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Deliver on your promises

Building customer confidence depends more than ever on actions matching words says Third City's Mark Lowe.

Keeping the lights on at the Olympics will ultimately be less important than convincing energy customers that EDF is giving them value for money.

Andrew Brown knows this and in a different way so do Boris Johnson and Seb Coe, because they share the same challenge.

Trust is future-directed; it depends on action. The Olympics will only be judged a success if the event lives up to its billing. Promises have been made by the powerful and now the powerful have to deliver. How refreshing it would be if they did.

We are starting to feel that nothing in public life is incorruptible and the growing 'trust deficit' has become a major roadblock to positive brand communication. In short, brand owners now have to work ten times harder to make people believe what they say.

Brand advertising that offers no promise, support or reason to believe looks more and more like wallpaper. Perhaps that is why, according to a poll Third City recently ran with ICM, half of the British public cannot confidently name a single Olympic sponsor. That may change, but just badging a major event, no matter how high profile, is not enough anymore.

Ultimately, what you do is always more important than what you say. It is a truism that can make us comms types feel a little powerless, but it shouldn't. If public relations is the act of adapting big business to democracy, then it is our role to remind clients that power and responsible action should always travel together.

Nowhere is this truer than in the household energy sector, which much like financial services relies on a bond of trust between brand and consumer - something that can only be guaranteed by transparency.

If this bond is threatened, it can have a corrosive effect, as certain banks have shown. So what can a brand like EDF do to build trust beyond the Olympics?

It could start by showing that its desire to champion 'sustainability' is more than just green-wash.

EDF's willingness to improve billing information and the introduction of smart metering are unglamorous but effective ways of doing this in partnership with customers.

In the longer term, EDF and others will need to prove that they can be trusted with an energy future which, given public hostility to wind farms, looks unavoidably nuclear.

This means proving it can be relied upon to build safe, reliable facilities in a post-Fukushima world - no easy task and one which will require frank and open communication with the public.

The Government can play its part by pushing through the planned legislation on electricity market reform that will guarantee a return on EDF's investment.

Politicians should also help the industry make a long-term case for energy security through nuclear power, not least because most of them will privately admit that it is the only show in town.

Brand-building is impossible without understanding business issues and public consciousness.

In a time of uncertainty, public sensitivity is at its most acute and building confidence depends more than ever on actions matching words.

Delivering a successful and useful Olympics will be the best way to prove that our public and private institutions, including brands, are capable of delivering on their promises.

The Olympics will give brands an unrivalled opportunity to educate as well as entertain.

Greater trust would be the best possible Olympic legacy and honesty is the only virtue that will preserve it.


Which brands have gained most in profile terms in the run up to the Olympics?

I would single out one brand, Team GB's Jessica Ennis. The heptathlete is the face of the 2012 Olympics and one of Britain's best hopes for gold. Yet she's gone from track and field to billboard, as her popularity has spread far beyond the boundaries of sport. Brands are tripping over themselves to offer her deals. Good luck to her.

If your agency was an Olympic sport what would it be?

Hammer. Third City hits hard with the perfect balance of power and precision.

Mark Lowe is founding partner of Third City

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