Well Told: Edelman Trust Barometer 2012

The stepping stones to rebuilding trust - Edelman Trust Barometer 2012

The Edelman Trust Barometer 2012 is an annual global study, now in its 12th year. The results are topical and without being preachy, it delivers content with vision and a degree of wisdom. But what really struck me was the way the agency packaged and delivered it over a range of media. It’s a story well told, and there’s some good lessons for business communicators.

Lesson in thought-leadership

As an example of thought-leadership and a template for effective communication thereof, it seems pretty much perfect. The issue of ‘trust’ is a hardy perennial and a critical element in developing good relationships. Edelman (German translation: Pure Man) is an icon in public relations so the choice of  trust as an issue is a perfect fit.

And Edelman’s communications template for distributing the story, with integrated traditional and online media, is one that we should all note and aim to copy. On the website, note the slicing and dicing of results to create sections around the state of trust in institutions, in industry, and the path forward.

There are also downloads, press release, executive summary, social media to share, and a snappy video summary of the results by CEO Richard Edelman. If only we could all tell such a good story in just three minutes.

Take away the keys of the car

One of the great things about the Trust Barometer 2012, is that the narrative is well developed. The reader is grabbed by the content and hooked with some memorable ‘soundbites’ and word pictures. Nice creative touches extend to images such as the simple picture idea at the head of this story.

But ‘take away the keys of the car’ stands out as a great word picture  to communicate just how sceptical citizens are  when it comes to government – hey, they want government to hand back the keys! Not surprising because the survey shows that in over half the countries, trust levels have dropped below 50%.

The Barometer suggests that trust in business has remained reasonably stable but confidence in the CEO has fallen from 50% to 38%; only government spokespeople are less trusted. Now the most trusted people in society are academics, technical experts and regular employees of organisations.

Move away from the guard rails

Looking to the future, Edelman says that to rebuild trust, business leaders will have to reach beyond  their immediate stakeholders and engage with a wider and more unusual community. It’s about greater societal engagement with  the most pressing issues of the day; business needs to develop not just ‘a license to operate but a licence to lead’.

Another striking analogy and word picture is ‘the need to move away from the guard rails’. Edelman explains that business needs to shift to ‘principle-based leadership, not rules-based’. There also needs to be radical transparency and engagement with stakeholders beyond the customary regulators and employees.

Edelman Trust Barometer 2012 is a great story well told. If the results are true, we will need to see the story four to five times before we believe it. In the mean time, it gives us food for thought, a taste of best practice, and a vision for the future. And you can’t say that for all thought-leadership.

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