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Three Reasons I Care About Trust

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As the executive responsible for Edelman’s intellectual capital, I think about Trust and what it means in the business world – and the world of public relations  – nearly every day. As we release Edelman’s 13th Annual Trust Barometer this week, I want to share the three reasons I care about Trust.

  1. Trust is a Leading Indicator. Unlike Reputation, which is the sum of perceptions of past behaviors, Trust is a leading indicator of how stakeholders believe a business and/or its leaders will behave in the future. If stakeholders grant Trust to companies, those companies have permission to lead.  Trusted enterprises can drive the agenda of their organizations in explicit partnerships with stakeholders, leading to increased value for employees, customers, suppliers, communities, investors and, ideally, society.
  2. Trust is a Manageable Asset. Unlike the outdated (and I would suggest false) notion of managing perceptions of companies to drive stakeholder behavior towards those companies, Trust is a manageable and measurable corporate asset that delivers business value. Our 13 years of research, combined with endless and on-going literature searches and numerous complementary studies of Trust we conduct, led us to identify five performance clusters for Trust: Engagement, Integrity, Products and Services, Purpose and Operations. You can find detailed descriptions for each here. These clusters are listed from most important to least important according to our 31,000 respondents to the 2013 Edelman Trust Barometer. This powerful framework allows companies (and communicators within companies) to manage trust against specific corporate objectives. Trust needs to be, and can be, managed like any other asset within the company.
  3. Public Relations Professionals Should be the Keepers of Trust for their Organizations. I fundamentally believe companies and their leaders know how to behave in ways which engender long-term trust. For reasons which are usually within their control, they sometimes lose their way, damaging the value of their companies and leading, in many cases, to leaders being removed from their jobs. In the modern practice of public relations, PR professionals have the responsibility to manage Trust in their organizations – to ensure that the organizations themselves and their leaders behave in ways that afford the granting of trust by stakeholders to those organizations. The more we know about Trust and how to manage it, the greater value the practice of public relations provides to business and society.

Alan VanderMolen is vice chairman, DJE Holdings, president and CEO, global practices.

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