Silicon Valley Watcher - Former FT journalist Tom Foremski reporting from the intersection of technology and media

A conversation about trust with with Richard Edelman

Posted by Tom Foremski - February 16, 2006

By Tom Foremski for SiliconValleyWatcher

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It's Tuesday morning and another glorious sunny day in Palo Alto and I'm about to sit down at Il Fornio with Richard Edelman CEO of highly regarded and highly successful Edelman agency. And Mr Edelman is one of the legendary figures, and leading thinkers, of the US PR sector.

Mr Edelman is just finishing a conversation with Paul Saffo, the renowned futurist thinker at the Institute of the Future (I want a job like Mr Saffo's!). "We used to crew together at Harvard," explains Mr Edelman. "Aha, the old boy network rears its head again," I say with a smile.

I see Mr Saffo has the latest edition of the Edelman Trust Barometer report grasped in his hand. This is an interesting international study of "trust" and what types of individuals and organizations people trust.

"You'd better watch out," I tease Mr Saffo. "Third-party independent experts such as yourself are slipping in people's trust."

"That's what I spotted, I'm going to have to study this document carefully," Mr Saffo says as he prepares his farewells and then leaves Mr Edelman and I to our first meeting.

The two of us are probably the least "trustworthy" table in the restaurant. That's because the media and PR ranked extremely low in the recent Trust survey. And for the first time, respondents said they trusted their peer group the most--even more than experts such as doctors etc.

People trust their colleagues, friends and family--it is what Mr Edelman calls the Me2Revolution it is peer-to-peer trust networks. Please take a look at Mr Edelman's essay on the survey results, which are published in PR Week's February 13th edition. You can read the Me2Revolution essay here on his Richard Edelman 6 A. M. blog.

I really respect that Mr Edelman is a blogger. He is rare among the senior leadership in the PR/communications sector. Most of his peer group worries about blogs and tries to understand blogging and the proper response etc. Mr Edelman found out by becoming a blogger--(and his Google Page Rank of 7 is very good!)

Our conversation runs through a tremendous amount of media and communications subjects. We compare notes and experiences and it is clear that we talk the "same language."

The same language is the language that you acquire when you become involved in blogging and in the online conversation with the world, with your peer group, and with yourself. You always know if someone speaks the language or not.

Reading about blogging will not teach you the language--it comes from doing and being involved. And that takes a lot of guts for someone of Mr Edelman's stature in the industry, because blogging means you have to walk the walk otherwise the Emperor's lack of clothes is very visible (mashup metaphor #15!).

I like to say that blogging and bloggers have a lot in common with roosters--both need cojones. And I say that in a balls reference not as a reference to gender because many women have bigger balls than many men :-)

Bloggers need to have cojones because they put themselves on the line every time they publish a blog post. Because others can and will challenge you--and you have to respond in a very public way.

Also, there are the obligatory snipers, and complainers and habitual cynics that clog the blogosphere and leave nasty comments. Most usually, those types never use their real names because they don't have the balls.

And because Mr Edelman blogs, he speaks the language of the new communications and knows the power of this communications medium. However, it doesn't necessarily mean you can teach others in your organization the same language. Mr Edelman mentions that convincing others is often difficult.

For example, he understands that trying to keep control of a corporate message is futile. It is much better to engage and to "build credibility through dialogue." Control is a huge issue in the PR world--so Mr Edelman is dealing with deeply seated core beliefs.

This is why I think that the new communications/new media that emerges will come from what I call "new rules" enterprises/ventures. You start off new, with the people that understand and speak the same language so you don't waste time in fighting the culture wars within organizations.

For example, I often like to work with people who are young or are new to a topic or job because they haven't been taught what they cannot do.

That means they can bring a freshness and originality to an endeavor. And with the new communications/new media--it is still all very new. And there are many new ways that we will use these powerful, two-way communications technologies, and in many new ways that we cannot yet predict.

So that's why we should jump in--just like Mr Edelman did with blogging--and try them out and see what can be done and compare notes, then do it all again, and again.

Because then we get a chance to create something new and potentially help design what the new communications/new media world will look like for the next decade and beyond.

And that would be a nice place to be.

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