When the German comedian turned MEP, Nico Semsrott sported an outfit covered in brand logos this week, some people found it humorous, others were somewhat bemused – although such attention grabbing stunts are becoming commonplace in the European Parliament.
But the satirist was making an important point – and I don’t mean simply his reported belief that MEPs should wear the logos of companies they receive donations from. It’s the wider point about corruption, transparency and trust in our public life.
Ask any business, industry or politician about what they want their communications to achieve and they will probably talk about trust. Trust from the public; trust from shareholders; trust from regulators, their supply chain, or whoever their stakeholders and target audience may be.
The UK has strict rules in place for politicians declaring donations and outside interests, and these are easy enough to check publicly. But how many voters ever do this or even know that they are able to? Could politicians make these even more obvious and, by clearly demonstrating their transparency, help to repair the breakdown in trust between them and the public?
A doctor giving an industry talk to fellow medics for example, will often disclose any financial or other potential conflict of interest at the start, even if it’s not relevant to what’s being discussed. This transparency helps to give the speaker credibility and create a bond of trust between them and their audience.
Trust must be earned. Integrity is everything and without trust any communication risks falling on deaf ears. There’s no guaranteed formula for winning trust but being open and transparent is a good place to start.
Will Scawn is an associate director at Camargue