranging one-hour For Immediate Release live discussion on BlogTalk Radio on 7 February on the topic of trust from the communicator’s perspective.

He was asked about the need for organisations to have well managed relationships to enable trust to flourish and, given that relationships is the PR turf in management, did public relations fail the banking industry?

He responded that he was "... not sure that PR people sufficiently made mention of the downside to an entirely de-regulated environment because because people were making so much money. "

Richard Edelman said "I think that the job of the communicator within the organisation goes beyond press relations or social media outreach.

"I really think our job is at the table as advisers bridged to constituencies that the corporation does not have relationships with, whether NGO's or social active groups or whatever".

He speculated on whether PR failed in the crisis saying: "Arguably so, because I am not sure we exactly have a vision of what the surviving institutions are going to be.

"The need is still there to establish what the vision is of the financial institution of the future."

"Our job is to think dimensionally.

"It is a matter of policy.... that we have to advocate (and) not just be a crisis manager."

Given that Richard Edelman is the CEO of the largest independent PR firm in the world, these are significant statements. They show a level of uncertainty about the role of PR and imply criticism of the practice in the financial sector.

In addition, he is, not far from my perspective (if, necessarily, less strident).

I have argued:

"The world is going through financial turmoil because public relations practitioners were just not up to the job.

When one banker cannot trust another banker there is a breakdown of not just trust but relationships and an absence of meaningful, symmetrical communication. Who was the manager responsible within the organisation for trust, relationships and communication? Where are the PR practitioners 'expanding their influence within complex organizations'?

Can we now see senior members of the PR industry moving towards a view that relationships served by poor PR is, in itself toxic?

Having considered the many domains of PR practice (PDF) that "beyond press relations or social media outreach" and thinking through the knock on effect between the different disciplines, this is a matter for all practitioners.

There is more to come out of this and it needs to be an open debate in the PR sector. Not to discuss this openly will affect trust in the profession of public relations, which takes us back to the debate in the FIR programme.