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Trust and Public Relations: The Unstoppable Duo

By Libby Page

As PR professionals, our job is to create relationships with clients, publics and media outlets. This relationship can only succeed if trust is gained. Therefore, we must strive to achieve the understanding of those around us.

Like many other trends, trust is constantly changing. It is important to research the themes related to trust in order to serve your publics effectively. Edelman, a global public relations firm, leads the field in research on trust. For the past 11 years, Edelman has released the Trust Barometer, an annual survey that measures attitudes about trust in 23 different countries.


In a video featured on the Edelman website, president and CEO Richard Edelman discusses the key findings from the 2011 Trust Barometer. After watching the video, I believe these four key findings are beneficial tools for PR professionals and corporations.

1. Social Responsibility

Over the past few years, a growing concentration on philanthropy and charitable giving has taken place in corporate America. Instead of purely focusing on maximizing profits, companies are beginning to give back to the community. As PR professionals, we need to focus on this trend when dealing with clientele. With great profits comes great responsibility. PR professionals should encourage campaigns that highlight corporate citizenship.

Starbucks Coffee is an example of a corporation that includes social responsibility in its business model. Through community service, ethical sourcing and environmental wellness, Starbucks successfully combines profitability with social benefit. Since Starbucks contributes minimal amounts of its budget to advertising, it is obvious that social responsibility serves as an effective PR tactic and business model.

2. Multiple Channels, Multiple Voices

In America, the public has grown increasingly skeptical of media outlets. According to Richard Edelman, a message must be repeated up to 10 times in order for someone to believe it. When facing a lack of trust, Edelman suggests using multiple channels and multiple voices.

With this in mind, PR professionals should work toward an integrated message across several mediums. Edelman names four types of media in the video: mainstream media, new media, social media and owned media. An effective campaign should utilize all four media outlets while delivering a unified message.

Additionally, PR professionals should encourage their clients to have multiple spokespeople. Trust is more likely gained if a company appears open and honest on all fronts.

3. Authority from Corporate Leadership

With increased skepticism, it shouldn’t be surprising that Americans want to see authority and accountability from corporate leadership. As PR students and professionals, we know that accountability and honesty are important during times of crisis. Instead of waiting for an emergency, corporate leaders should be constantly striving to lead their industry in a promising direction. Edelman describes business leaders as “private sector diplomats.” In other words, business leaders should be working with the government and the community to benefit their industry.

For example, Starbucks utilizes ethically traded coffee in order to encourage healthy lifestyles for farmers. To create trust with the public, corporate leaders need to show concern for the overall industry, not just their business. By advocating fair trade, Starbucks has set a standard for the coffee industry.

4. Trust Leads to Benefits

Most importantly, trust creates tangible benefits for both the corporation and the public. Partaking in dishonest or unethical activities only leads to barriers.

PR professionals should present trust as an essential element of any campaign when speaking with clientele. Trust is not only a strength in personal relationships, but it is also a part of a proven business model that guarantees success and achievement.

What role do you think trust plays in a corporation’s success?

Do you agree with the key findings of Edelman’s Trust Barometer?

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