Davos: Sorrell and Edelman on education, lobbying and stakeholders

Two of the most powerful men in media and communications have outlined views on how communicators and business leaders need to change how they work.

Edelman boss Richard Edelman and WPP CEO Sir Martin Sorrell were both speaking to CNBC’s Akiko Fujita live from The World Economic Forum in Davos this morning.

Edelman was asked to describe the new ethics principles he has suggested the industry needs to adopt in the wake of Bell Pottinger's collapse.

"Basically, you shouldn’t take every client," he began.

He went on to say: "You should also have a style that recognises your job as helping the media to find quality information. I think the whole PR industry, and I’m going to work like, hard on this, this year, should move from a position of advocacy and lobbying, towards one that is informing. Tell both sides of the story."

"Even if you’re being paid by the company, your job is, oftentimes, to go direct to the end user of information, and, in the moment, silence is a tax on truth. And we’ve got to get companies to speak up, but speak up in a way that is educating, as opposed to just lobbying."

He was also asked about the Edelman Trust Barometer, released on Monday, which attested to ever declining trust in institutions across the globe, particularly so in the US.

Talk to your employees

Edelman said we were living in a "world without facts" that was "disturbing" people. He said the media had a big job in educating the public, but also said employers had a big role to play in the way they talk to their own staff.

He said: "I think companies have to use their privileged position. Actually, 70 per cent of people trust their own employer, so, talk first to your employees, let them talk broadly, but also, business has to not just have CEOs stand up, but take on issues of the future.

"For example, in the States, we’re going to have three million truck drivers, with autonomous vehicles, they’re not going to have a job. So, how are we going to retrain these people, so that they actually feel good, instead of having fears about immigration, or about lower social mobility, or about their future of their kids?"

Stakeholder strategy

Sorrell was asked what he thought the central themes at Davos this year would be.

In addition to trust, competitiveness, and the contract between globalisation and Trump's 'America first' agenda, he said: "I think another big issue will be the sort of thing that Larry Fink, at Blackrock, has emphasised in his letter to companies, about setting out a long-term policy and strategy for companies, that embraces all stakeholders. It’s a theme that Klaus Schwab, the founder of the forum... has always emphasised in his books.

"I think we probably overcomplicate this, I think if you’re in business for the long term, you will do things that are positive in relation to all the stakeholders you do. So, you embrace all those communities, and build a strategy that is good for society in the long term."

He was also asked about the health of the tech giants. He said: "Amazon threatens Google, in particular, in two ways. One is search; we find that 55 per cent of product searches in the United States are already emanating from Amazon, so that’s a big question for Google, and then Amazon’s advertising platform, itself. Google has about $100 billion in advertising, Facebook $40 billion. Amazon has a fairly paltry – it’s a pimple, really – $2 billion or so, $2.5 billion, but growing quite quickly.

"We spent about $5 billion with Google last year, with about $2 billion at Facebook. Amazon was about $200 million. But this year, we’ll be ramping up to about $300 million. So, it’s growing, but it’s at a very small scale, at about the levels you see of Snap, and Oath," he went on to say.

Full transcripts of the Sorrell and Edelman interviews can be found on the CNBC website

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