Trust is an elusive thing. Faith in an organisation can be lost at the drop of a hat, a badly-written statement can turn into a full-blown crisis within seconds, and a single tweet can cause a business’s share price to come crashing down.
Business leaders must look to long-term trust-building methods to build a strong foundation that can withstand such a volatile environment. And what better place to turn than the media outlets and platforms that have spent years, if not decades, building their audience’s trust?
Don’t just take my word for it: according to research by BBC StoryWorks, 45% of Australians believe that if they see a brand on a trusted platform they will also trust the brand, while 40% believe a brand is positively or negatively affected by the platforms it appears on. It’s difficult to overstate the power of appearing on credible platforms, and the positive impact it has on your brand’s own trust levels.
In short, PR allows you to show off the best aspects of your business, without directly shouting about it from the horse’s mouth. It implies a level of confidence: that a journalist, publication or influencer chose to support or seek out the advice of your business. In doing so, you’re automatically able to position yourself ahead of the pack.
Trust by association
If your business is mentioned in a respected media outlet that targets your ideal clients, those clients will come to associate your brand with all the positive attributes of that outlet. Earned media, rather than paid advertising, implies that the brand is trusted by the journalist and the outlet they work for. An independent third party saying good things about your business will always be more credible than saying the same things about yourself.
Take this article, for example. You’re reading a piece, written by me, in a highly-regarded publication for executives. By appearing in this publication, you will associate my brand with the prestige and high-level thinking of The Australian Business Executive. I am offering advice and guidance that shows I truly understand the industry I work in. I’m showing, without telling.
Be careful though, as it can work in reverse too. Imagine reading a think piece from a high-level executive in a cheap tabloid newspaper. Would you take that executive seriously, or would you begin to associate all the negative aspects of that publication with the author? A PR professional will have a good idea of which publications to target, and will be able to recommend the best outlet for your particular story. They will also be able to help you avoid any unwanted negative media coverage.
The power of stories
Humans are curious creatures. We only trust someone once we get to know them. We’re interested in what people do, and how they do it. We like to get to know people: their interests, personality, and sense of humour. This is something the media intrinsically understands, and publishes its content accordingly.
Businesses, however, sometimes struggle to remove the mask and show the human face of their organisation. Who is your CEO? What are their interests? Why should we trust them? The story behind the business – the ‘why’ – is far more compelling than technical information, business offers or sales messages. Many businesses believe facts and figures are the best way to communicate their trustworthiness, but the truth is, without a human face telling a great story, trust is hard to win.
Public relations can help tell those stories. Many business leaders are so focused on building their own business, they don’t notice the great stories they have sitting under their noses. They default to cliches and platitudes, because it’s easier telling the truths of their business. It might be easier, but cliches simply won’t cut it in the world of public relations.
Instead, try and find opportunities to share stories that involve human interest or pull on the heartstrings. These don’t necessarily have to focus on the founder or CEO: look for other people in your business or your customer base who can bring its story to life.
Getting comfortable with failure
Honest, open communication is the perfect way for a business to build trust. Part of that transparency means getting comfortable with talking about failure, no matter how difficult it might be. Failure is not shameful, in fact, the world’s most innovative and successful people have a string of missteps behind them. Think of Steve Jobs, who was fired from the company he created in 1985. Or JK Rowling, who was rejected 12 times before she sold Harry Potter to a publisher. If they were able to take their failures, learn from them, and share them with others; so should you and your business.
If an executive can prove they’re not afraid to tackle hard questions, the confidence it exudes is unparalleled. Confidence, openness and honesty are all keys that unlock the path towards trust, so it’s important to get comfortable with sharing. A PR practitioner can offer your business the opportunity to answer those questions more often, on platforms with bigger and more engaged audiences.
Journalists have an in-built understanding of the importance of failure in storytelling, so don’t expect comfortable, fluffy questions. If you can accept this and learn to plan ahead for the inevitable hard-hitting interview, your communications efforts will run a lot more smoothly.
Ultimately, PR helps a business and its leaders be heard above the noise, on platforms that audiences trust. By sharing the stage with other respected voices, businesses are able to turn a simple piece of communication into a long-lasting stamp of authority. All it takes is keeping your eyes and ears open for those genuine, truthful stories that are sitting within your organisation, waiting to be shared.
And while earned media takes more time and specialist knowledge than simply paying for an ad, the results are always worth the effort. In our age of fickle consumer confidence, a reliable way to build trust is priceless.
Phoebe Netto is the founder of Pure Public Relations, a PR firm for SMEs and not-for-profits, www.purepublicrelations.com.au.