Global Alliance: When representing Global Alliance overseas, I am often asked by graduates or emerging leaders what attributes will best set them up for professional success. While judgment, respect for themselves and others, listening skills and valuing their work are all important, my top advice is to know the value of trust and never do anything that risks your reputation.
Goodwill is an intangible asset that we store and bank up through how we behave over time. Fundamental to that are truth and the trust it creates.
When we are truthful and honest, we build up trust and goodwill that we benefit from later.
However, if we allow our standards to slip below the line then we will very quickly erode people’s trust in us and deplete our stock of goodwill.
People who jeopardise trust often quickly realise that it is a lot more difficult to restore than to protect in the first place.
Their ability to positively influence others slips away and a hard-earned reputation built over years is lost almost instantly.
If we needed a reminder of the importance of truth and trust, then we have got it through the surge in disinformation and misinformation that we saw during the global pandemic and more recently in Ukraine and Israel-Palestine.
Social media has been an accelerant here as people go in search of evidence and theories to support their existing prejudices.
There is no way to put this genie back in the bottle, but it makes it ever more important that we as public relations and communication professionals uphold the highest ethical standards.
If we continue to act as honest brokers, we will serve those we represent, our profession and – ultimately – society well.
I mentioned the viral spread of dubious information during the pandemic.
It is important to say that many people across our profession did tremendous work at the height of that public health emergency – work that saved many lives.
I think here in particular of those working on communications for national and global health agencies who had responsibility for promoting safeguards against COVID-19 and, once they became available, encouraging high uptake of vaccines.
They did this because they believed in science, they believed in truth and they believed in trust as a precious commodity that’s easily eroded.
Crucially, the best of these leaders were always willing to acknowledge when there were things they didn’t know rather than claiming knowledge they didn’t have in a fast-moving situation.
So, if we all accept the tremendous value of trust then what – beyond acting ethically ourselves – can we do as a profession to safeguard it and fight back against the lies and half-truths that seem to flow ever more freely?
One of the ‘big ticket’ topics that Global Alliance is actively pursuing at a global level is a joined-up strategy responding to how prevalent and corrosive deliberate disinformation and unwitting misinformation have become in our public discourse. This is making the job of responding to burning issues such as the climate emergency even tougher.
Given how central transparent communication is to progress on the 17 United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, we feel there is a strong case for adding an 18th that addresses the vital importance of what we call “information hygiene”. Whether it be the sustainability goals around our fragile environment; health and wellbeing; poverty and deprivation or any other, making a measurable difference relies on a dialogue of trust.
It cannot be overstated how vital a role a healthy communications environment can play for our people, planet and prosperity.
We all have a part to play here and we can go faster and further together.
Prof Justin Green is President and CEO, Global Alliance for Public Relations and Communications Management and runs his own consultancy Wide Awake Communications in Dublin, Ireland. He has received 21 Life Fellowships and 16 global awards, making him one of the most decorated and celebrated public relations professionals in the world.