The referendum results in the UK came as a surprise to the majority, including the Brexit campaigners. The advent of post-truth communication, the emergence of fake news in social media and even in traditional outlets, polling, activist leadership and media bubbles lead us to re-think the old ways of interacting with the general public. PR practitioners have agreed to state that we are facing new levels of uncertainty following British and American wake-up calls with the recent votes.
Stephen Waddington, partner and chief engagement officer at Ketchum and professor, recently commented: “I don’t think public relations is in crisis but we do need to be brave and ask tough questions about our business.”
Recent examples in the media have further eroded the trust relationship with audiences. In #FuturePRoof, Second Edition, Rob Brown, Managing Partner at Rule 5 and President of the CIPR talks about two instances whereby inaccurate information particularly resonated amongst the public. An example of this is the £350 million a day to the NHS pledge from the Brexit campaigners which evaporated as soon as polling stations closed. Elsewhere, Trump announced on Twitter: “Just arrived in Scotland. Place is going wild over the vote. They took their country back, just like we will take America back. No games!” seemingly oblivious about the 68% of Scots who voted in favour of remaining.
Through uncertain times, PR practitioners can and should act as strategic leaders, making sense of complexity, maintaining influences and managing corporate stories as it seems that we have reached the threshold whereby it is crucial to do so. Communication should help brands navigate in the tumultuous waters brought by the Brexit referendum.
More than ever, PR practitioners are urged to bring clarity and do more than just put their spin across and persuade communities. Robert Wynne predicted the end of mass persuasion in a “post-factual fake news world” for organisations using the media and social media to promote their products and services.
Professionalisation is key Brown argues. Concretely, we need to promote transparency and accountability within organisations, act as watchmen towards brands’ doing. We must be explicit in the way news is provided and share evidence-based information.
Public Relations’ ultimate goal is based on listening and understanding audiences, it is by doing so that communication professionals will restore trust. In this way, PR departments need to explain to board members this reality so organisational strategies are guided accordingly.
In the Brexit aftermath, PR’s crucial aim is to reshape the organisations’ place within the communities they operate in, making sense of themselves by displaying professionalism and accountability.
From the Brexit results, we have to acknowledge that the messages put across by the corporate world and the establishment more generally were not taken into account by a majority. Interrogations have arisen regarding our borders, our trading relationships and our relationships with European subsidies.
With these challenges rise new opportunities to evolve and improve within the industry to prove our value. “The time is now” says Brown.