Guest post: Hans Geelmuyden is a partner and leading senior adviser at the norwegian public relations agency Geelmuyden.Kiese. Since 1989, he has acted as adviser to major Scandinavian projects involving power changes both in the public and private sector, and he is often employed as a lecturer in strategic communication. In journalistic circles, trusting communication advisors is not considered quite comme il faut. I’ve worked as a journalist and an editor myself and trust both occupational categories. So why is the trust not mutual?
An editorial in “Klima” (“Climate”) magazine no. 2/08 may illustrate the point. The editor, Tove Kolset, writes as follows: “I’m holding an interesting document in my hands: “A green car population demands political action.” Behind this brochure is Volvo Passenger Cars in Norway, assisted by the communication agency Geelmuyden.Kiese (GK), called in to put the message through. To be honest, I must admit that I felt more positively towards the brochure before I noticed GK’s involvement.”
Is there anything apart from prejudice behind Kolset’s distrust? Does she feel herself to be cheated? The information in the Volvo report is based on facts and research which Kolset is free to check. Kolset documents no faults in the factual information. She simply dislikes that Volvo has been assisted by professional communication advisors in making the report. Would it seem more satisfactory if the car manufacturer had done the job on their own without outside assistance? Or is it the very professionalism that’s bothering her? Should Kolset prefer the brochure to be produced by an amateur team from the middle of nowhere?
Economists are taught that perfect information is the basis of a perfect market. As neither perfect information nor perfect markets exist, communication advisors do. Each and every second, a battle over interpretations and interests is being fought in our society. Communication advisors as well as journalists participate in this battle, but in different roles. I trust journalists because I appreciate their role as guard dogs for the general population.
For myself, I claim no ideal purpose. Communication advisors represent the interests of one party. This is legitimate as long as these interests are openly presented. One-party interests should obviously be thoroughly examined. Journalists seeking knowledge do just that. They’re checking several sources and have little to fear from communication advisors. Journalists who instead reject information on the basis of emotions and prejudice are unprofessional, as are communication advisors out to fool to public.