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‘Trust drives growth and action earns trust’: Why transparency is important as ever for companies

Richard Edelman, CEO of world's largest PR firm, Edelman
Richard Edelman, CEO of world's largest PR firm, Edelman Copyright Euronews
Copyright Euronews
By Annabel MurphyHannah Brown
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To remain relevant, brands must actively engage with controversial topics like sustainability and politics. The CEO of the world’s largest public relations firm explains how companies can navigate these complex issues.

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In a landscape where corporate communication often falls short and public trust in big business and governments is diminishing, the challenge for large organisations lies in navigating what to say and how to say it.  

This complexity is exacerbated by the rise of climate activists, political divisions, misinformation and a general apathy towards corporate brands. 

Richard Edelman, CEO of the largest public relations  firm in the world (by revenue), said that despite these complexities, brands must lean-in and play an ‘offensive game’ to stay visible and relevant.

According to the 2024 Edelman Trust Barometer Report, survey participants expressed a strong desire for brands to engage in the big conversations dominating news agendas today. 

Climate change, inclusion, sustainability and politics are paramount and expectations on what brands should say and do when it comes to these issues have never been higher. Today, brands are not merely selling products; they are also conveying ideologies that represent their values and what their customers care about.

“Our research showed that by five to one, people want you to say more about climate, by four to one more about fair pay, by two to one on race and diversity. So it’s clear - it’s not only that silence is complicity, it is also that if you're silent, you're irrelevant,” Edelman warned.  

Why speaking up and walking the walk matters

Gone are the days when companies had complete control over the design and dissemination of their marketing messages. Today, communication is fragmented and brands must be proactive, anticipating their role in the conversation and putting forth ideas and perspectives. 

And it's not just about talking. Taking meaningful action in areas the brand deems important—and then effectively communicating back those actions - helps build loyalty and trust, which ultimately benefits the brand.

“The fundamental idea from the study is that trust drives growth and action earns trust. Action is a big part of this step and we want our brands to think - what change can I make?,” Edelman adds. 

Trust drives growth and action earns trust.
Richard Edelman

Politics: No longer something brands can avoid

Politics have become an inescapable consideration for brands when developing their messages and campaigns too. According to the Edelman Trust report, consumers increasingly choose brands that they perceive align with their political preferences.

The research revealed that 80% of respondents consider their political views when selecting products, and 60% base their purchases on their party affiliation. In a critical election year with significant repercussions, brands need to be sensitive to the policy issues important to their customer base.

“You don’t need to endorse candidates, you don't need to get into the most controversial issues but you need to have a stance and it needs to be visible, consistent and coherent with your own corporate values.” 

First start by talking to your brand’s core constituency, Edelman recommends, and identify the issues important to them. From there, it’s important to creatively incorporate relevant messages and actions where they align most effectively.

“If that constituency tends to be conservative, focus on issues about freedom or jobs for the future. If your constituency tends to be more liberal, focus on sustainability or diversity.” 

To build a true understanding of how your constituency votes and what’s important to them, market research is a good place to start. However, diversity of thought within your creative team is equally important; having voices that can balance the conversation and identify what may or may not resonate with a conservative mind is essential.

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Brands: Catalysts of change and hope

Amidst all the change and the challenging landscape for marketers, Edelman remains optimistic about the power of brands to effect positive change - no matter where they sit on the political spectrum.

“The key to brands is hope and marketing gives us a sense of optimism of what the world can be, and that's a really vital role in a time of real concern about the future.” 

Watch the video above to learn more about the findings of Edelman’s Trust Report. 

You can see more content from Cannes Lions here.

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Video editor • Joanna Adhem

Additional sources • Filmed by Arnaud Augst

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