Bonfire of the sanities, and why video can overcome trust issues for entrepreneurs

By Jim James,

Founder EASTWEST PR and Host of the SPEAK|pr Podcast

How a bonfire caused a neighborhood uproar 

Today, I got in the middle of a bit of a fracas between a landlord who is a farmer and our neighbors, because the farmer had lit a very large fire and the neighbors were complaining about the rubbish that was on the fire. The farmer struggled to explain that it wasn’t his rubbish, that he’d offered to burn his neighbor’s rubbish on the fire, which was only supposed to be things like cardboard and the like. But actually, what they’d brought out for him to burn was seven bags of rubbish, which included tin cans, bottles, and even cups. This 75-year-old farmer was being attacked for something he didn’t do. I had been a witness to the seven trash bags being thrown onto the fire, and so I said to our neighbors, “Hey, the farmer offered to burn for the other neighbors, and they said that they would do this but actually, they didn’t, and now you’re blaming him. I think that’s maybe time to get a bit of better understanding.” I got a message later from a neighbor saying, “I’m sorry, but this farmer is so difficult to deal with. We’re always having trouble with him.” I replied, “His livelihood is in our neighborhood, so for the farmer, what we view as walking country in a quiet peaceful part of Somerset is actually how he makes a living. He started furloughed, and he is having to do a lot of the work on his own. He’s 75, driving a tractor, lighting fires, putting up fences, and so on, whereas the rest of us are living in varying degrees of comfort.” 

This issue led me to thinking of how preconceptions are so important in how people get perceived in new events and circumstances. A 75-year-old farmer was just trying to do his job, but as far as the others were concerned, he was ruining the landscape. We ended up in this situation where no one’s done anything wrong, but people are fighting with each other. The farmwas was also requesting permission to b build an extension to his house, which caused another uproar from the community, and so I suggested to the farmer, maybe an idea would be to print out the diagrams for the buildings and he said, “I’m just going to build a house. It’s full of light and it’ll be wonderful for a family to move into. I don’t understand what the problem is.” So his remit to the architect was that it should be a family house with lots of sunlight and it should be able to look over the fields, but the other people looking at this just saw a change to the existing dwelling. They saw an extension. They thought of noise. They thought of chaos. The farmer said, “I can employ people for six months on this project. That’s good for somebody. That’s getting people back to work, but the neighbours see that as more traffic, strangers coming in and out of the neighborhood.” Same issue, entirely different viewpoints, and therein lies one of the biggest problems for PR, which is that entrepreneurs, when they’re starting businesses and start to promote them, they may or may not have a reputation. Their company may or may not have a reputation. Their industry may or may not have a reputation.

The Edelman Trust Index

The Edelman Trust Index is an index done all over the world where thousands of people are surveyed, and what it shows this year is an alarming reduction in the degrees of trust between members of society and institutions of society, institutions being NGOs, companies, the media, government, and more. What once were bastions of trust and credibility are now establishments that people have lost faith in. And in the same way as the farmer who in the past would have been considered a landowner gentry, the default is to distrust him because his interests are not aligned with those of the people that are living here in leisure.

The Edelman Trust Index says that people are now trusting institutions less and less, and yet we are coming into these markets as entrepreneurs having to overcome this cynicism. During COVID, one of the issues that people have been raising is if they’re making money currently, is it okay to say that? And should they be making money? Should they be profiting out of the loss of others and the hardship of others, similar to when people had the same angst during wars or outbreaks? There will always be winners and losers, but to be seen profiting is, certainly in western societies, considered poor form. As PR people and entrepreneurs, then, one of the roles inside the company and amongst partners, customers, and staff is to give reassurance that we have integrity, moral direction, and that we can give moral leadership at a time when people don’t trust each other. 

Let people see you through video

There is a natural desire for people to watch other people, and you see this everywhere. Moving images are much more impactful, and they’re a more efficient way of transferring information from one party to the other. Also, things like body language make a difference, well beyond what you say and how you look. How your body is positioned, where you’re speaking say as much, if not more, than the words that you’re speaking. In relation to video, Vimeo is a platform for sharing videos without the interruption of advertising that comes with YouTube, and it’s £15 a month, which I see as me using money in ways for people to see me. I’m hoping that I can still see other people as well through platforms like Zoom, but there are people that I can’t see that I would like to communicate and engage with. There are people that I think would benefit from seeing who I am before entrusting me with what it is they need me to help them with.

In this age of growing cynicism, whether it’s my next door neighbors and bonfires or it’s the Edelman Global Trust Index where leaders have been undermining the value of things like the free press, where attacks on media have gone up all around the world, the role that we can play as entrepreneurs is to make sure you’re a moral compass for those around you, and one way to do that is by useing video. Sitting here with the smell of bonfire smoke, I was able to learn how to film and edit a video that explains the way I believe that individuals and companies can structure their messaging using a message home. Obviously, it’s not the same as if I was able to be in a room with all those people, but at least it’s there. At least I’m present. At least if someone does come to my website or finds me on social media, they will be able to find and see who I am. So, the thought for the day is that video, with the technology available and the learning that’s being shared online for free, enables entrepreneurs to sit at home, in the office, home studio, or wherever and create even the most basic, most rudimentary of content with the aim of getting the business noticed.

MIT Professor Thomas Allen wrote a report about how communication decays due to distance, and he demonstrated through his tests that technology isn’t really going to make people communicate any more than not having it. What works, however, is using technology as a platform or as an enabler. As mentioned in the first chapter of SPEAK|pr which is to Storify, it’s all about the business and the entrepreneur, so find out what your narrative is and share it, because the Allen curve comes into effect the further away people are from each other, and the longer time people spend apart. The only way to get the businesses going is by communicating how you can add value to partners, customers, and staff. As Peter Drucker said about business, it only exists to transfer value from one entity to the next. 

This article is based on a transcript from my Podcast SPEAK|pr, you can listen here.

Photo by Thays Orrico on Unsplash

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