Stakeholders Expectations Rising – Lessons from the Annual Edelman Australia Study on Trust

Recently the 5th Edelman Asia Pacific Stakeholder Research: Trust at the Crossroads in Australia’ revealed a drop of 50 per cent in levels of trust for business in Australia. This was Edelman’s fifth annual Asia, the third year with qualitative data from Australia, conducted in partnership with Harris Interactive Inc., one of the world’s leading research houses. The research objective was to understand which factors are most important to stakeholders when corporations build relationships with them.

Within this, the research examined:

  • Trust in Asia Pacific institutions and information sources
  • The drivers of stakeholder opinions
  • The drivers of responsible corporate behavior / Corporate Social Responsibility

The regional respondents represented six different stakeholder groups. The study, Edelman Stakeholder Study: Trust at the Crossroads in Australia, which is part of global public relations firm, Edelman’s annual Asia Pacific Stakeholder Study conducted by Harris Interactive Inc., examines the opinions of 140 opinion leaders including senior government representatives, institutional investors, senior business executives, media, high net-worth individuals and heads of NGOs and trade associations.

Some interesting highlights from the study:

– Over the past 12 months, the number of opinion leaders identifying corporate Australia as ‘being trusted to do what is right’ decreased 50 per cent from 24 per cent to 11 per cent of respondents.

"While the last 12 months has had a relative absence of large corporate scandals compared to recent years, business’ role in the broader operating environment and its affect on other stakeholders received continued attention. This dramatic drop in trust in business needs to seen against the spate of product recalls in the past year, high levels of corporate profit, executive pay trends and the ongoing debate about employee rights and the role business should play in education, natural resources management and workplace changes," said Asia-Pacific Edelman President, Alan VanderMolen.

"Australian opinion leaders want less talk and more action from institutions, in particular business. Across the board, the study is showing an increase in stakeholder expectations of institutions," he said.

– When asked which media do you turn to first for trustworthy information, respondents again nominated newspapers as first (53% up from 49% in 2006). Web-based media continues to grow as the second choice for trusted information (34% up from 29%). However, both radio and television declined as sources of information. "Newspapers still reign supreme in Australia as a trusted source of information for opinion leaders. However, online media is closing the gap year on year as people like to reference check sources of information.

Opinion leaders ranked product quality (29% in ’07 up from 14% in ’06) and after sales service (28% up from 5%) as the ‘stand out’ characteristics of Australian companies ahead of profit, leadership and integrity for the first time.

"Stakeholders want business to demonstrate the tangible ways it makes a difference to customers," Mr VanderMolen said.

According to study respondents, the characteristics of a ‘good and responsible’ Australian corporation included, in order or priority; senior leadership that can be trusted (93%), stand behind its products and services (92%), operate with transparency (85%), and offers quality products and services (84%).

Stakeholders also expressed desire for business to take action on climate change with 92 per cent believing business ‘can do more’ to reduce its impact.

Action Journal Entries

If I was a reputation manager of an organization, these issues would feature in my list of priorities:

Quality Control – it is obvious that the spate of product recalls have affected stakeholders views

Development of Leadership – Reputation as a module should be part of any manager’s learning & development cycle

Stakeholder Research – Should be ongoing

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