'PR pros have a responsibility to tell the truth' - Roland Rudd

Finsbury founder and PR veteran Roland Rudd used his speech at the 2019 PRCA National Conference to describe how PR agencies can be relevant and useful in a post-truth era.

As the opening keynote speaker at the event in Westminster, the chair of the People’s Vote campaign began with an apology.

"I’m sorry Jacob Rees-Mogg isn’t here to give us a talk about body language but he’s flat out," he commented, before describing an old cartoon the Financial Times used to print during his time at the newspaper to discuss the industry’s purpose.

"How many PR people does it take to change a light bulb?", he asked.

Rudd talked about crisis and messaging, social media and relevance. He looked at examples of how not to handle a crisis, both in the corporate and political sector.

From United Airlines' response to a passenger that was dragged off one of their flights, to yesterday’s Supreme Court decision that implied Prime Minister Boris Johnson had misled the Queen in proroguing Parliament.

"When you’re on Saturday Night Live it’s gone really badly," he said after showing a clip of the popular US comedy show mocking the airline.

On Johnson’s attempt to force through a no-deal Brexit, he said he thought the Prime Minister should show more contrition.

"I’m very keen to see how he reacts. He should have apologised and said 'I acted on good faith on the legal advice, but now I'll come back to Parliament'. His message has been to double down; he said it was nothing to do with Brexit, but now it has stopped Brexit."

He also advised company bosses considering an apology at times of crisis to listen to their lawyers,  as it could be seen as an admission of responsibility.

Rudd said that purpose needs to be socially useful and that PR people need to be in the boardroom, advising businesses and stakeholders, not just on comms and media, but how it comes across politically.

"They need someone like that, and it has to be us."

He explained how President Trump’s attacks on businesses he doesn’t like was part of a clear strategy to stop companies from speaking out on certain issues, and that there was a similar environment around a no-deal Brexit in the UK.

"You have to be constantly fighting."

Rudd said PR people need to be advising on the unpalatable and the things clients don’t want to hear.

"We have a responsibility to tell the truth," he added.

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