How to Appear Trustworthy to the Public

A lot of people who don’t really understand PR believe that our work is about overhyping or spinning stories to be larger than they are or in some way misleading the public during times of crisis so they never figure out the truth. None of this is actually true. The truth is public relations (when executed correctly) is about trust. But how do PR companies and publicists make a client/corporation/entity appear trustworthy to the public? What are the public relations tactics we use and—do they work?

Ok, here are three great pieces of advice to accomplish this—

  1. Engage in honest business practices and do what you say you will do — All of the PR spin in the world just isn’t going to help if the business engages in dishonest business practices. So first and foremost, be honest. PR is sometimes called the “conscience” of the organization because we understand the importance of honesty and transparency in building the key relationships we’ll need to accomplish our business goals. Whenever a promise is made, it’s important to fulfill that promise because doing this on a regular basis builds trust and not doing it destroys trust. Sounds easy and intuitive, but things can become very blurry when big dollar amounts enter the picture. I’ve seen it. 
  2. Change the messenger — The first PR people were reporters hired away from newspapers by a home appliance manufacturer to bring a higher level of credibility to the company’s product claims — and let’s face it they had to do this because even way back then no one trusted what the company was claiming. And we see this today. For example, my company is in the process of launching a new kind of virtual reality (VR) system and we need a lot of media/influencers to test it first and make sure our claims are solid BEFORE we take it to the public. Also, when this product launches, it will do so with some positive comments/endorsements from key media/influencers that hopefully will make consumers take a second look at it and come into the buying decision with a lot more trust.  
  3. Be human and admit mistakes — Companies and corporations are faceless, but people aren’t. And people make mistakes. So when a company makes a big mistake, even in public, the best course of action is always to own up to it and show key audiences why you won’t make it again. As easy as this is to say and comprehend, many large brands continue to deflect and deny responsibility or blame the audience for how they interpreted a given action. Take Bud Light for example. That will be studied for years as a textbook example of what not to do. The audience will always be more forgiving and accepting of mistakes and trust the company/brand if the mistakes are handled in the light of day and not discovered or covered up.  

So that’s how we use PR to build trust. Just a quick note to say that just like there are bad doctors, bad lawyers and bad people in every profession you can name, there are some bad PR people out there who lie, cover up lies and engage in deceptive, unethical tactics on their client’s behalf.  But that shouldn’t stop the rest of us from always trying to do things better and using public relations as a way to gain trust and increase the visibility of products and services to new audiences.  

One of the founders of the public relations profession was P.T. Barnum (yep, that one—although I don’t think he could sing like Hugh Jackman). So I like to say that Public Relations has ALWAYS been like a circus. —Welcome to the show!