PRmoment Leaders PRCA PA Mediapoint PA Assignments PRmoment Awards Winners North

Consumers trust employees, not business leaders

In response to the public debate on the veracity of facts and expert opinion and the seemingly constant deluge of questionable information, expectations for companies to deliver credible communications has never been so low. In recently released research by communications agency FleishmanHillard Fishburn, credible communications has the lowest average expectation amongst all 20 industries studied. In fact, 14 industries rank expectations of credible communications in the bottom of all the drivers of reputation. In an age of alternative facts, companies are struggling to be heard and believed.

That scepticism continues when the research looks at the origin of information. Mainstream media and even social media channels are also the subject of increasing scrutiny. Despite an increasing dependence on social media for information, it is not seen as a trusted medium with mainstream broadcast viewed as the most trusted source of information, beating even print sources.

Business leaders are also failing to inspire confidence amongst wider audiences. Of those surveyed leaders of companies were seen alongside politicians as being amongst the least credible sources of information (7% and 2% respectively). Conversely, employees ranked alongside family and colleagues (34%) as the most credible sources of information.

What's fake news and what's fact?
We asked people how in a time of more and more fake news ciculating about companies, what sources of information they find most credible when sorting facts from fiction about a company.

Percentages do not add up to 100% as respondents selected two source of information they found most credible from eight options

FleishmanHillard Fishburn’s managing director of corporate communications Stephanie Bailey says: “For far too long there has been an over-reliance on using public channels to broadcast information that is only beneficial to the companies communicating. Is it any wonder that we see this backlash as this over-reliance on increasingly incomprehensible jargon means that most audiences struggle to understand what it is companies are trying to say and presume that they are hiding information from them? Transparency has never been so important, but it is not about bamboozling people with a stream of incomprehensible data, we have to better understand what people actually want to engage with and have answers that match those expectations.”

Highlighting the value of the right media training for the right people, Bailey continues, “When advising companies the first thing we should be calling into question is who we use as a company spokesperson. If employees are seen as more credible how can we reflect this in the people we media train within the company? What else should we be doing to change perceptions of business leaders as clearly there are some who communicate really authentically and well? What is it about their approach and the language they use that ensures that they are believed and trusted when many others are not?”

Key findings

  • For many years, studies have tracked a decline in respect for politicians and the establishment. Knowledgeable friends, family and colleagues (34%) and employees (34%) are 17 times more credible than politicians (2%), and almost five times more credible than company leaders (7%).
  • With the cost of living continuing to rise for a majority of the population, better value is the single most important expectation. Expectations of better value are in the top three expectations in every one of the 20 industries studied.
  • Almost 74% of those we questioned wanted companies to go beyond mandated regulations and actively work to solve societal issues. And most people (63%) felt that global companies should take a leading role in driving the interchange of ideas, products, and culture on the world stage.

“Ultimately by measuring expectations we’ve landed with a wealth of new questions to ask ourselves and our clients how to best communicate effectively” concludes Bailey. “What we do know for certain is that we have to work harder to develop and maintain relationships now with an increasingly cynical nation that easily forgets good communications”.


The Authenticity Gap report is based on a survey of engaged consumers across the UK who actively participate in discussions and help shape opinions about companies. The UK was one of five countries across the globe surveyed and the research was carried out in March and April 2017.

If you enjoyed this article, sign up for free to our twice weekly editorial alert.

We have six email alerts in total - covering ESG, internal comms, PR jobs and events. Enter your email address below to find out more: