Is consumer mistrust holding back organisational growth?

by Paul MacKenzie-Cummins
by Paul MacKenzie-Cummins

One of the things we do in PR is to analyse the tonal bias of a piece of media coverage we have generated for a client – was it positively or negatively covered. While the majority of these press clippings fall into the positive category, there are of course some that given the nature of the story we’re putting out there can at times err towards the negative.

But when it comes to the economy [usually preceded or followed word ‘Brexit’], there appears to be a continual barrage of pessimism that contradicts what the latest research tells us.

In a survey published by PwC in the Summer 2018 edition of Strategy & Business magazine, optimism among CEO’s is at its highest in seven years.

Indeed, in 2012, 49% of chief executives believed that growth would improve (15%) or remain the same (34%) compared to 48% who expected it to decline. By 2018, these figures make for remarkable reading.

Accordingly, a staggering 93% of business leaders expect the economy to improve (57%) or stay the same (36%), with just 5% suggesting a retardation is heading our way.

Interestingly, the survey found that those CEOs who have held the top job for longest – 11 to 25 years – are “the rosiest in their assessment of the global economy and their own organisation’s prospects.”

This, the survey authors suggest, is because they have “weathered previous storms and perhaps recognise that there are opportunities ahead, no matter what happens next.”

They may be right, but there is a little fly in the ointment of positivity.

Optimism for the economy not reflected at organisational level – the trust factor

When it came to the outlook for their own organisation in terms of revenue growth prospects, CEO responses were less confident. At best, they were “somewhat confident” rather than “very confident”. At first glance, this makes little sense but the answer may be found in another survey.

The Edelman Trust Barometer, a measure of public confidence in the word’s key institutions (media, government, NGOs and business), could hold the answer. It suggests there is a “tension between global economic growth and wavering institutional distrust.”

In other words, consumer trust in organisations is waning and this is impacting their purchasing decisions.

This isn’t anything new. Public mistrust of companies has been ongoing for some time and it is this that is causing CEO’s to feel less optimistic about their own organisation’s prospects compared to those of the economy as a whole. It’s a matter of corporate responsibility.

Building trust

“The first and most important [step] is to take seriously your choice of principles to follow, and your limits in following them.” Any socio-political stance the organisation takes will be a direct reflection on how that business is perceived by those it does and wants to do business with.

But the promises being made (such as increasing number of women occupying senior roles within the business; becoming a more sustainable business; campaigning against gun crime) should be possible to achieve and protected.

Put another way, businesses must stand by them and take action when required because people – current and potential customers – pay attention to what you do. They pay attention to what you say, too.

Can-do, must-do

There is now an expectation among stakeholders (and we include the media in this group as well as customers and employees) that the CEO or MD should be more vocal about matters such as the economy, the sectors in which they operate, diversity with their businesses, and other social or environmental issues. Such actions clearly communicate what the business is all about, what it will stand for and what it won’t accept any longer (gender pay gaps; sweatshops; fossil fuels).

In fact, according to PwC, 38% of CEOs “said that they were experiencing pressure from employees and customers to take social or political stances.”

This is a pressure that won’t go away any time soon, if anything it will escalate. Business leaders need to get on board with talking more and paying closer attention to how they are perceived by those they serve and want to do business with.

This is a challenge for most business leaders, yet one that can so easily be overcome. When this happens CEO confidence in their own organisation’s future prospects then begin to reflect those of the economy. At a time when competition between organisations has never been stronger, it is hard to see what the alternatives are.

Are you a business leader looking to raise you and your organisation’s profile, retain and grow your customer base? This is what public relations is all about – engaging those who matter the most via thought leadership articles, media commentaries, roundtable debates, internal communications, social media, interviews, press releases, podcasts, video…the list goes on. Can we help you?

Other articles by Paul:

How to sell your employer brand when you’re not where the action is

How to get greater mileage from your media exposure