Ewan Larkin
Jan 16, 2024

2024 Edelman Trust Barometer: Business has best chance to reverse widening gap between society, innovation

The world’s largest PR firm surveyed over 32,000 people in 28 countries for its latest annual report, which debuts ahead of the World Economic Forum in Davos.

Photo: Davos, site of the World Economic Forum/Getty Images
Photo: Davos, site of the World Economic Forum/Getty Images

There is a growing rift between society and innovation, and business has the best chance to remedy it, according to Edelman’s 2024 Trust Barometer report. 

In its latest annual report, Edelman found that respondents, by a two-to-one margin, say innovation is being poorly managed. The agency said in a statement “this is true across developed and developing nations, age groups, income levels, educational status and gender.”

Innovation has also become politicized, especially in Western democracies, where Edelman discovered that right-leaning individuals are far more likely than those on the left to resist it. The biggest gaps are in the U.S. (41 points), Australia (23 points), Germany (20 points) and Canada (18 points).

As the most trusted institution, business has the greatest opportunity to shift society’s perception of innovation, according to Edelman’s research. But companies must consider four key steps in their approach. 

In his essay on the 2024 Trust Barometer, CEO Richard Edelman urged businesses to be inclusive, speaking to the mass population as much as to the informed elites. He said that necessitates using both experts and non-traditional authority figures, especially as people now trust a lay person as much as scientists on information about innovation. 

“We have to find a way to make the science accessible,” said Tonia Ries, global executive director of intellectual property at Edelman. “The genie is out of the bottle, we’re not going back to a world where people don’t listen to their peers, talk to their friends on social media, and aren’t influenced by that.”

Companies must consider the potential impacts of innovation, like how it will impact job training, and work to find solutions for those side effects, Edelman wrote. They must also clearly outline the benefits and how progress in innovation is affecting the business and its workforce. 

Edelman added that companies must also pace themselves relative to society’s ability to process change in innovation.

Businesses can’t undertake this process alone. Over the last decade, the Trust Barometer has seen a 14-point increase in the demand for business and government to partner on technology-led innovations. To ensure effective collaboration between the two institutions, companies must be transparent in their progress, according to Edelman. 

“Business has to make sure that government regulators are up to speed on the innovations, meaning make sure that they’re educated,” he said. “Business should also share its expertise so that [the general public] doesn’t feel like [this process] is being done between the elites.”

The 2024 Trust Barometer was conducted in November, and featured 28 counties, more than 32,000 respondents and 1,150 surveyed individuals per country.

Marketing the Trust Barometer

Edelman typically rolls out its flagship Trust Barometer right before the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. The agency uses a wide range of tactics on the ground to amplify the research. 

As well as arranging interviews with major business publications, such as Bloomberg and The Wall Street Journal, Edelman hosts a Trust Barometer event at WEF, where its CEO speaks on a panel with other chief executives about the importance of trust. 

After this year’s conference, Edelman said he’ll fly to other countries, including the U.K., France and Germany, to promote the Trust Barometer. He’ll then return to the U.S., making stops in Chicago, Seattle, San Francisco and Washington, DC. 

“It’s [an] across-the-board effort to spread the good gospel,” he said.

The Trust Barometer has faced criticism. In November, the Guardian published a story accusing Edelman of being “less forthcoming” about disclosing that some of the “authoritarian governments” that ranked well on the Trust Barometer have also been the firm’s clients. 

Asked about the Guardian piece, CEO Edelman said the Trust Barometer collects data from “pretty [much] every place Edelman is in business. That’s how we choose where we report.” He said the agency has added Nigeria to the Trust Barometer because the firm now has a satellite office in the country. 

“The decisions we make about methodology are driven [by] where we have clients that need help, and want to hear what we have to say, but also by research considerations,” said Ries. “Two years ago, we added Sweden into the mix because someone very rightly pointed out to us that our selection of countries didn’t include a Scandinavian democracy, [which] has a unique combination of economic and political systems.”

Ahead of the 2024 Trust Barometer’s launch at WEF, anti-fossil-fuel industry group Clean Creatives has distributed what it calls an “fact sheet” about the Trust Barometer, claiming the research “‘trust-washes’ Edelman’s business of promoting polluters.”

Edelman posted a 10% increase in revenue to $1.07 billion globally and a 14% jump to $703 million in the U.S. in 2022, according to PRWeek’s 2023 Agency Business Report. Earlier this week, the agency named Kirsty Graham as its U.S. CEO, giving her oversight of the firm’s largest region. 



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