Trust in PR comes under scrutiny because of media links following Leveson Inquiry

Concerns are growing that the issue of trust in the media is beginning to bleed through to the world of PR.

Max Clifford: attends the Leveson Inquiry with wife Jo
Max Clifford: attends the Leveson Inquiry with wife Jo

As the first stage of the Leveson Inquiry draws to a close, the proceedings - which have seen Dominic Mohan and Paul Dacre take the stand - have been hailed as a watershed moment in the scrutiny of the media's ethics.

But many PR professionals have revealed concerns to PRWeek that the media handling skills that have made the industry's name could be tarnished, reflecting the public's waning trust in newspapers.

A top name in consumer and entertainment PR has revealed that he was recently flown abroad by a European client to discuss concerns over the UK press. 'That never would have happened before, and there is a background climate of fear around the situation,' he said.

This is just one of many concerns raised by clients to PROs, who have sold their services on the strength of their press cuttings.

PR and media relations have been so intrinsically linked, some have expressed concerns that if the reputation of the media is damaged, then the PR industry's reputation will inevitably be damaged as well.

The Red Consultancy MD Andrew Baiden told PRWeek that the revelations have led to a severe dent in trust.

'It's a crisis and it should be treated like one. People want to see someone they can trust and it needs to be rebuilt with openness and honesty,' said Baiden.

Not only are clients becoming wary of the traditional media, but PROs are having to be much more careful when checking their facts as a result of such a bright light being shone on news propriety.

EdenCancan creative director Nick Ede said agencies had to ensure information put out was 'double and triple checked'.

Cohn & Wolfe UK CEO Scott Wilson said these concerns were building into a 'watermark for scrutiny' over comms.

'The new language of PR is the language of authenticity. This has potentially huge implications for the way businesses not only communicate with their stakeholders but underpin their very licence to operate,' he said.

But this shift in emphasis does not mean PR is any less influential, according to GolinHarris European MD Matt Neale: 'Our industry needs to move from "I know a guy on the news desk", to "let us manage your brand's reputation across all media channels".'

How I see it

Mark Borkowski, Founder,

Leveson is the sound of a thousand nails being hammered into a coffin.

Soon there will not be much media to relate to in the analogue sense and it will give us a whole different set of problems when it comes to social media, as it will be difficult to restrict damage limitation online. At least you know the devil you were dealing with before.

Chris Lewis, UK CEO, Lewis PR

If anything, the inquiry has been a benefit to the industry. It is like a sun shining a light on the dark arts. The inquiry will bring a new age of media relations and only the good and honest will survive.

In numbers

829 Number of 'likely' victims of hacking, according to the BBC's Sue Atkins*

51 Number of alleged victims given core participant status in the inquiry**

300 Number of pictures sent in daily to the Daily Mail of Pippa Middleton**

300m Number of emails taken from NI to be studied for wrongdoing***

Source: *BBC Online; **The Guardian; ***The Independent.

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