Richard Edelman on what PR can learn from the 2016 election

Lesson number one: Businesses are losing touch with the common person.

L-R: PRWeek editor-in-chief Steve Barrett and Richard Edelman. (Photo credit: Alison Kanski).
L-R: PRWeek editor-in-chief Steve Barrett and Richard Edelman. (Photo credit: Alison Kanski).

NEW YORK: There has been a breach of trust between businesses and the average person, said Edelman CEO Richard Edelman on Thursday, and that disconnect is similar to how people feel about the establishment during the 2016 election.

This year’s Edelman Trust Barometer found that the gap of trust between the average person and business, government, and other entities has widened, while the elite, or the educated and wealthy, trust those entities more, he said at the 2016 PRWeek Conference.

The CEO of the world’s largest PR agency said Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump has mastered the art of speaking to the common man, something PR pros can learn.

"You have to talk horizontally," Edelman said. "You cannot talk down; you cannot talk at people in a way that says, ‘I’m smart and you’re not.’ You have to talk in the parlance of the average person."

Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton, on the other hand, plays to the beliefs of the elites, rather than the average person, he said.

"[Clinton] is much more articulate in a way that elites understand," Edelman explained. "These are nuanced issues, and people don’t want to hear all of that."

Businesses and CEOs have a similar problem: speaking in jargon and not providing shareable news. As more chief executives strive to become a bigger part of a company’s image, Edelman urged them to let communications professionals do their job during a crisis.

"More than ever, the CEO has to act really decisively and quickly and appoint someone who is in charge of the cleanup," he said, "The running of the business needs to be done by the CEO, and the running of the crisis should be run the by the PR people."

Edelman said executives should look to the example of Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz, [whose company] has an authentic social media presence that compliments his business. (Starbucks is a longtime Edelman client).

"CEOs of this next generation get it," he said. "Business only can win and attract the best employees if they run business both well-principled and well-run. The expectation is that you can make money and do good for society."

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