Public relations practitioners are facing a growing conundrum with declining trust in business and political leaders and the global economy.
If public relations practitioners are looking to their business leaders, the media and politicians to help solve the trust/reputation issues with their communication plans, they need to do an urgent rethink.
The IPSOS Trustworthiness Index for 2022 across 28 nations shows that in Australia the level of trust in business leaders is only 19 percent; in government ministers it falls to 16 percent, politicians generally to 12 percent and with journalists it rises to 21 percent.
Reinforcing these figures is the PwC research on executive and consumer perspectives on brand trust in the US released in May. The trust gap between the perceptions of executives compared to consumers and employees found that 87% of executives think consumers “highly trust their companies” whereas only 30% of consumers said they do. In addition, 84% of executives think their employees “highly trust their companies” compared to 69% of employees who said they do; and 71% of consumers say they’re unlikely to buy if a company loses their trust.
PR practitioners now must give greater focus and thinking to the trust and perception issues in their communication strategies to stakeholders – both internally and externally.
The looming recession, whether it is real or not for Australia, also puts urgency to this task.
The Measure of CEO Confidence™ in the US showed a continuing decline for the fifth consecutive quarter, with Q3 2022 down to 34 points from 42 in Q2. This deep fall has not been seen since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020. More than 81% of the CEOs surveyed say they are preparing for recession over the next 12-18 months and whether or not this will be sufficient to beat back inflation, all say this remains their “top challenge”.
These findings spill over to consumer confidence and consumer trust in government, corporations and brands. Capitalism depends on public trust for its legitimacy, and if public trust in business is low, governments and regulators must act. But the lack of trust in government does little to enhance this.
Regardless of how investors and inevitably consumers feel about the situation, numerous studies show that people are paying more attention to purpose-driven government initiatives and brands.
The problem for many PR practitioners is that trust remains a nebulous concept. Certainly, companies claim they can measure trust. But all have one thing in common: the particular metrics that constitute each company’s version of trust remain a tightly guarded secret.
Swimming in the pool of trust measurement makes it all the more important for PR practitioners to look at studies, such as Ipsos and PwC, to gain the evidence for their communication strategies. Data and measurement are critical to this. Until you measure, you’re merely guessing!
The rethink in the stakeholder engagement approach (remember stakeholders are not voters; this is a different analysis) is required to:
build stronger relationships and ensure stakeholders can participate in decision making,
address the trust and reputation factors by understanding that perception is of crucial importance to the credibility and accountability of policies (and for the very functioning of democracy), and
ensure societal progress is about improvements in the well-being of people and households based on trusted initiatives, trusted leaders and trusted communication. The ‘vehicles’ for this communication adds to the conundrum.