Edelman Trust Barometer reveals only 30 per cent of public rates CEOs as 'believable'

Trust in CEOs has plummeted as members of the public increasingly look to 'people like themselves' for credible information, new research has revealed.

Seminar: Edelman’s Trust Barometer launch
Seminar: Edelman’s Trust Barometer launch

As disclosed by PRWeek on Tuesday, Edelman’s annual Trust Barometer has revealed an increase in disillusionment with both businesses and the Government in the UK. Only 30 per cent of UK respondents found CEOs to be believable spokespeople for their organisation.

This plunge – nine per cent down from the previous survey – compares with a 25 per cent rise in the credibility of ‘people like yourself’, taking this category up to 60 per cent.

Sacha Deshmukh, MHP CEO, argued the trend meant businesses should focus more on unbiased third-party endorsement in their comms strategies, leading to a ‘complete reboot in the way communicators think about the way companies talk’.

James Morris, MD, corporate comms, public affairs and financial services at Fleishman-Hillard, added that many firms were not ensuring there was a coherent narrative from the CEO downwards that carried across all platforms.

‘It’s about looking at things not just from a data perspective, but from the perspective of what the business can contribute to society,’ said Morris.

Edelman’s twelfth annual survey showed that only 38 per cent trusted business to do the right thing, while 72 per cent believed companies should be involved in solving social and environmental problems.

Fiona Thorne, chief executive at Fishburn Hedges, found the figures ‘unsurprising’, pointing to the backdrop of the phone-hacking scandal and economic issues. She added that, due to increased scrutiny, firms had to build a good reputation on the substance of their actions, with social media offering the chance to rebuild trust through open dialogue.

‘Once companies have got used to the dialogue, they will recognise the value they have from their customers in a way they’ve not done before, but immediate day-to-day priorities often take precedence,’ said Thorne.

The Government did badly too, as 71 per cent said it was important that the country’s financial affairs were managed properly, but only 12 per cent believed this was happening.

NGOs fared better than government and business, with a 42 per cent trust level. Globally, blame for the financial and political chaos of 2011 landed on government, with trust falling a record nine points to 43 per cent. In 17 of the 25 countries surveyed, government is now trusted by less than half to do what is right.

Also read: Danny Rogers: Tomorrow's CEOs must be a force for good

How I see it

Darren Murphy
Chief executive, Centreground Political Communications

For political parties, there needs to be a clarity of ideas and a determination to communicate combined with a strong narrative. You can rebuild trust, but you have to do it one voter at a time. Importantly, you also have to be seen to be in direct dialogue with the public.

Mat Sears
Head of PR, Everything Everywhere

We have more calls now for our CEO than ever before. In terms of interest from the media, the CEO is always the person to which all media would want to speak. The demand we see now is higher than it has ever been.

In numbers

18% of those polled believed business placed customers ahead of profits

68% believed the UK was heading on the wrong track

11% said the Government communicated frequently and honestly

58% of respondents trusted TV and radio news

Source: Edelman Trust Barometer

COMMENT Ed Williams, chief executive officer, Edelman UK, tells firms to ‘improve the world’

Trust in business remains in the doldrums, and trust in CEOs has slipped further, with people trusting almost every other type of spokesperson higher than the boss.

The CEO is now one of the most distrusted authority figures – with a nine percentage point decline year on year.

Inevitably, perceptions around big pay are driving this. We are in a world, fair or not, where the title CEO is inextricably linked to unjustified high levels of pay.

The challenge for business is that to become more trusted – to move from simply protecting its ‘licence to operate’ to establishing a ‘licence to lead’ – it needs to move beyond operational excellence to addressing society’s priorities.

And that is one of the key findings in this survey – large numbers of the public expect business to do much more than just make money and create jobs.

They expect business to improve the world it operates in for the better, act ethically, treat employees well and help local communities.

This is the difference between responsible, respected firms and those that are distrusted. This is the trust fulcrum for business.

Like the breakdown in party allegiances and the emergence of massive volatility in the electorate, trust and perceptions of trust shift quickly.

The one message that is loud and clear, and pertinent to all institutions, is act with integrity, in an open and honest way, and deliver results, and you will be trusted.

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