Trust Me, PR is Dead

By Robert Phillips

The Former EMEA President and CEO of the world’s largest PR firm on the end of PR

You can't write that.

“Why not? It’s the truth.”

“It may well be the truth, but that doesn’t mean you won’t get sued.”

“Isn’t there a certain irony in a book about the end of PR not being able to tell the truth?”


Such are the perils of having a libel lawyer for a sister.

Be careful what you ask for (in this case an advance read of this book).

I owe a lot to my younger sister. For a start, she laughs at my jokes. We share the same dark sense of humour. Famously, we deliberately provoked a giggling outbreak at our father’s funeral thirty years ago. Had he been alive and not in the coffin, John would have laughed with us. But of course, the majority of mourners, who knew us less well, were happily shocked. They wanted to see the truth their way. Funerals were for sadness and tears only.

Truth somehow seems to hurt and people somehow struggle to see and tell it as it is.

Jane and I were 19 and 21 years old at the time. Our sense of truth then would serve as an anchor for both our future careers.

Jane mailed me after reading an early draft of this book.

It is beautifully written.

I felt chuffed.

But you can’t say that.

“Why not?”

Because █████ is notoriously litigious.

“But that’s exactly what happens. He always either arrives late or leaves early. Despite his success and his wealth, he is obviously desperate to get noticed.”

It’s not going in. Trust me.

Trust is a funny word. As we will see, it has been used and abused to the point of exhaustion. I would happily ban the ‘t-word’ forever – or at least campaign for its suspension from the English language for a decade or two. CEOs and Politicians have become notoriously serial offenders – living proof that trust often spoken is trust rarely earned.

And, over the past ten years or so, “trust” has somehow been kidnapped by the Public Relations industry. My alma mater, Edelman, the world’s largest Public Relations firm, has placed its Trust Barometer front-and-centre of its intellectual argument. Others sell to endless promises of trust. A quick Google search will reveal the headlines, as so-and-so or such-and-such is hired by a bank/energy firm/oil major (insert an industry of choice) to restore their particular trust deficit. But trust is not a message. It is an outcome. We must beware the PR firm that suggests otherwise.

Excited by the calamitous state of world business, many opportunists in the Public Relations industry see trust as a vital lifeline for an otherwise moribund “profession” (please note the use of inverted commas; no professional qualifications are in fact required). But PR has run out of options and, as this book explores, has missed its moment to lead. It is in terminal decline. About to be over-run and overwhelmed by the age of data, PR today is to communications what analogue was to digital at the turn of the century. I am afraid PR is dead, even though the body may still twitch for a while.

Few will mourn its passing.

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