FTSE 100 companies are so desperate to get over the lack of trust in big business they are taking the drastic and hitherto unprecedented step of using the word over and over again in their annual reports.
Use of the T Word has increased more than 700% in the last decade, according to the Chartered Institute of Management Accountants, which gave itself and PR man Robert Phillips the thankless task of Ctrl-Fing through FTSE 100 annual reports and reviews. When the numbers aren’t weighted (they looked at 91 reports from 2005 and 106 from 2014), that figure is 834%.
‘Building trust’ is creeping more slowly but nonetheless surely into the corporate vernacular.
The issue, of course, is businesses can’t just magic the real thing out of thin air. As Tony Manwaring, CIMA’s executive director of external affairs, put it, ‘‘Trust’ is not something companies can directly control – it is an outcome. It does not work as a message. Endlessly repeat the word ‘trust’ if you want, but it will not make people trust you.’
‘I would happily retire the t-word from the English language for a decade or two,’ said Phillips, co-founder of Jericho Chambers and former European head of PR giant Edelman. ‘This is where so many leaders immediately fail. They think that by speaking endless words of trust or, in Ed Miliband’s case, carving those words in stone, somehow we will trust them. We won’t.’
So how does a company actually achieve this mythical gold standard? Phillips, who recently dissected his own industry in his book ‘Trust me, PR is dead’, has already opined on the subject in these very pages (knows how to do his own PR). ‘Trustworthy leaders recognise the world has changed and that they are no longer in control,’ he wrote in MT’s April issue. ‘Their organisations think in terms of citizenship, not consumption, and prioritise the common good. Accountability is everything.’
His suggestions to the ‘socially useless’ banks, for example, are to copy John Lewis’ employee ownership model, ditch ‘extravagant bonuses’ and levy small charges to high street customers rather than ‘claiming to offer ‘free banking’.’ HSBC et al are unlikely to do a Nationwide overnight, though. Trust me, I’m a journalist.