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CEOs live in fear of their business losing its reputation so they are buying more public relations expertise, suggests research

A new global study, The Worldcom Confidence Index, shows that board-level confidence across a range of business and communications issues has dropped by over 20% since last year. The study, aalso reveals reduced confidence around corporate image, brand reputation, and the ability to protect it in a crisis.

Changes in attention to audiences

Key findings

  • Overall, CEOs’ business confidence has plummeted by an average of 21% between 2018 and 2019, with confidence in the United States falling 51%, the largest drop of any country. CEOs now report more confidence in China than the US. CEOs say that global trade agreements and tariffs undermine confidence.
  • CEOs report influencers as the most important audience – replacing customers. Whilst leaders say influencers are important, they have the lowest confidence index scores, meaning leaders are quite concerned about reaching this audience.
  • The number one topic discussed by leaders is the upskilling and reskilling of staff as organisations continue to look for ways to attract and retain the best talent.
  • Whilst employees are the number three audience on the list, employee-related topics dominate the issues discussed by leaders – filling five of the six top spots in this year’s Index.
  • CEOs continue to worry about topics related to employee training and recruitment and retention.
  • C-Suite executives – both CEOs and CMOs – are most concerned about the role and the impact of the media and how to weather crises that would impact a brand’s reputation.

Influencer power

The report highlights an increasing fears around the impact that influencers and media can have on a brand.

Discussing how CEOs need help from their comms teams to work better with influencers, Rhodri Harries, managing director of firm Kaizo PR, a UK partner of Worldcom, says: “Whilst influencers are ranked as the most important audience in the study, there is little confidence in effectively reaching and mobilising them. The global insights showed a real gap – or perhaps an opportunity – in terms of a business’s ability to communicate effectively with influencers or meet their needs to have the right impact for the brand. This could of course be a result of the confusion that exists around the role they play: As an earned channel where relationship and collaboration is based on shared values, storytelling, news and context; a paid channel where the relationship is more commercial; or more likely something of a mix. This varies from market to market.

“There seems a clear opportunity to help educate some CEOs and CMOs, on the role an influencer can and should play and how to work with them in a collaborative and effective way. Especially as influencers play an important role in balancing public opinion in a crisis, as well as advocating a company’s products and services and enhancing its brand’s reputation.”

Media control

Another key finding from the report concerns the lack of confidence global leaders still have in the media, a channel they are generally more familiar with, in terms of creating the right impact for their businesses. Harries comments: “Leaders are more confident in their abilities to reach shareholders, customers, suppliers, and even government officials than they are the media. The recent renaissance of traditional PR skills in terms of media relations is clearly set to continue as brands need to focus on core values and reputation and how these play out in the news.

“Confidence may be low, but the opportunity for the communications industry to play a significant role in changing public perception has never been higher. We can be confident of that!”

In summary, the Index shows there is are growing demands for the PR and communications industry to play a significant role over the next 12 months in driving businesses forward.


The Worldcom Confidence Index is an analysis of online content from more than 58,000 chief executive and chief marketing officers that used innovative artificial intelligence to track and interpret publicly available social media content. It covers the subjects that these groups are willing and able to talk about online, raising some new and recurring challenges for marketers and communicators to address.

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