I have just delivered a speech to the USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism. I appreciated the opportunity to speak about ethics in our profession, but also to talk more broadly about the new responsibilities of the Chief Communications Officer. You can read the full speech here, but here are the key points:
- The Battle for Truth — We are in a perilous time when trust in media is at its lowest ebb in the 18 years of the Edelman Trust Barometer; media is now the least-trusted institution, behind government, business and NGOs. The decline in 2018 is precipitated by the drop in trust in social platforms. The gap between mainstream media and social media in markets such as the UK, France and Germany is now an astounding 40 points. Over half of Americans no longer hear, see or read mainstream media on the basis that it is biased, politicized and upsetting. The consequence is that over half of people we surveyed can no longer judge the performance of elected officials.
- The Fifth Wave of the Trust Tsunami — The implosion of trust in media is the fifth wave. It follows people’s concerns about globalization; the Great Recession; automation, which is eliminating jobs; and immigration. This is the most insidious of the trust killers because it is slow and stealthy.
- Principal, Not Agent — In a world of weakened media, every company will have to be its own media company. We should welcome the responsibility to educate stakeholders on issues, enabling better decisions.
- High, Publicly-stated Ethical Standard — For this to succeed, we must have Accuracy (factually rigorous), Transparency (on motive, on results), Open Exchange (platform for consumers and employees) and Ethics Training (mandatory).
- New Definition of CCO: Chief Change Officer — The new CCO must lead on establishing the social contract for the corporation. We’ve already seen CCOs taking on areas like sustainability and supply chain. The new challenge is operating in a complex regulatory environment and under intense public scrutiny. For example, because tech companies are disrupting so many industries, they must create a new pact with the public around privacy and data.
- Evolution of the Communications Firm — We must bring ideas consistent with the new aspirations of business. And we should always have creative ideas that spark movements.
- The CCO Is the Bridge — From counsel and conscience to actor and creator; from what we say to what we do.
If you consider the issues confronting some of the biggest brands and media companies today, you can appreciate the complexity of the task and the necessity of CCOs emerging as the most powerful advisor to the CEO. This is our time.
Richard Edelman is president and CEO.