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Beyond the Word of the Year: The Enduring Power of ‘Authentic’ In PR

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This article was originally published on PRWeek.com. We are reposting with their permission.

Authenticity is both a guiding light for communicators and a competitive differentiator.

Merriam-Webster may have declared authentic to be the word of the year, but for public relations practitioners, authenticity is more than a trending concept. It is both a guiding light for how we approach our work and — especially today — a competitive differentiator.

Gone are the days when carefully crafted messages and polished facades could effectively capture public attention and build lasting brand loyalty. Consumers increasingly expect — and demand — open communication, ethical behavior and a behind-the-scenes look at the organizations they engage with. In fact, according to the 2023 Edelman Trust Barometer, 63% of consumers buy from or advocate for brands whose beliefs align with their own.

Brands that strive for authenticity and transparency in how they operate set themselves apart from their competitors and are better equipped to weather scrutiny, crises and the inevitable challenges that arise in the public eye.

Authenticity at the Heart of PR

Consider the role authenticity plays in every critical area of brand management and what it means for the PR and communications teams responsible for that realm.

The foundation for building trust: Consumers today are not just buying products or services; they are investing in the values and ethics of the brands they choose. Brands that lead with authenticity create credibility with their audiences, ensuring they are not just faceless entities but sincere advocates for their principles. As PR professionals navigate the ever-changing landscape of public perception, cultivating and maintaining this trust becomes a strategic imperative.

The impact on brand reputation: Authenticity is about more than words; it’s about aligning those words with actions. Consumers are increasingly aware of the “say-do gap,” where companies make promises they fail to deliver on. This inconsistency erodes trust and damages brand reputation, a fragile yet invaluable asset in an era where consumers are more discerning than ever. Authenticity in the form of ‘practicing what you preach’ is key to strengthening and protecting brand reputation.  

A must-have for crisis management: In the event of a crisis, authenticity is paramount. Companies must prioritize open and honest communication, acknowledging mistakes and demonstrating a commitment to rectifying the situation. Clear, authentic communication during crises not only helps manage the situation but also maintains trust and prevents irreparable damage to the brand's reputation. 

The Impact and Influence of PR on Authenticity

Executives rely on public relations and strategic communications professionals to build brand awareness, manage brand reputation, and strengthen brand equity. With this responsibility, there is both an opportunity and an obligation to ensure the brands they represent are holding themselves accountable to their audiences through transparent, authentic communication. Consider some of the ways PR and communications teams can be champions of authenticity to make a more meaningful impact:

  1. Tap into the power of storytelling: One of the ways authenticity finds its voice is through storytelling, a key cornerstone of the public relations profession. Storytelling can help humanize the brand and help audiences connect on an emotional level. Sharing real stories about real people, for instance – from executives and employees to clients and customers – helps illustrate the brand’s values from those who know best. Use storytelling to communicate the brand's journey, challenges, and successes, making it relatable and inspiring. Sharing behind-the-scenes stories that provide a glimpse into the day-to-day operations is also an effective tactic for giving the audience a better understanding of the brand, creating transparency and credibility. 

  2. Strengthen media relationships: In public relations, building positive relationships with the media is invaluable and essential. Leading with authenticity is the gateway to building trust and credibility with journalists, whose priority is delivering accurate and trustworthy information to their audiences (according to the 2023 State of the Media Report). Be transparent and straightforward with journalists about why you’re contacting them and do your research prior to reaching out to ensure the story you’re pitching has relevance and meaning for the audiences. Make yourself available to answer questions so they can deliver on tight deadlines. Work to anticipate their needs and deliver necessary information before they have to ask for it. These tactics will help build credibility and prove yourself as a trustworthy, reliable source of news and information.

  3. Be selective about partners: Partnering with influencers is now a common – and increasingly significant – element of many brand strategies. In fact, 45% of communications leaders say they will be relying more on influencers as part of their strategies in the coming year, according to the 2024 Global Comms Report (launching in January 2024). But partnering with the right influencers is critical.  Be selective in who you choose to partner with and look for influencers whose mission and values align with your brand’s. The partnership should make sense for your brand – and feel true to that influencer’s followers. And remember to think outside of the celebrity influencer box, too. According to the same report, communications teams are finding more value by relying on the influence and advocacy of less conventional influencers, like employees and journalists, over celebrities.

Miriam-Webster's declaration of authentic as the word of the year serves as a timely reminder of the enduring importance of authenticity in public relations and strategic communications. In our industry, authenticity is not just a buzzword, but a guiding principle that influences every aspect of our work. As consumers increasingly demand transparency, honesty, and ethical behavior from the brands they engage with, authenticity becomes not only a virtue but a strategic imperative.

About Mary Lorenz
About Mary Lorenz

Mary Lorenz is Director of Content and Creative at Cision. She oversees the editorial strategy at Cision and writes about best practices and thought leadership for marketing, communications and public relations professionals. She has a background in marketing, public relations and journalism and over 15 years of experience in copywriting and content strategy across a variety of platforms, industries and audiences.