Apparently, this is the year we should all embrace radical candour. Telling it straight, with confidence and trust and humanity: so 2017.
Kim Scott, who has bagged the radical candour space with her new book, reckons it’s the route to successful leadership and the foundation of good relationships. She hasn’t written a manual for the advertising and marketing industries, but she’s nailed one of the fundamental issues challenging our business: consumers now demand honesty and integrity as first principles from brands. David Wheldon, chief marketing officer at RBS Group, wrote in Campaign last week that brands too often betray consumers’ trust by over-promising and under-delivering. Some (such as Volkswagen and perhaps now Fiat Chrysler) even set out to deceive. Now, in the age of post-truth politics, brands must "re-earn trust through truth".
While we’re on the subject of truth and integrity – and following on from Donald Trump’s unbelievable press conference addressing fake news last week – there’s good news here for those trusted media owners that invest in quality, independent journalism. In a world where honesty and transparency are rare enough to be premium, brands and consumers will increasingly gravitate towards media that represents truth and commands trust.
But there’s a long way to go. This week, Edelman released its annual barometer of trust and found it’s in crisis: trust in businesses has plummeted from 45% last autumn to 33% by the beginning of 2017. OK, it’s not so much that consumers think they’re being deceived by businesses, more that they have an "acute sense of foreboding" that they believe cannot be relieved by politicians and business leaders – they can’t trust them to do the right thing and sort it out.
Trust, honesty and integrity seem endangered qualities within the advertising and marketing industries too. From last year’s US Association of National Advertisers report into media agency commissions to ISBA’s assertion here that media agencies don’t have their clients’ best interests at heart. From the US justice department’s investigation of bid-rigging in advertising production to the escalating crisis of trust between independent production companies and agencies here (page 5). From ad fraud to the careless misreporting of vital business metrics on the back of which millions of pounds of budget are committed. Suspicion and mistrust colour too many relationships in our business.
So instead of candour, we too often have (or at least suspect we have) a lack of transparency. And it’s toxic. If that’s what’s happening on the inside of our business, what hope is there of driving candour and trust externally with consumers?