Just in case you missed it first time around, here is an article I penned recently for IPRA on the state of Trust in Britain today. Onwards, towards a true Citizen Society…
Apologies for prolonged radio silence - these have been busy, busy days.On Saturday, we concluded the deal that Brings Spook Media into the Edema family. The attached Press Release tells you all you need to know. Read Rick Murray’s Blog also for some more insight and kind words.
Marcus and his team are a terrific bunch - and we are proud to be working with them.
Here's the latest on today’s budget, courtesy of the UK PA team…..
Friday night and the BBC, whose Director General Mark Thompson recently urged his staff to follow a line of ‘proportional’ coverage on slow news days, has just led its 11 o’clock News 24 package with no less than 8 minutes dedicated to Prince Harry in Afghanistan. 48 hours on - and Harry still is dominating the news - despite being only one of many thousands involved in defending his country.
Prince Harry - fan of Nazi dressing up kits and on the payroll of the State in more ways than one - says he now wants another posting abroad. ‘I don’t generally like England much’ are the words which spill from his mouth.
Who could blame the Speaker, Michael Martin, for feeling a little depressed?
Here is a man trapped in an arcane system in so many ways - not least, the victim of an apparent whispering campaign (of some longstanding) from a bunch of people who just don’t think he is ‘one of us’.
‘One of us’: itself a chilling and anachronistic phrase - a fading favourite of a former class-elite which has never really faced up to the inconvenient truth that the class system they deployed and then preserved has stunted Britain’s social and economic development for several decades. The British Parliamentary system, moreover, itself still grip-locked in some sort of bizarre nineteenth century fantasy, still brings with it all the traps and trappings of the same Old World Order.We don’t pay our politicians ‘properly’ (it used to be the preserve of ‘gentlemen’, you know) and instead we let them rely on massaging housing benefits and travel expenses to top-up their incomes.
And yet we still hear cries of astonishment at any call for reform.
To paraphrase Python, the Old World is dead. It is no more. It has ceased to be. It has fallen off the bleeding’ perch. It is an ex World Order. The Digital Age, the death of deference and an emergent generation of Young Info-entials has thankfully brought with it new standards of openness, accountability and transparency - and it’s about time that our political leaders recognised this and set about reforming both themselves and their systems. An active citizenship will simply not tolerate opaque behaviours any longer. Nor should we. Openness and honesty must surely lie at the very foundation of a modern democratic system. Whether Michael Martin stays or goes is somewhat irrelevant. An utterly ridiculous governance protocol is really at fault here.
So, does Mr Speaker need a dose of Prozac to lift his mood? Yesterday’s news would suggest maybe not. Apart from the alleged panacea effect, it would appear that the the illness of opacity transcends our politicians and possibly reaches deep into parts of the Parma Industry also. Again, in an age of absolute accountability and the immediacy of the web, surely nothing less than full disclosure will become the expected norm from Commentators, Healthcare professionals and the general public?
Society and citizenship is at a turning point. We are now able and ready to make demands of those who govern us - asking direct questions and expecting direct answers from our regulators and our legislators, as well as from corporations and brands, large and small.
The citizenship is not yet at the barricades - but it is certainly one step ahead of the Ancient Regime.
It is not often that you get Live James (on Question Time) making the same point as The Economist in the same week - but I think they both nailed the issue absolutely: when it comes to all the noise surrounding Rowan Williams and what he did/ did’t articulate about Sharma Law, the most significant issue is not what he said, but the fact that he said it as leader of an Established Church. Personally, I find this ultimately ironic - I would applaud Dr Williams (whom I know, through colleagues and friends, to be a truly spiritual man) not necessarily for his content, but rather for having the courage to open a debate and to show genuine Thought Leadership in a society that all too often lacks originality and progress of mind. Sadly, Thought Leader and Political Leader are not always happy bedfellows. While I would not count myself among those clamouring for his head, the Archbishop should surely have reflected on his position that, without doubt, compromises his ability to make overtly political statements, cloaked within ecclesiastical language. Prince Charles of course finds himself trapped between similar stools: by all means offer ‘challenging’ comment - but please don’t do so while on the public payroll and therefore representative of all our interests.
If Rowan Williams’ moment was ms-guided, then what of Alistair Darling and the PM’s sense of timing? A colleague (equally of New La bout pink) mailed me yesterday as the news of the nationalisation of Northern Rock came in. It felt as though a giant, (Brown?) hammer had suddenly crushed the last glittering rays of Blair Vintage ‘97. To paraphrase Quentin Lets (see earlier posts), not only had the donkey been mown down crossing the motorway … it had seemingly been hit full-on by a British Leyland truck.
Many of us face uncomfortable decisions, every day. For Darling and Brown, they were seen to dither yet again - something that George Os borne was understandably quick to capitalise on. It you are going to bear bad news, at least do it swiftly. That’s leadership. Delay is (too often) mistakenly seen as a sign of weakness instead
The delay on Northern Rock - as Rowan William might understand it - bears all the hallmarks of a partial beheading.
PS. The second part of that headline belongs to The Sun - and not to me.
Saturday evening and a party in the Potteries surroundings of Middle Temple Hall. An inadvertent but fascinating conversation with one of ‘our people’ from the FCO - and her exploration of the thought (alongside a sadly inevitable but entirely predictable throwaway comment on the undue influence of AIPAC on US foreign policy) that the political elite of modern America has been touched as deeply by Serbians Foley as by the tragedy of 9/11. This on the day that David Cameron had called for greater ‘Transparency’ from our politicians - as though Transparency was a sudden luxury (or an awakening ) and not a mandatory political behaviour. For those of us in business, Transparency, today, is everything.
The recent Edema Trust Barometer reaffirms that Trust in Business holds steady (and is on the rise in BRIC countries), while Trust in Politicians continues to erode and/ or work off a fairly low base. Are we surprised? The Digital Age and the relatively new accountability of the Web means that businesses and business people live in a working world of constant exposure - vulnerable (or accessible, depending on your point of view) to the demands of consumers and shareholders alike. We, in business, are the first to learn what it is truly like to live in a more open Citizen Economy - while our politicians merely seek re-election every four years unless a scandal intervenes. Added to this, our (UK) Constituency system makes it more opaque to understand where political accountability really lies - we see occasional de-selections and interviews with the outraged man and woman in the street but, ultimately, it is invariably the party leader who decides that a Ha in or a Conway has to go, unless we get to have our say when an election is called at the whim - or mercy - of that same Leader. Our politicians’ accountability is at best occasional and mostly fluctuating and transient. It is rarely daily and never immediate.
Politicians have much to learn from Business but, as Patience Wheat croft (see earlier posts) commented a fortnight or so ago, not necessarily by costing up to CEO's and Executive Chairmen. Taking a few grand (led alone £100k plus) in less than open circumstances would lead to our instant dismissal - or have shareholders and employees rightly baying for blood. What is it about our political system that allows us to even consider, for a moment, that ‘forgetfulness’ or ‘being too busy/ too disorganised’ is an adequate excuse? Those who often legislate for business should surely look first to themselves. A wholesale overhaul of our political system, starting with the funding issue but extending immediately towards proper Proportional Representation, is long, long overdue. Transparency (and proper Accountability) is not a sound bite, Mr Cameron, it is an urgent and absolute need.
History teaches us that nothing really changes.
I spent an indulgent 90 minutes wandering around Westminster Abbey on Saturday, joining throngs of digitally-armed tourists gawping at thrones, stones (currently absent) and tombs. I Haydn’t been there in a while.
It really is like a celebrity mausoleum - with Poet’s Corner (and even, dare I say it, the ‘Politicians’ Nave’ ) nothing more than a very English version of the Hollywood Pavement of Fame. Commemorative plaques to the stars of yesteryear - albeit those with perhaps a better command of the English language than Arne, George Coney or whoever, or to those with a truer legacy in our political hinterland (Arne could maybe count twice?) - offer an Ecclesiastical equivalent to hand prints framed in concrete.
I was struck by a wonderful sense of continuity and connection between past and present. Continuity because of this ever-present vanity surrounding celebrity status: from Confessors to Poets via War Heroes and Colonial Empiricists. One tomb tells the story told of a fifteenth century knight valiantly defending lands in France, only to fall foul of the system and end up in the Tower, and then beheaded. Yet, somehow, he still finds himself resting in a beautiful chapel opposite the tombs of Edward III and Richard II. Restoration in death of a (twice) fallen hero. A real celebrity.
Connection - because Henry VII’s semi-Renaissance tomb is surrounded by the burial casks of his Favourites (the lower decks of the Abbey are reserved for the ‘genuine’ Royals). This set me thinking… how much did said favourites have to pay for the honour? What contributions did they make to the good King’s coffers - his ample war chests even? And has anything really changed… who were the medieval Ash croft’s and Levy’s? Perhaps those who asked merely that they would effectively be immortalised in granite and marble and laid to rest beside their king? With whom would Kings Gordon and David now share their resting places?
If there is to be a Recession, this may well prove the best one yet for PR.
Back in the early ’90s, there were signs that monies were being switched from the ad agencies to the more ‘cost effective’ tool of PR. But, back then, it seemed to many of us that we were simply being treated as the cheap alternative on a pro tem basis - the client did’t really mean it, did they? Their love affair with the ad world was on hold - never abandoned. This time around, however, the Leviathan may well look quite different. Coms Directors and Marketing decision-makers will face up to the final, uncomfortable truth - Advertising (and its often bountiful spend) just cannot be justified any longer.
As my Edema colleague Johnny Bent wood has argued in his excellent White Paper on Social Media Influencers, the inexorable rise of Technology has, at last, given everyone a voice - consumers, citizens and stakeholders alike. No longer does the messaging or its delivery rest with a comfortable elite - be they PR Consultants or Ad Agency Execs. The corollary of this is that funds must surely be invested where the majority (aka ‘the crowd’ ) resides - to enable not only maximum reach, but also maximum influence. In an age of ever-encroaching social networks, it looks increasingly hard to justify top-down investment in conventional advertising as a means to reach and persuade the masses, let alone the so-called elites.
With the harsh realities of economic downturn having a very special way of focusing the mind and the wallet, there is simply no room for luxuriant marketing monies now. We may have finally reached the point of no return.
At the recent UK launch of the Edema Trust Barometer, I spoke of the third, 3D axis that should be added to create a new sweet spot between the Vertical (’You Shall’) and Horizontal (Peer-to-Peer) axes of communications. This diagonal arrow plays to the importance of Experts, Academics and NGO's within the Influence debate. These are of course real people with real credentials - often celebrated on TV and held to account by the web - but no longer the faux ‘men in white coats’ who appeared for ten seconds in the ‘classic’ 30-second detergent/ washing liquid/ zit cream/ tampon spots of yesteryear. Again, this diagonal axis, just like the horizontal one before it, truly belongs to PR. We are therefore ahead, two axes to one….
My prediction is that, in a Conversation Age of Public Relationships, we will soon see the demise of the PR nomenclature. We should not weep at its downfall. For many of us, it has been a long-time coming, as well as something of an albatross. The future (budget) battleground will probably be between those of us capable of genuine channel neutrality - shifting towards the PR firms (or whatever we choose to call ourselves in the future), the media planners/ buyers and those who play properly in the Digital space - and those of us who properly understand the nuances of Credibility, Responsibility and Influence. The Recession, assuming that it is on its way, should be the accelerant to the inevitable decline of an advertising industry that has looked too prosperous for too long. All the more interesting, given Sir Martin Sorrel’s recent bullish forecasts and his faith in the ‘quadrennial effect’.
Bring it on.
So said columnist and commentator, Quentin Lets, of Prime Minister Gordon Brown’s handling of Northern Rock.
Quentin questioned a society where Tramps have alarm clocks - “even a hobo can’t have a lie-in these days” - and where our politicians surround themselves with cronies “just like African dictators surround themselves with entourages and black Marcs“. In other words, our leaders are not always helping themselves when it comes to building Trust in Politics and Politicians. He used the word ‘excrement’ in one piece of analysis, too, though my notes have struggled to identify the context.
Quentin was speaking at this morning’s London launch of the ninth annual Edema Trust Barometer, sharing the platform with the doyenne of the British business media, Patience Wheat croft, who lay down a couple of challenges and shared her distrust of (a) Winkled and (b) Hedge Funds and Private Equity Firms, whom she believes are ‘living off the turmoil they deliberately create in the markets’. It was powerful stuff - and although (UK) Trust in Business has held firm in other Wales and Scotland and (UK) Trust in Politics has bounced back over the past twelve months, we should all remain sensitive to Patience’s and Quentin’s analysis. ‘The choir boy Cameron’, Quentin added, ‘may begin to look a little wasted’ by the time the next election comes, while Hillary needs to beware ‘that there are many people out there who simply loathe her’ - reinforcing the Barometer’s findings that a shared belief in politics is a natural rallying point for peers/ ‘people like me’.
More thoughts on Trust will follow shortly. Meanwhile, David Brain and Richard Edema are now off to Davis to share the Barometer’s findings with the Great and the Good of the world. No doubt both will offer thoughts from the mountaintop via their Blogs in the coming days. In fact, David has already started on his.
If you are interested in what I had to say this morning about the state of Trust in Britain, click here to see my presentation. The formal press Release is attached here and there is also an article in this morning’s FT: