Conclusion: The New PR: Securing Trust at Scale

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Scott Baradell
Published: Mar 6, 2023

(Following is the conclusion and last of 18 excerpts republished here from Trust Signals: Brand Building in a Post-Truth World.)

Our trust issues didn’t begin with the internet.

The quest for trust didn’t even start with the first humans 300,000 years ago, according to evolutionary biologists. Trust is a primal need that predates us as a species.

Research of primates, in fact, demonstrates that their capacity to trust is similar to our own. It is an essential glue for their communities.

A UCLA study of capuchin monkeys—popularly known as the favored sidekick of organ grinders—showed that the monkeys go through a fascinating ritual of poking each other in the eye before participating in shared activities, such as hunting.

In his thought-provoking book The Age of Empathy, primatologist Frans de Waal referred to this practice as a capuchin “trust fall” (Boser 2014).

The first human societies came together because of trust. The greatest empires endured because of it. And nearly every civilization that has fallen saw the bonds of trust fragment first.


The lack of trust, or at least a necessary level of trust for healthy and sustainable relationships, has come to be characterized in recent years as a trust deficit.

I am not a fan of the term because “deficit” means deficiency in amount. I would argue—and I think Trust Signals demonstrates— that most of us do not have a deficit of trust in our daily lives.

We have, instead, a displacement of trust.

We still have trust to give. But we have been forced to reconsider where to invest that trust, and who is worthy of it.

I’m reminded of the poignant line in Paul Thomas Anderson’s film Magnolia, when the lovelorn and depressed character Quiz Kid Donnie Smith exclaims in desperation: “I really do have love to give. I just don’t know where to put it!”

We must find places to put our trust in our everyday lives—and we seek out trust signals to find those places.


While trust signals have been around since the Pharos of Alexandria and before, in current digital marketing parlance, a trust signal can fall into three categories:

  1. Website trust signals that encourage visitors to complete a purchase or take an action
  2. Inbound trust signals that drive visitors to your website via inbound marketing
  3. SEO trust signals that visitors might not notice, but that Google uses to rank you in search

We introduced these three types of trust signals in Chapters 3–7 of this book. Then, in Chapters 10–15, we explained how these signals could be integrated into a PR system called Grow With TRUST, featuring the following solutions:

  • Third-party validation—because people believe what other people say about you more than what you say about yourself
  • Reputation management—because a reputation that’s worth building is worth defending
  • User experience—because how you present your brand across owned media must be consistent to earn trust
  • Search presence—because Google is the ultimate arbiter of visibility and trust on the web
  • Thought leadership—because 95 percent of your buyers aren’t looking to buy right now; share helpful informa- tion so they’ll remember you when they are


In addition to introducing trust signals and the Grow With TRUST system, we’ve covered some other important topics:

  • Why the PR profession has declined in influence—and how the Grow With TRUST system can bring it back (Intro and Chapter 1)
  • The importance of identifying your brand’s target audiences—and how to go about it (Chapters 2 and 9)
  • When and how to measure the impact of trust signals on brand building and business growth (Chapter 8)
  • How to get started with the Grow With TRUST system (Chapter 16)

Finally, I’ve introduced a new definition for PR, providing a clear path to meaningfully differentiate our profession:

PR is the art of securing trust at scale.

My deepest wish for this book is that it will encourage other PR practitioners to step into the role of trust expert and advocate for their companies or clients—and that more of my peers and colleagues will begin to view themselves as the keepers of trust for brands.

I urge them to join me in mastering and deploying an evolving set of practices—trust signals—to secure audience trust.


Today, the United States suffers from a lack of trust in shared institutions like the government, police, and the media.

But we still trust that our electricity will work if we pay our bills on time. We trust that our car’s brakes will function at the next red light or stop sign. We trust the people we know we can count on, like friends and family.

And we trust the sources of information in our individual continuums of influence as well.

Trust fragmentation in our post-truth world has resulted in dysfunction in Washington, bitter arguments across social media, conspiracy theories, cancel culture, and more.

But it has also given brands an opportunity to step into the void. Business is America’s most trusted institution today, which is why so many consumers look to CEOs to share a vision not just for selling products, but for making the world a better place.

Ultimately, it’s a question of supply and demand:

People demand places to put their trust.

Supply them that place and you’ve got a customer, employee, or fan of your brand for life.

When you build a trustworthy brand, you are doing more than attracting new customers and growing your business. You are helping create a more trustworthy world.

Let trust signals guide your way.

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