83% of Media Says Accessible CEO Raises Brand Authenticity; Same Percentage Use Video As-Is

There’s little doubt the U.S. is mired in a trust crisis, with the 2018 EdelmanTrust Barometer recording the country’s largest trust drop in the survey’s history.

Trust among the general population fell nine points to 43, placing the U.S. in the lower quarter of the 28-market Trust Index. Trust among what Edelman calls “the informed public” in the U.S. dropped even more (23 points), to 45, the lowest of the 28 markets surveyed, behind even Russia and South Africa.

Stephen Hahn-Griffiths, Chief Research Officer, The Reputation Institute
Stephen Hahn-Griffiths,
Chief Research Officer,
The Reputation Institute

In the wake of such horrific news, a rise in the trust people had for the CEO often was missed. In fact, CEO credibility jumped 7 points to 44%. The jump can be explained partly by the decline in so many other entities, such as media, government, business and non-governmental organizations.

A subtle distinction is that while people told Edelman they distrust business, they also said they have a good opinion of their employer (72% say they trust their company).

With trust in their employer comes a belief that the CEO can lead where government and media chiefs cannot.

Indeed, the Edelman survey found building trust (69%) now is job #1 for CEOs, edging out production of high-quality products and services (68%). And nearly two-thirds of respondents say they want CEOs to take the lead on policy change instead of waiting for government, which now ranks significantly below business in trust in 20 markets.

1Source: D S Simon Media, 2018 

A Decline in Trust

Matt Prince Senior Manager, PR/Brand Experience, Taco Bell
Matt Prince
Senior Manager, PR/Brand Experience,
Taco Bell

Trust is an element of reputation, says Stephen Hahn-Griffith, chief reputation officer at the Reputation Institute(RI). Similar to Edelman, RI reported significant declines in reputation. It was the first time RI had reported a downward trend in reputation.

Both Edelman and RI pointed to fake news as a major contributor to the downward trends found in their surveys.

Also similar, Hahn-Griffiths sees the CEO’s role as critical. For him it’s about the CEO’s role in building and maintaining a brand’s reputation ( PRN, March 20). “It’s much better if the face of the brand is the CEO...it gives the message far more weight than having another executive or a spokesperson talk for the company,” he says. Worse, of course, is a nameless, faceless statement, Hahn-Griffith adds.


Source: D S Simon Media, 2018

Not So Fast

Of course, the past few months have seen CEOs and former CEOs make spectacular mistakes. Former CEO and board chairman John Schnatter of Papa John’s Pizza Internationalembarrassed the brand with racist language, resulting in his expulsion as board chair; he was removed as CEO in January.

Tesla chief Elon Musk and Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg also fell into the soup recently. Disenchanted investors have urged both to step down.

And while still on the job, CBS CEO/board chair Les Moonves is in a precarious position as lawyers investigate sexual harassment allegations against him.

Perhaps these events will be reflected in the 2019 work of Edelman and RI.

Until then there’s a new survey from video PR firm D S Simon Media about press members’ preferences regarding CEO and brand exec interviews as well as how journalists use submitted video. The survey results appear in PR News exclusively, courtesy of D S Simon Media.

The firm surveyed TV, radio and newspaper journalists, as well as bloggers from national, regional and local media for three weeks during May and June. Some 150 journalists responded.


Source: D S Simon Media, 2018

CEO Interview is Authentic

In short, the survey tracks with Hahn-Griffiths’ assessment about the importance of having the CEO represent the company to media. An overwhelming majority (83%) of journalists say having an accessible CEO makes the organization seem more authentic (chart 1).

Larissa von Lockner Senior External Communications Manager, PwC
Larissa von Lockner
Senior External Comms Manager,

When composing a positive story, media also find in-house spokespersons to be more authentic as interview subjects than third-party experts for brands and non-profits (see charts 2 and 3).

Similarly, by a wide margin, journalists prefer to interview brands’ (82%) and non-profits’ (87%) employees as a opposed to outside experts (see charts 6 and 7).

Says Larissa von Lockner, senior external communications manager at PwC, “Authenticity and trust are keys to telling a compelling brand story.”

She adds, “In a day of far too much information, humanizing your brand with authentic, relatable spokespeople is more important than ever. It’s truly the key to relating to your audience.”


Source: D S Simon Media, 2018

Authenticity and Video

Doug Simon, President/CEO,
Doug Simon, Pres./CEO, D S Simon Media

Speaking of authenticity, there may be questions about the honesty of certain journalistic products when you consider a whopping 83% of media members admit they use brand- and nonprofit-provided video “as produced” (chart 5).

This observation is tempered since 58% of TV journalists say they do this. Presumably TV outlets are best equipped to cut and edit submitted video and TV journalists are more comfortable with editing video than those at other mediums.

We also don’t know how many radio outlets, newspapers and bloggers post video on their sites alerting the public that brands and organizations provided the video and it is unedited.

The implications for communicators, says Simon Media CEO Doug Simon, include tremendous opportunities “for message control.” With so many outlets using submitted video as is, “It’s an opportunity to feature your leaders and experts, including your CEO...to increase their influence on the conversation.”

In addition, as we noted above, with trust and authenticity rising as vital components of brand value, it’s a critical time to advance the CEO as an influencer.

As a result, the quality of submitted video must reflect its potential to a variety of good for brands.

Earned Media/Cross-Functional Planning

Matt Prince, senior manager, public relations and brand experience at Taco Bell,agrees but believes all facets of brand outreach are critical. A key to our earned media success,” Prince says, “is the alignment and cross-functional planning that goes with social and PR content. Media outreach includes content such as social imagery, supporting social engagement, b-roll and owned video.” Prince is proud his brand is flexible enough to provide publications with “pre-produced video or b-roll so [they can] produce their own. We have what they need.”

The importance of having messages align between all platforms tracks with another survey finding that 81% of journalists look to social media for story ideas (chart 4). With traditional and online journalists seeking story ideas on social, Prince’s thinking about alignment and cross-functional planning seems even more apt.

Returning to video, von Lockner emphasizes how it can humanize brands. “Video serves as a straightforward way to tell your brand story in a style that conveys not only your message, but also your tone and purpose.” With so much content bombarding consumers, “video puts a face behind a statement,” she adds, “and it helps build a more compelling human connection in this digital age.”

The results regarding journalists preferring in-house spokespeople over third-party speakers were little surprise for Prince. “For Taco Bell, authenticity and transparency are key drivers for not only the PR team, but the entire business.”

He adds, “To leverage in-house spokespeople, who can share the most in-depth look at the initiatives in and around our brand, is the best way we can provide authentic insights and answers for fans, journalists and the industry.”

Editor's Note: This article appeared in the August 2018 edition of PR News. Click here for subscription information

CONTACT: [email protected] [email protected] [email protected] [email protected]