The latest Edelman Trust Barometer makes sobering reading for corporate leaders. Trust in all institutions has fallen to levels not seen since the global financial crisis while, in half the countries surveyed, trust in business has slumped below 50 per cent.
Worryingly, the credibility of CEOs continues to decline. Only 43 per cent regard CEOs as credible, compared with academic or industry experts (70 per cent), company technical experts (67 per cent) or ‘a person like yourself’ (63 per cent.) Only government officials and regulators rank lower at 38 per cent.
The findings add to the debate about whether the CEO should be the primary spokesperson in a crisis. Quite apart from the practical issues of time and availability for media briefings, there’s the question of whether the CEO will be believed.
If ‘a person like yourself’ is among the most credible information sources, a CEO who is obviously not ‘a person like yourself’ faces an even bigger credibility gap.
Reflecting on the Gulf of Mexico spill, former BP CEO Tony Hayward told the Financial Times last year, “There was no way in a million years that I was ever going to connect with the citizens of Louisiana and Texas. I needed to have a role, but not the leading role.”
It would be wrong to suggest that the CEO should shy away from communicating – there is an expectation of visible leadership in a crisis. A better solution is to build a bench strength of subject matter experts and advocates to support the CEO and lend greater credibility.
Searching for News
For the first time, search engines are now the most trusted source of general news and information among informed publics, eclipsing traditional news media. Owned and social media are also increasingly trusted.
This has implications for the way organisations communicate in a crisis. Making information easy to find and share is important, as is engaging with stakeholders and credible third parties: relationships which should be in place before a crisis hits.