Should the CEO front the show?

Today’s unveiling of the 2013 Edelman Trust Barometer makes fairly grim reading for the people at the very top of organisations.

While trust levels overall in businesses are slightly up on last year, the standout finding is that leaders are less and less trusted. And while political leaders may garner less trust than executives, the CEO is singled out as a role that’s increasingly exposed to the scepticism of the audience and the communication complexities of changing media.

Which raises a pretty obvious question: should CEOs even be fronting the show, given the level of distrust that there seems to be in them? Many CEOs have always been in the media spotlight and therefore in the reputational firing line. There is a natural inclination for the man in the street to think ‘he or she’s just saying that because they have to’.

Yet trust in what CEOs say seems to be at such a low ebb that it’s worth looking at how communications techniques can change in order to rebuild trust, albeit that the level of trust will always be fragile. While journalists will typically want to talk to the person at the top of the organisation, many brands are looking to mobilise more spokespeople in the quest for deeper and more meaningful engagement with the audience.

Which points to another Trust Barometer finding: that academics and technical experts are the most trusted individuals. While many such experts need some close coaching to do media interviews, others have gained strong followings on social media.

What does all this add up to? Well no two organisations are alike, but the public appetite to trust the people at the coal face of the business and the extent to which CEOs seem to have been tarred with a brush of distrust means that having a broader pool of communicators within the organisation is at least worthy of consideration. And not just the usual suspects, but the ones who are best placed to tell the brand’s story in ways the audience will respect, and listen to. They may well be regular employees.

The CEO has no real option other than to be in the glare of all media, but in trust terms, the spotlight may be best shared.

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