In its 20th anniversary year, the Edelman Trust Barometer has found capitalism and democracy in the dock of British public opinion. But what does the survey of more than 2,000 people actually mean for those in the communications industry and how can we address the problems uncovered by the world’s largest and most authoritative survey of trust?

We have analysed the data and this year we highlight three things to consider in the year ahead.


Nearly six in 10 Britons believe that business as an institution acts on behalf of the few while only a quarter say it is acts for the many. The lesson for communicators is that it’s vital to show how your company differs from this perception and how it plays fair by Britain. While overall trust in business is flat at 47%, it has fallen significantly among the better-educated, better-informed quartile of the population from 68% to 63% since last year. Business is seen as competent, but unethical.

A majority of British people (53%) agreed with the idea that capitalism “does more harm than good” in the world, a worrying sign of how much the halo of business has slipped since the financial crisis. So, there is a clear message that individual businesses that do not distinguish themselves from the mass when it comes to doing the right thing are in line to suffer a loss in trust.

Over 20 years, Edelman has shown decisively that people who trust a company will not only buy its products and services, but they will persuade friends and family to do so and will actively support it in times of trouble. The reverse, of course, is also true. The Barometer’s findings on fairness show that businesses have to demonstrate that their aims are in line with those of British society as a whole.


What’s the best way to show that you are an exceptional business?

The 2020 Trust Barometer shows that the opportunity for businesses in Britain to shine lies with their workforces. More than three-quarters of people (77%) trust their own employer – it is the most trusted external relationship in our lives - and 83% want their CEO or other business leader to speak up on issues facing society, such as the need for better training or solving income inequality.

Given that 75% of us fear losing our jobs in the next few years - mostly because of the gig economy, worries about a recession or simply that we are not well enough trained to survive in a fast-changing, technology-driven world – the simplest way of repaying that trust is through reassurance. Let your people know they can rely on you as an employer, through training and advocacy and your commitment on issues that matter to them, whether it be the environment, diversity or training.

On that last problem, the study shows that only 25% of us are satisfied with the amount of progress being made by the UK in giving people the skills they need to prosper in a working world dominated by new and changing technologies. Where there is most worry, there is the greatest need for reassurance.

Partner – your people expect it

Worries about the future of our society are widespread. Almost 7 in 10 of the Informed Public – the better educated and wealthier top quartile – agreed that “democracy is losing its effectiveness as a form of government”. That shows just how seriously we are questioning the norms we have grown up with.

In such times, people are looking to other places for answers. They want politicians to find allies in protecting society from the worst effects of the future. And the answer to that is partnering with the business world – three quarters believe that government and business should be collaborating to solve social issues .

Communications professionals need to help their CEOs step up to the expectations not only of their workforce, but also of the communities in which they live and operate. Strong voices are needed to provide support and ideas for politicians facing the biggest struggles any of us can remember. 2020 is a moment for businesses to show vision and share it.


For more on the issue of trust you can watch Edelman EMEA President and CEO Ed Williams in conversation with former Home Secretary Amber Rudd and Director General of the BBC Lord Hall here, as well as finding the UK and global reports. You can read articles and more research findings as well.