Once again, professional communicators have scored near the bottom of the heap in Canada’s "Who Do You Trust?" sweepstakes.   Produced by Léger Marketing for The Canadian Press,  the survey, done in February and released today, polled a representative sample of 1,500 Canadians to determine the degree to which they trust members of 22 professions. 

Politicians hung on to their usual spot at the bottom of that list, with just 14% of the population trusting them.  Joining them in the low trust zone are the folks in auto sales, with just 19%. 

Thumbs_down_v_smallFourth from the bottom, barely squeaking past trade unionists in their battle  for the hearts and minds of Canadians, are PR practitioners.  Only 40% of those polled trust them.  Journalists aren’t far behind, trusted by less than half the population.   

I don’t pretend to be surprised by this; however, I am saddened.  It’s not because I’ve actually practised both these professions and, despite that, want you and the rest of the world to love and trust me.  It’s that both these professions are making a great deal of noise about professionalism,  integrity, honesty, ethics, and all that wonderful stuff – and it just doesn’t seem to be working. 

Never before have so many Canadian universities and colleges been offering under- and post-graduate programs in journalism, communication and public relations.  It is almost impossible to get a job in any communication-related industry without such a degree or diploma. 

In addition, organizations such as International Association of Business Communicators (IABC), the Public Relations Society of America (PRSA) and the Canadian Public Relations Society (CPRS) are enthusiastically pushing professional accreditation.  (I can’t speak for the APR, but I know as a one-time testee and, now, a tester, that the ABC is not a cake-walk.  It outranks MBA Finance in the, "Yikes, you have to be smart for this!" department.)

These professional associations, like the Canadian Association of Journalists (CAJ), also have codes of ethical standards that guide their members. In most academic programs and the professional association certifications, the study of ethics is offered, if not mandatory.

So if we’re all so smart and filled with integrity, why don’t the people trust communicators?

  • Is the word not getting out? 
  • Is the message just not believable? 
  • Are we so busy telling everyone else’s
    story that we don’t have the energy or time to tell our own?
  • Are we
    failing to use our hard-won, well-honed skills and, therefore, failing at our own game?
  • Is it time we did some advocacy for the communication profession?

I say, "Yes," to all. 

And I’ll plead, "Guilty," to the sins of omission.  As a professional communicator, I’ve quit jobs (in both TV and PR) over sleazy practices, yet rather than take a loud and public stand, I quietly walked away.  As a member of IABC, I’ve been calling for the organization to do a better job of marketing the profession, yet I haven’t been screaming from the rafters, "Hire a communicator!" (Frankly, I haven’t even been screaming, "Hire me!")

So, the series begins. "How do communicators earn the public trust?"

Feel free to share your ideas  by posting  comments.