Public Engagement in the Conversation Age

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This series of essays, each written by a senior member of the Edelman team, sets out to capture what our Communications world looks like today and what it might look like tomorrow

Text of Public Engagement in the Conversation Age

  • Public EngagEmEnt in thE convErsation agE

  • Dont Lose the Thought 3Foreword

    Confidence and Trust 4The Currency for Recovery

    Trust Me, Im a Banker 5The State of Financial Services

    The Fall and Rise of the C Word 6The Future of PR

    Citizen Smith 8The Rise of Consumer Politics

    A Cloudy Future 9Cloud Computing and the Future of Technology

    Re-Humanising Business 10Next Generation Digital Communications

    Crowd Surfing 12 Thriving in the Age of Consumer Empowerment

    Thinking Our Way Out of the Crunch 14Could the Creative Industries Hold the Solution?

    Think Bravery Before Budgets 15Creativity and Brand Bravery

    Engaging with Health Citizens 16Health in the Conversation Age

    Medical Communications in the Conversation Age 18Where Next with Health Care Professionals?

    Alive and Kicking 19Trust and the Beating Heart of Media

    Without Content There is No Conversation 20Content, Conversation and Collaboration

    Soft Power to the People 22 Into 2009 and Beyond

    Coming soon... 23 Trust Barometer 2009


    Edelman is the worlds largest independently-owned PR agency, employing over 3,200 people in 54 offices around the world 260 of whom are in London. We work across all areas of the Communications spectrum, delivering award-winning campaigns in media old and new.

    We are retained by some of the worlds largest multi-national companies and leading brands, some of which are mentioned in this publication including, but not exclusively the Department for Culture, Media and Sport; Microsoft; AstraZeneca.

    For more information about Edelman, please visit: /


    page 2 Public Engagement in the Conversation Age

  • and the unexpected emergence of a new fashion for regulation; the rise of Consumer Politics and a parallel, global resurgence of interest in politics, per se; an Olympic Games that was mired first in controversy and then in tragedy with human rights and human triumphs as occasional, if odd, bedfellows; more talk about The Cloud of Technology and all that it will bring; and, finally, a growing understanding of what it really means (and needs) to be Green only to see this threatened by those who will use the economy to escape their environmental responsibilities.

    This series of essays, each written by a senior member of the Edelman team, sets out to capture what our Communications world looks like today and what it might look like tomorrow. These are not essays on the theme of Recession yet they are each, in their own way, contextualised by todays harsher economic reality. They are designed to provoke thought, stimulate debate and provide content. They sit within the exciting and compelling framework of multi-lateral, multi-stakeholder engagement. They speak directly to The Conversation Economy. They hopefully illustrate that PR can and should be at the vanguard of change.

    December 2008

    Robert PhillipsUK CEO Edelman

    We live in remarkable times. We have reached a crossroads in our economic history and stand at the threshold of potentially momentous change in the global political landscape. Trust in Business and Government (of which Edelman has been an avid student for the best part of a decade) has oscillated with random fury, while the inexorable march towards universal Digital Democracy and empowerment continues apace.

    Communications has reached a tipping point. Increasingly confronted by calls for an Economics of Less, we are witnessing a noticeable shift away from consumption and towards active citizenship and good purpose instead. PR now finds itself in an accelerated state of evolution moving towards a hyper-connected model of Public Engagement that converges and transcends all existing marketing and communications disciplines.

    Too many organisations retreat and retrench in recessionary times. Entrepreneurial spirit and thought leadership are often sadly and falsely sacrificed on the altar of commercial imperative. Our contention is that Thinking costs nothing and yet remains a key point of competitive advantage for firms, whether they are selling stuff or stories. None of us can afford to lose the Thought if we take our businesses (and those of our customers and clients) seriously.

    2008 has been a year in which we have seen the collapse of free market models

    Dont losE thE thought

    page 3

  • of these problems were beyond the scope of normal regulatory or political experience, which in part explained the silence or shallow responses that were quickly perceived as defensive and hollow.

    In any times of national or financial uncertainty, leadership is demanded to reassure the general public that matters are being brought under control and being managed. When problems escalate to crisis levels, such leaders need to demonstrate confidence through bold statements, backed up by far sighted and robust plans that can withstand the escalating chaos of threatening events.

    Now international bankers, the G8 and G20 have met and deliberated. International plans have been debated and agreed, which promise survival of a recession that has arrived and is daily biting deeper. In the uK, the government has announced a series of radical measures. Time will tell whether the impact of this array of unprecedented measures will survive to provide the injection of confidence which must underpin any slowdown in the progress of the current crisis. But true change and sustained recovery will only be possible once confidence and trust start to return.

    Who could have imagined the changes that have turned the financial markets and the banking world upside down? Every day has seemed to have been yet another voyage into the unknown as great names crash, burn or start pleading for bail-out support. Freddie Mac, Bank of America, Fannie Mae, Northern Rock, Ford, and General Motors the list goes on and on.

    Ever since the spectacular crash of Lehman Brothers in September and against the looming clouds of recession, all eyes have been turned upon national banks and regulators, governments and political leaders as investors, shareholders, house owners and consumers sought leadership and reassurance. But that comfort was slow in coming, if at all.

    The first, knee jerk reaction of presidents, prime ministers and their banking leaders was to claim that their national strategies and budget plans had equipped their economies to withstand any recessionary shocks that might arrive. In a single day, we heard the same message from President Bush, Prime Minister Gordon Brown and the Spanish Government: We want to reaffirm the strength of our economy to overcome the current situation.

    Against these cataclysmic changes, it is too easy to claim now that governments acted too slowly or stayed silent for far too long. But it is difficult to see how they should or could have acted and communicated as they struggled to comprehend the scale of the changes.

    A defining moment was thought to come when uS Treasury Secretary, Henry Paulson, triggered a series of stock market roller coaster rides in announcing plans to set aside uS$700 billion to purchase the toxic derivative instruments. The uS Congress demonstrated their politic priorities as they haggled over the initial Bill and the debate descended into a battle between saving Wall Street and Main Street.

    As all these critical steps were being taken in an attempt to wrest back some kind of control over the crisis in the financial markets and the freeze-up of banking credit, the Presidential Election race played out - at times almost as a side show beside the main drama. Suddenly, against these extraordinary circumstances, electors and

    political observers got to hear endlessly about ordinary people, working families and even Joe the Plumber, who became the uS equivalent of the Man on the Clapham Omnibus.

    Strip away the drama and the frightening speed of change of the last few months and then it can be seen that this global crisis has always been about confidence and trust. As was seen in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks, these essential ingredients of business are fragile and vulnerable to the damaging and corrosive effects of negative rumour and doomsday forecasting, compounded in todays crisis since trust is key to financial markets. Over recent months, political leaders have been perceived to be stumbling and defensive in their responses. In a brief moment of optimism, commentators claimed that history might take the view that, like New York Mayor Rudi Giuliani after 9/11, Henry Paulson would be seen to have seized the moment with his multi-billion lifeline to financial institutions. But that hope quickly oozed away as the scramble began in Congress to claim back favours, brokered for votes in various pork barrel deals.

    While the scale of the credit crunch and the banking freeze may be unprecedented, many of the contributory factors are commonplace in daily emergencies. When any crisis breaks, the first victims are always the truth and facts. No-one can be sure what has happened or the root causes.

    In our world of 24/7 news and constant online chatter, information is quickly shot around the world. There is never any shortage of commentators, critics and experts that will be quick to offer their opinions or ideas. But in responding to recent events, even economists of international standing have declared themselves to be bewildered by the speed and extent of the course of events. In this global crisis, confidence has been further undermined by the dissonance and lack of consensus within the forest of theories.

    When financial, banking an