Edelman Trust Barometer Uncovers ‘Crisis in Leadership’

Edelman PR just released its annual “Trust Barometer” for 2013–and its findings contain both expected and surprising results. The study’s theme is “crisis of leadership”, and its most significant finding is that fewer than one in five respondents (out of more than 30,000 worldwide) believe that “a business or governmental leader will actually tell the truth when confronted with a difficult issue.”

And yet, despite this conclusion and the fact that “banks and financial services” remain the least trusted industries, consumer trust in both “business” and “government” in the abstract is higher this year than last. Confused?

A couple of interesting points:
  • Residents in Western countries trust small businesses more than large ones; the opposite is true in the developing world.
  • NGOs (non-government organizations) like humane societies, unions and neighborhood groups are the most popular institutions (!).
  • Despite what you may have heard, trust in “the media” continues to rise thanks, in large part, to a diversity of options and the willingness of outlets to cover scandals.

The most important findings for PR:

  • The vast majority of participants greet company messages with skepticism. Information must be repeated 3-5 times for the average individual to begin believing it.
  • The sources seen as most credible/trustworthy by the public are “academics/experts”, “technical experts within the [given] company” and “a person like yourself.”
  • Least trusted sources are “CEOs” and “government officials or regulators.”

A few key lessons:

  1. Once your client decides on a message, don’t be afraid to repeat it (and repeat it, and repeat it).
  2. Find outside “experts” whenever you can. And don’t hesitate to turn to them for analysis/testimony (unless they’re financial analysts, because nobody likes those guys).
  3. In most cases, “regular employees” and especially CEOs do not make for trustworthy commentors or spokespeople. Think of them as vampires who should avoid sunlight and public statements unless absolutely necessary.
  4. In fact, if you can’t find an “academic/expert” or a regular Joe off the street to offer testimony, then you probably shouldn’t bother.
  5. In order to rebuild this lost trust, brands/clients must exhibit “engagement” and “integrity.”
  6. The public trusts “passionate or activist consumers” more than ever before.


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