Robert Phillips

Expert Adviser; Visiting Professor; Author & Commentator

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"Trust is not a message. It is an outcome. It is deeply behavioural."

Trust Me,
PR is Dead

Trust Me, PR is Dead is a book about a whole lot more than Public Relations.

The death of PR is used to symbolise the inevitable demise of many traditional, disrupted industries and disciplines – from media to publishing, law to diplomacy, internal comms. to leadership itself. Public Relations is hardly alone in sleepwalking over the cliff.

The book charts the rise of individual empowerment – the continued shift from state to citizen, employer to employee, corporation to citizen-consumer – that has made power and influence activist, atomised and asymmetrical. It places radical honesty and radical transparency at the heart of business today and argues that the age of command-and-control hierarchies and carefully manicured, happy endings is over.

Meanwhile, the Public Relations industry has abused and exhausted trust, often sought as the holy grail of many brands and organisations. Trust is not a function of PR. It is an outcome, not a message. Trust is deeply behavioural, complex and fragile and hard-won every day, by actions, not words.  The revolutionary times in which we live means that there will never be a return to “old trust”. New strategies are therefore needed that speak to the world of tomorrow, not the world of yesterday.

It is within this context that future communications must be considered and delivered.

Trust Me, PR is Dead is part-analysis and part future-facing polemic. It includes nearly 200 anecdotes and tales from the practitioner front-line as well as interviews with key business figures, politicians and commentators – and numerous detailed, researched case studies from companies and movements as diverse as Unilever, Novo Nordisk, John Lewis Partnership, Handelsbanken, Patagonia, Mondragon, 38 Degrees and Porto Alegre.  It is illustrated with both good and bad practice, using global examples. Above all, it calls for new models of leadership and accountability in business – and in politics, too – and discusses the navigation skills and tools required for organisations to be survive and thrive.

Public Leadership, Public Value and a New Social Democracy

At the heart of Trust Me, PR is Dead is a proposed new model of Public Leadership and new accountability metrics, based on Public Value. Public Leadership is characterised as activist, co-produced, citizen-centric and society-first.

The book argues for a new social democracy, well beyond the traditional clichés of social media, not least in the workplace. It is social because it is of and among real people, and democratic because it gives voice to all. Public Leadership returns ‘purpose’ to the core of business and addresses the core issue of trust.

Public Leadership urges enlightened leaders to promote participation and freedom over control and to think and behave like social activists themselves. Public Leaders facilitate the activism of others, effectively co-producing leadership. The company of the future is a de facto social movement – its communications function comprising a network of highly connected community organisers, each with dedicated areas of expertise. There is no need for conventional Corporate Social Responsibility – “purpose” becomes part of an open, shared manifesto.

The new model of Public Leadership is measured through Public Value. This fuses the Aristotelian notion of Common Good and an evolved interpretation of Harvard professor Michael Porter’s much-trumpeted Shared Value. Every organisation will have its unique version – and its own manifesto – precisely because Public Value is better co-produced with wise crowds of employees, customers and stakeholders. This becomes the anchor for its accountability to the many, not the few – the 99 per cent. A bank that thinks in terms of Public Value outcomes, for example, quickly addresses the challenge of being “socially useless”, while Public Value thinking determines better frameworks for ethical and trusted decision making.

If Everything is Dead, What Comes Next?

Trust Me, PR is Dead has been crowdfunded via Unbound. The voices of the book’s supporters can be heard throughout the book, which also includes nine “wise crowd contributor” essays, including Professor Cliff Oswick on the death of leadership; Sanofi Pasteur’s Celine Schillinger on the death of the anti-social corporation; Compass’ Neal Lawson on the death of party politics; Ambassador Richard Fletcher on the death of old diplomacy; and Jim Woods on the death of the focus group and the rise of the wise crowd. It closes with a piece from the book’s publisher Dan Kieran – on the death of publishing itself. Each contributor, following the main theme of Trust Me, PR is Dead, offers an exciting and optimistic view of new models and behaviours that will flourish in the creative economies and polities of the future.

The Excerpt

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?”

“Yes.”

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

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Copyright 2015 Robert Phillips. Jericho Chambers