CEOs, get out of your bunkers!

That’s the rallying cry of Edelman, a global communications marketing firm, whose Trust Barometer 2016 annual report was the subject of Wednesday’s American Marketing Association lunch meeting in Houston.

“CEOs are regarded as a class, not as people. But people trust people. CEOs must come out of their bunkers,” said AMA speaker Danielle Allen, general manager of Edelman, quoting her own CEO, Richard Edelman.

For 16 years, the firm has polled a global sample regarding its trust of:

  1. NGOs (nongovernmental organizations)—most trusted.
  2. Business—becoming more trusted.
  3. Media—generally distrusted.
  4. Government—most distrusted.

A growing divide

Edelman General Manager Danielle Allen (no relation to this blogger) said the 16-year survey shows a significant divide in trust between the informed public and the mass population—a gap that has been growing since 2012 and that Edelman links to income inequality.

“We surveyed the top 25 percent and bottom 25 percent of income earners and found the most significant difference in the United States,” said Allen. “And, in more than two-thirds of the 28 nations we surveyed, the mass population doesn’t expect to be better off in 10 years.”

Influence no longer linked to authority

“Gone are the days when a small group had both authority and influence,” said Allen. “Now, influence is passed via social media, especially television, search and social (Facebook and Twitter). News is socially curated through the lens of your friends.”

For the first time last year, search engines moved into the “most trusted” spot for general news and information, and millenials are even more trusting of digital media than the general population.

Opportunities for business

Yet who is most trusted to keep pace with changing times? Business, by a strong margin, Allen said. 

“People believe that business can solve problems. People believe businesses can make a profit while improving economic and social life. The keys are integrity, engagement and transparency.” Sadly, the report showed that one-third of employees distrust their employers.

CEOs can solve both problems by discussing societal issues, Allen recommended. “These do not have to be controversial issues,” she said, citing “green” as one example. 

Note: I’ve seen that effect firsthand in my work writing sustainable-development reports and websites for companies that include ExxonMobil, Conoco, and LyondellBasell, by the way. 

Takeaways for marketers

Allen concluded with seven takeaways for the 200 Houston marketers who attended the meeting:

  1. Make sure your content can be found through search, the No. 1 trusted source of news and information.
  2. Encourage the sharing of information by your customers and peers.
  3. Express your values through honest, ethical engagement.
  4. Engage across channels.
  5. Ignite your most powerful advocate, your employees.
  6. Demonstrate that you are listening.
  7. Show that your company and its leaders are solving societal issues.

If you’d like a hard copy of the 20-page executive summary, send me an email:

Or, click here for the full report.