2021 Edelman Trust Barometer Finds Global Erosion

PR Firm Calls on CEOs to Do More “for the Good of Their Companies and Society”            

1/21/21 – – For the last two decades, Edelman public relations has published its annual Trust Barometer. The highly respected survey, conducted by the world’s largest PR firm, measures public trust in institutions and leaders in 28 countries.

Why focus on trust? Without it, communications and leadership are ineffective.

It’s not surprising that the 2021 Trust Barometer offers very little good news. COVID-19, crumbling economies and political pandemonium taxed the credibility of the four major institutions included in the survey: Business, NGOs, Government, and Media. Edelman found “an epidemic of misinformation and widespread mistrust of societal institutions and leaders around the world.”

Business, with a trust rating of 61 percent, holds a stronger position than NGOs (57 percent), Government (53 percent) and Media (51 percent). CEOs do even better then business in general. Given this relative strength, Edelman concludes: “CEOs must act on a broader set of concerns for the good of their companies and society.”

Here’s where the survey findings must be interpreted with care. While almost nine out of 10 respondents agreed that CEOs should publicly speak out on societal challenges, only four “challenges” were offered to respondents for consideration in the relevant survey question. Here’s how they scored:

Pandemic  (59 percent)

Job Automation  (51 percent)

Societal Issues  (43 percent)

Local Community Issues  (40 percent)

In other words, there was not enthusiastic support for CEOs jumping into any one of these topics. And fewer than 50 percent were in favor of CEOs tackling the broad category of “societal issues” — a quagmire of ever-evolving, polarizing challenges for CEOs and companies. There is a healthy reluctance among business leaders to take stands on the 50/50 political issues that animate today’s toxic public discourse. Doing so may earn kudos from like-minded activists and business professors, but will inevitably erode public and employee trust.      

It’s impossible for NGOs, governments and media to stay clear of politics. That’s one reason their trust ratings continue to fall. Businesses still have the opportunity to follow a different path. So, while it’s well worth the time to read the report accompanying the raw data from the 2021 Edelman Trust Barometer (linked below), analyze the recommendations with caution.

Trust me.


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