Growing Role for PR Pros to Help Build Trust

Edelman Trust Barometer, 2016 logo

Reading between the lines of Edelman’s latest Trust Barometer suggests significant opportunities for public relations professionals who can help businesses communicate their essential role in improving society.

Business is better positioned than government, media and NGOs to deal with rapid change in society, according to the 2016 Trust Barometer. Importantly, 80% of respondents believe business can both increase its profits while improving the economic and social conditions in the communities in which it operates. Business also increased its level of trust globally, up 5 percentage points to 53%, just behind NGOs’ 55%.

“Business can be a big part of the solution because it is apolitical, fast, and tracks its progress,” said Kathryn Beiser, global practice chair of Edelman’s Corporate practice. “Now is the time to lead from the front with the support of their employees and passionate customers. No longer can business leaders focus on short-term goals. The new model CEOs are taking action by addressing the issues of our time, and taking a personal interest in the success of society. Stakeholders expect business to have a solid and steady focus on financial returns, but also on actions around key issues such as education, healthcare and the environment.”

Underscoring the role of reputation and trust, Chicago business consultant Fred Siegman told Culpwrit, “You qualify on skill, experience, education, reputation. You choose on trust! That trust tipping point often comes from the strength of some person-to-person relationship.” Achieving the higher levels of trust will require management commitment and honest, candid communication. Needless to say, government and NGOs also need to improve and expand their communication efforts to build trust.

Other key findings from the 2016 Edelman Trust Barometer include:

  • Respondents want to see a shift in CEO focus from short-term results and lobbying to job creation (49 percent) and positive long-term impact (57 percent). They want business leaders more visible in discussions of income inequality and public policy (80 percent).
  • Despite an increase of one point to 42 percent globally, government remains the least trusted institution for the fifth year running.
  • Trust in NGOs went up in 81 percent of the countries surveyed with the most dramatic jumps occurring in China (17 points) and Mexico (11 points).
  • Among the informed public, media made an impressive turnaround as trust increased in 20 of the 28 countries surveyed. The biggest gains were in the U.S. (16 points), Canada (14 points), UK (14 points) and Hong Kong (12 points).
  • Globally, family-owned companies (66 percent) remain most trusted, trailed by public (52 percent) and state-owned (46 percent) businesses.
  • Companies headquartered in developed markets are still more trusted than those based in developing markets. Canada, Sweden and Switzerland, all 66 percent, are most trusted, followed by Germany (64 percent).
  • For the fifth consecutive year, search engines (63 percent) and traditional media (58 percent) remain the two most trusted sources for general news and information. Online media jumped 8 points to 53 percent and is now the third most trusted source, followed by owned media, which is up 3 points to 46 percent and social media (44 percent).

2 thoughts on “Growing Role for PR Pros to Help Build Trust

  1. Ron, you are so right on seeing the opportunity, if not the raging need, for PR pros to address the widening gap between ‘informed’ and ‘mass’ consumers’ trust, as evidenced in Edelman’s latest Truth Barometer research.

    I think the challenge is first to face an uncomfortable truth: We have objective, blunt evidence that the existing models for corporate engagement on key issues that Kathryn mentions simply don’t work. Perhaps that’s because they’re really 100 year-old ideas, once you strip away the latest mechanisms for delivering them.

    I wonder if a huge, honest rethink isn’t in order, instead of doubling-down on approaches that may well have gotten us into this pickle?

  2. Ron – I agree. Said in a slightly different way, PR professionals should be paying attention to their company’s reputation. If it’s not perceived as trusted, you have a reputation issue.

    It’s an exciting time for PR professionals to make a significant impact in their careers and in society.

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