PR’s role is to help leaders, businesses and politicians live in the real world

Last night I attended the annual Maggie Nally lecture at the Houses of Parliament. This event is put on in memory of Margaret Nally – the first female president of the Chartered Institute of Public Relations in 1976.

This year Rob Flaherty, CEO Ketchum, gave the keynote speech. Rob’s hypothesis was that we’ve reached the end of the illusion for businesses, their leaders and politicians.

He talked both about the illusions we have around us today and the illusions that communications have created historically. One example he discussed was that of currency. The idea that a piece of paper has a worth because we all believe it has a worth. And of course throughout history there have been samples of illusions created by dictators and political leaders. There are of course positive illusions, and negative illusions.

Rob's argument was that the current mix of new social technologies, globalisation, changing expectations and extreme transparency has led to a shift in power from institutions to individuals. And that this sea change has virtually eliminated the ability to sustain an illusion.

We see examples of this all around us. From the problems of the UK’s financial services sector to Obama’s inability to deliver on his "yes we can" mantra.  

There's a rat in room 112

This has big implications for businesses of all sorts and sizes. Rob discussed this using the example of TripAdviser and Glass Door. Trip advisor, for example, has reformed the travel sector. Personally, I rarely book any hotel without checking it out on trip advisor.

Rob's argument stated that this has had a beneficial effect on the hotel and travel sector. For example, now if there's a rat in room 112 it will be written on Trip Advisor and the manager of the hotel can go and get rid of the rat in room 112.

Another example Rob gave was Glassdoor. This site collects employee feedback on employers. It ranks and gives insight into what companies are like to work for from both current and past employees.

These technologies and this transparency is a huge opportunity for public relations. PR can help businesses, their leaders and politicians live in the real world. And good public relations will advise our businesses to communicate honestly and transparently in a way that must be aligned to their business culture and the business practices.

The era of the illusion is over.

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