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Global Practices

Life Sciences and Trust

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The Edelman Trust Barometer is an annual global report on trust, of course, but also on how trust relates to what it takes to remain relevant in the years ahead. This year two things that are particularly relevant to life sciences companies caught my attention and I hope they will catch yours as well.

First, the Barometer reflected the wreckage of the year before: A crisis of leadership in virtually every sector. From banking scandals and convicted executives to government corruption and inefficiency, every institution let us down. What’s really instructive is that because there was a brief interlude between when the global Trust study was fielded in late 2012 and the U.S. Trust study in January 2013, we have data that shows the impact of events and actions – or the lack of such – on Trust.

Take the 2013 “fiscal cliff,” which was big news in the U.S. in January and February. With so much on the line, the media and public were focused on the ability of President Obama to address the critical budget and deficit issues facing the U.S. At the end of January there was limited progress in addressing this critical situation and while we saw U.S. trust among elites remain stable, trust among the general population fell dramatically, an urgent reminder that earning or keeping trust must be an ongoing priority. Trust is not something that you can hold as an asset, but something that must be earned on an almost daily basis.

Second, over the years, the Barometer has shown the ongoing evolution of media and the rise of social media in a world of radical transparency. For pharma and life sciences companies, the challenge of meeting expectations of transparency is substantial. Insights from this year’s Barometer, however, as reflected in a diamond-shaped visual model for leadership, show how our reputational assets can work together to drive real progress.

The fusion of two inverted pyramids, the Diamond of Influence, illustrates the new influencer dynamic underpinning public engagement. The top pyramid is the traditional pyramid of influence – rechristened the pyramid of authority – that represents the many assets and content drivers our clients bring to their efforts, including CEOs and government leaders, boards of directors and technical experts, and elite media. This is joined at its foundation with an inverted pyramid of community that operates and speaks horizontally and represents engaged employees, social activists and others involved in real-time and constant peer-to-peer dialogue.

A true representation of a dispersion of authority – the voices of the many and the co-creation of a company’s reputation in very social world – the diamond guides us once again to recognize that engagement and dialogue are essential to winning and securing trust and business success.

To lead in in this new world order, CEOs must embrace inclusive leadership habits. This includes engaging social activists, employees, consumers, plus the classic experts. Other features as noted by Richard Edelman in his presentation of the Trust results in Chicago are the need to build legitimacy by showing humility and the need to share reasoning and mutual benefit. Leaders need to not only explain that they are going to be radically transparent, they need to show it. The old playbook of just making the numbers – earning the license to operate – is no longer enough. In today’s environment, companies need to earn a license to lead, and that requires them to embrace a more inclusive way of going about their business.

For life sciences companies, the opportunity to lead is clear.

  • Sharing product information and supporting research in language that all can appreciate
  • Showcasing company and collaborating scientists and clinicians
  • Engaging honestly and transparently with patients, care providers and care givers
  • Establishing opportunities for open and dynamic dialogue
  • And, building engagements with all sectors of society on the benefits that health, disease treatment and care bring not just to the individual patient, but to all facets of life and the economy

Below is a link to Richard’s presentation of the 2013 Edelman Trust Barometer in Chicago for those who were unable to attend.

To access all information regarding the Edelman 2013 Trust Barometer, click here.

Lynn Hanessian is chief science strategist. You can follow her at @LynnHanessian.

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