Rebuilding Trust After a Crisis


“Trust inequality at an all-time high,” read the PR Daily headline earlier this year as it reported on the 2020 Edelman Trust Barometer—and that was before. Before the COVID-19 pandemic. Before the racial injustice and inequity protests. Before U.S. election-mania.

Whether a crisis is of your own doing or happenstance, a crisis is a crisis, and it’s messy. There is no “one-size fits all” plan.

The Trust Barometer study revealed “none of the four societal institutions that the study measures—government, business, NGOs and media—is trusted. The cause of this paradox can be found in people’s fears about the future and their role in it, which are a wake-up call for our institutions to embrace a new way of effectively building trust: balancing competence with ethical behavior.”

Trust in and of itself seems to be its own crisis! Now tack on, well, all of 2020 so far, and the outlook may seem bleak—but there are steps you can take to mitigate fears and rebuild trust both during and after difficult situations.

While no two crises are the same, there are some key components to re-establishing trust with your stakeholders— customers, employees, boards of directors, investors/shareholders, and even suppliers.

  1. Truth and Transparency: The news cycle is now 24/7 and never-ending. If you are less than truthful or attempt to ‘spin’ by sugar-coating it, you’ll end up with a bigger mess because eventually the truth will be found out. Being honest and transparent—even if it hurts in the short-term, will earn longer-term gains toward rebuilding and repairing trust in your organization.
  2. Timely: You must respond quickly, so having a plan already in place is crucial. If you don’t act expediently, you may find yourself and your organization on the defensive—which is never as good as being proactive.
  3. Messaging: There are numerous channels, including your own, where you can get the message out there, but don’t underestimate the power of the Media. Media relations should be a priority.
  4. Consistency: Have all our ducks in a row. Ensure you maintain consistency and continuity in your messaging, regardless of whether you have a single spokesperson or a team of brand ambassadors.
  5. Empathy and Compassion: Let’s face it; stakeholders want you to acknowledge how this situation makes them feel. And they want to know you care.

Helio Fred Garcia, a professor of crisis management at New York University and Columbia University was recently quoted as saying when he “looks at the best statements whether it’s from CEOs or from university presidents or others, one of the things that I find that is most helpful is a statement that begins with an acknowledgment of people’s anxieties, fears, or uncertainty and feelings of vulnerability. When they do that first, the communication tends to work reasonably well.”

When you respond quickly, express empathy and compassion, maintain consistency in messaging, and can point to what you’re doing now while also addressing future actions you intend to take, the communication is going to much more effective in maintaining and rebuilding trust.


.*A version of this post by Tressa Robbins originally appeared on July 16, 2020, on the Burrelles Fresh Ideas blog at and is cross-posted here with permission. 

Importance of Press Releases during Crises

While you may be fatigued by the never-ending coronavirus news coverage, the media must continue to report the news. Understandably, some industries and activities have slowed down during the crisis. An interesting and contrasting discovery is that media distribution and consumption have ramped up, according to a recent special report from Burrelles partner, Agility.

After analyzing clients’ use of media outreach and news release distribution (January-April, 2020), below is some of what was learned.

New Release Trends

  • News release distribution through direct targeting emails and newswires increased by more than 30 percent.
  • The amount of outreach targeted to journalists per working day has increased by more than 60 percent since January.
  • Unsurprisingly, directly targeted email releases related to COVID-19 went from 1 percent to 51 percent between February and April, while COVID-related newswire releases jumped from 1 percent to 70 percent between the same time period.

News Release Best Practices: Questions and Answers

Most PR professionals learned “press releases 101” in college or on the job so we won’t go into the step-by-step basics here; however, there are a couple of considerations to weigh before writing a release.

  • Is it really news? Be honest with yourself here and spare the journalists wading through hundreds of releases in their inboxes—be sure it is actually news.
  • Is a press release truly the best method for the message? Honestly think about this and consider you have multiple channels available–your company blog, live streaming video, podcast or audio announcement, various social media platforms.
  • Ask yourself WHY. Why would this journalist be interested in your information, and perhaps more importantly, why would their audience care? This is the true test.
    • If you came to a crystal-clear answer, then you have your story angle and should proceed.
    • If you have trouble answering this or are wavering on the reason why—stop, don’t waste your and the journalist’s time.

Answering these questions is an essential part of the process. It will help you with the headline, the lede (hook), position the messaging (story angle). And, most importantly, increase your chance of getting pickup from the media.

Finally, as you begin to pitch the story, never forget there is a living breathing human on the other end of your pitch–another person trying to do their job, just as you are.

Although we are in a time of global crisis, it’s not all gloom and doom. We’ve been seeing journalists’ pleas for ‘warm and fuzzy’ stories. Stories about acts of kindness—going on all around us—often get overlooked in the sea of negative news. Share good news from employees and customers. We all need a little good news about now.

What tips would you add? Do you have a feel-good story to share?

.*A version of this post by Tressa Robbins originally appeared on June 3, 2020, on the Burrelles Fresh Ideas blog at and is cross-posted here with permission. 

Measuring Trust

PR News Measurement Hall of Famer, Pauline Draper-Watts, and her Edelman Intelligence colleague Lauren Vincelli recently led an AMEC Measurement Month webinar, hosted by Burrelles, discussing some of the key findings from the annual Edelman Trust Barometer and how to measure trust.

Pauline kicked things off by taking us on a deeper dive into a few key findings and the data behind those results—sharing the numbers by specific segments, countries, and groups.

Overall Trust Inequality Returns to Record Highs

In the mass population—the 85 percent of the general public that is not the informed public—there’s a disparity of the trust between the informed public and everyone else.

The trust levels among the informed public and the mass population over time are diverging. In fact, we’ve returned to the record high level of trust inequality with a 16-point gap. In other words, the mass population has not benefited from the improved outlook—having not grown much since 2012.

“This disparity creates a world that truly feels out of balance, one where your ability to rely on institutions differs greatly depending on your level of income and education,” Pauline stated.

My Employer Most-Trusted Relationship

The 2019 Edelman Trust Barometer revealed that trust has changed profoundly in the past year. People shifted their trust to the relationships within their control, most notably their employers.

Globally, 75 percent of people trust “my employer” to do what is right, significantly more than NGOs (57 percent), business (56 percent) and government and media (both 47 percent). We see general distrust of NGOs, business, government, and the media.

While these institutions aren’t trusted, people are turning to what is close to them—local and personal—their relationship with their employer. People feel invested in their employer-employee relationship because it’s tangible and comes with a sense of control. They can choose to change jobs or have some leverage over that relationship.

In fact, people want to hear more from their CEO (not CEOs in general, but their CEO). The majority of employees say that it is critically important for their employer to respond and talk about challenging times. These include industry-related issues, but also political events, national crises and other employee-driven issues. They want to work for an employer that offers leadership—one that stands up for them and their shared values.

Investing in Employee Trust is Investing in Your Bottom Line

For companies, building trust internally results in higher trust externally because most people (78 percent) see how you treat your employees as one of the most powerful indicators of whether your company can be trusted, Pauline explained. While a good reputation may convince someone to try a product or service, “if they do not come to trust you they will cease to buy from your company regardless of your reputation.”

Business has an obligation (and an opportunity) to fill the void left by other institutions, and it is not necessary to choose between societal impact and profits.

Globally, 73 percent agree that “a company can take specific actions that both increase profits and improve the economic and societal conditions in the communities where it operates.” For example, some of the tech companies have made a commitment to invest heavily in affordable housing in the Silicon Valley area—recognizing this is what they need to do for their business, as well as society, in terms of their reputation.

(Dis)Trust in Media

The media remains one of the least-trusted institutions. Nineteen (of the 26 markets) showed an improvement in trust in the media to do what is right; however, 16 markets remained in the distrust category.

While the US market showed an 8-point improvement, it remains in the distrust category with less than 50 percent trusting the media do what’s right. Pauline added, “which is a very sad state of affairs.”

This leads us to one of the most stunning (and seemingly contradictory) findings of the 2019 Trust Barometer.

Massive Rise in News Engagement

There was a 22 percent increase in people engaging with news content. On one hand, they are distrusting news but on the other they are engaging with the content more. Pauline says this is a profound shift.

The disengaged (those who consume news less than weekly) fell from 49 percent in 2018, to 25 percent in 2019—going from one to in two people not engaging with news content to only one in four not engaging. Seventy-two percent now engage in the news on a regular basis.

The category that saw the largest increase was amplifiers—those who not only regularly consume news but also share or post content, often adding their own voice to the conversation, several times a month or more.

Breaking this down further, more women than men became those amplifiers. A 23-point increase of women in the informed public category, and 13-point increase of women in the mass population.

Traditional Media, Search Most Trusted

While we saw significant distrust in the media, we’ve also seen the amplification of news increase. And now we see traditional media and search engines are still the most trusted—with social media trust lagging behind by more than 30 points in the US. Overwhelmingly, when people are looking for reliable sources, they turn to traditional media and search.

Measuring Your Trust

An enormous amount of time and energy has been spent on understanding the differences between those companies that are trusted and those who are not, says Lauren Vincelli, Edelman Intelligence Senior Vice President.

Lauren says trust is “not just a vanity metric—it is predictive of financial performance and other essential drivers of business success.”

Trusted organizations have some commonalities:

  1. They have more advocates/customers who are vocal and willing to recommend them.
  2. Their employees are more loyal, stronger and more vocal.
  3. Regulators are less likely to scrutinize or over-regulate these organizations.
  4. Investors see out-performance over companies that are not trusted, so they are more likely to receive investment dollars.
  5. They are more resilient in the face of crisis—they bounce back faster.
  6. High trust companies outperformed their sector by an average of 5 percent last year.

Companies in general are really good at measuring their own brand reputation and tying that back to sales. Conversely, Edelman is often looking at organizational and corporate reputation as a separate, distinct and very important measurement. They help businesses or organizations determine their “score” and best manage their trust capital among its audiences, stakeholders and shareholders.

Measuring Trust: Breaking it Down

While the infamous Edelman Trust Score is what most companies want to know, Lauren says that score without any context means nothing. When you look at the score differences across competitors and audiences, that score begins to come to life—it shows what comprises this score. Where do you perform the best? What is contributing to that score? Where do people most trust you? And what is most important to people?

Lauren explained the four trust dimensions that have been established and contribute to the Edelman trust score:

  1. Ability. Being good at what you do.
  2. Integrity. Being honest and transparent.
  3. Dependability. Keeps its promises and delivers.
  4. Purpose. Having a positive impact on society.

Where it can be customized and make this data actionable is to validate a list of drivers—behaviors that they are already doing, or behaviors they are planning to deliver—and establishing how important they are to people, and how the company performs them.

Finally, mapping that back to the connection between all the dimensions of trust shows how familiar and aware people are, and how they view and perceive communications from the company or organization. Then they have the data to put together a ‘road map’ to drive an increase in trust.

Making Trust Actionable

To clarify, the five steps to making trust actionable are:

  1. Start to prioritize trust drivers based on importance.
  2. Re-take stock of strengths to build on.
  3. Think about where you need more “evidence” (research).
  4. Look at your current communication across audiences and identify what needs to be better supported or developed.
  5. Establish internally what proof points are for key areas and build content around it.

While this is a long post on what was covered in this webinar, it certainly doesn’t cover everything. Seeing and hearing the webinar for yourself will help you link all of these together (and to see the charts and graphs demonstrating all of these statistics and how they correlate).

Click here for a replay of the webinar.


.*A version of this post by Tressa Robbins originally appeared on December 10, 2019, on the Burrelles Fresh Ideas blog at and is cross-posted here with permission. 

PR Industry Conferences: Networking and Connecting

With the 2019 PRSA International Conference just around the corner, I have been thinking about all the Conferences (#PRSAICON) I’ve had the pleasure of attending over the past 15+ years. Professional Networking

At the same time, universities are now back in full-swing and PRSSA chapters are busy re-grouping, recruiting, fundraising and gearing up for their own International Conference (#PRSSAIC).
*Side note: As professional adviser to the PRSSA chapter at Southeast Missouri State University, I was the guest speaker at their first professional development event of the new school year, where I talked about how to leverage social media for personal branding and networking—and, of course, how important being an active member of PRSSA can help their future careers. (wink, wink)

All of this took me on a trip down memory lane—revisiting old photos, blog posts, and old handwritten notes. For the record, I wasn’t taking the ‘trip’ just for reminiscing’s sake (although it was definitely an enjoyable diversion!). I was trying to remember lessons learned that I could share with public relations and communications students.

Without a doubt, I can recall a handful of keynotes and quite a few breakout sessions stand out. However, I had to really force myself to concentrate and think about them.

What really jumped out in my memories were all the people I’ve met and the numerous new relationships that were formed, as well as old connections that were reinforced and strengthened over the years.

After the 2012 PRSAICON in San Francisco, I wrote that I “met nearly 20 people in real life that I previously had only known through social media.  As well as re-connected with a number of industry leaders that I only get to see that one time of year at Conference.” And from a business standpoint, it allows us (Burrelles) to solicit feedback on our services related to the PR pros’ business—to ensure we are offering what they need.

If I had to guess, that number (of IRL meetings from social media connections) has since quintupled. But it’s really not about numbers—quantity.  It’s about the quality.

You’ve heard the old adage, “It’s not what you, but who you know”? I’ve also heard “it’s not about who you know, it’s about who knows you”. I wouldn’t completely disagree with either of those, but I tend to be more agreeable with Dr. Ivan Misner, the founder BNI (and referred to as the “Father of Modern Networking” by CNN) who has a different take. Dr. Misner stated,

“It is not what you know or who you know but how well you know each other that counts.” 

In an Entrepreneur op-ed, he went further saying, “It doesn’t really matter if I have an amazing database of people with many phone numbers. What really matters is how many of them will take my call if I pick up the phone and ask for a favor.”

When it comes to connecting on LinkedIn, a Harvard Business Review contributor (Alexandra Samuel), said the more people we connect with on LinkedIn, the less valuable it becomes. I’m not sure I completely agree but I understand and appreciate the viewpoint.

Keep in mind that article was written a few years ago and the trend since then has been to connect and connect some more. I’m now re-thinking that position and am considering a purge of sorts.

The bottom line is that the networking opportunities are there—IRL and in social media—even better, both!

But it takes effort. It doesn’t just happen. You should have a goal in mind and come prepared.

For example, prior to the conference, I will review the attendee roster for potential new connections (as well as old ones that will be there) and connect with others I know in the official event app on my phone. This makes it a bit easier to reach out and try to pre-arrange a brief meet-up. Or, to simply remind me to “be on the lookout” for that person.

In addition, I’ll send out a few tweets (and monitor Twitter, Instagram and LinkedIn) for others attending the conference to connect with. I try to balance strengthening some relationships, while ensuring I make new connections as well.

.*This post by Tressa Robbins originally appeared on October 16, 2019, on the Burrelles Fresh Ideas blog at and is cross-posted here with permission.