Axios reports on the annual Trust Barometer compiled by the Edelman pubic relations agency, suggesting that when it comes to competence and ethics, businesses are more highly rated than government and elected officials.
While people in the business community inevitably will see this as a good thing, it also creates new pressures on business leaders "to take the lead on a wide range of societal issues that government is no longer trusted to manage," with 85 percent of respondents saying they expect CEOs "to take a public stand and take business action on key issues," playing a role "in strengthening our social fabric … "CEOs are expected to use resources to hold divisive forces accountable," the report says. "72 percent want business to defend facts and expose questionable science being used to justify bad social policy .... 64 percent want companies to support politicians and media outlets that build consensus and cooperation."
According to the story, "Business holds a 54-point lead over government in competence — and 30 points in ethics."
- KC's View:
Time for a little context … and a cautionary note, I think.
First of all, let's be clear - Edelman is a public relations agency. If you go on its website, it is clear that the vast majority of its clients are, in fact, businesses … and Edelman's job is to make them seem trustworthy and ethical. If business's numbers are not better than governments' then it means Edelman isn't doing its job. (Companies don't usually issue reports questioning their own competence and expertise.). By the way, Edelman's website also suggests that the campaigns it is promoting are very public interest-centric, which I think is smart; it reinforces the message of the Trust Barometer.
To be sure, it helps that governments and elected officials these days are making it easier for businesses to seem more ethical and competent. The bar ain't high.
I also think that some of the suggestions Edelman is making are problematic, depending on the retailer and the circumstances. It's nice to suggest that CEOs should "take a public stand and take business action on key issues … strengthening our social fabric," but there are a lot of key issues out there on which any kind of stand might not strengthen the social fabric, at least not among certain demographics. CEOs who take stands have to do so with the understanding that they could be alienating a percentage of their customer base. This is easier to accomplish when the issues and positions are part of a company's DNA (think Ben & Jerry's, Patagonia), as opposed to being appropriated at a later time.
Make no mistake. I like and trust businesses that take stands, and I want to patronize businesses that seem to support causes and positions with which I agree. But I also am less likely to patronize companies that take positions with which I disagree - because those stands make them, on my mind, untrustworthy.
It isn't simple. Though, I suppose the bottom line actually is pretty simple - that this is all easier to navigate if Edelman is your PR agency.