Ipsos Corporate Reputation

The link between trust, reputation and benefit of the doubt


Trust matters. When you trust someone, you give them the benefit of the doubt. If that person gets in trouble, you will hear their side of the story before jumping to conclusions.

Companies seek to build the same benefit of the doubt among their stakeholders. Without a strong reputation, companies risk not having a receptive audience for their story when they need one the most.

Globally, people are generally willing to give companies the benefit of the doubt (24% definitely and 48% probably). This willingness to give the benefit of the doubt is tightly linked to overall trust.

Among people who trust a company a great deal, more than half (59%) say they would definitely give that company the benefit of the doubt in a crisis. Among people who are feel neutral toward a company, that percentage shrinks to just 10%.

How benefit of the doubt varies by industry

The imperative to build a strong reputation to get the benefit of the doubt is greatest in high risk sectors. However, EVERY company has risk and can obtain a competitive advantage by building a reputation that they can draw on in times of trouble.

At the industry level, technology companies are much more likely to get the benefit of the doubt than others. Highly regulated industries are viewed more skeptically.

Globally, technology and automotive companies have the strongest reputations and consequently the strongest benefit of the doubt.

Benefit of the doubt and trust are highly correlated. When companies build trust, they are building up benefit of the doubt.

The link between trust and benefit of the doubt are most tightly related at the ends of the spectrum - companies with the best reputation get the most benefit of the doubt, and least trusted companies generate very little benefit of the doubt. Companies in the middle (trust-wise), have more variance when it comes to getting the benefit of the doubt.

Airlines, telecommunications, and oil and gas companies have the greatest challenges.

How benefit of the doubt varies by region

Overall, Europeans are more skeptical of companies, while Latin Americans are more likely to give companies the benefit of the doubt.

Generally, a majority of people in every region say they would “probably” give companies the benefit of the doubt during times of crisis. This likelihood to extend the benefit of the doubt is why it is so important for companies to make sure they react appropriately to crises. An over-reaction due to a few hard-core skeptics can cause more harm than good. Companies need to remember that they generally have the benefit of the doubt and should therefore be forthcoming, rather than defensive.

Skeptical Europeans are a tougher audience than people from other parts of the world.

The impact of regulation on trust and benefit of the doubt

Oil and gas, pharmaceuticals, and telecommunications companies face the greatest amount of regulatory risk, and have the lowest trust and benefit of the doubt scores. While risk is also high for insurance and banking, there is also some evidence of people feeling these industries are over-regulated.

The desire for regulation is highest in Europe and North America, and lowest in APAC.

Methodology: The latest wave of the Ipsos Global Reputation Monitor, conducted in September 2017, measured attitudes of more than 23,000 consumers from 31 countries toward 66 companies across nine industries.

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The Reputation Council Report 2018: Full Report

Welcome to the latest briefing from the Ipsos Reputation Council.

This – our thirteenth sitting – has been the biggest and most international yet, involving 154 senior communicators from 20 countries.

As Paul Polman, CEO of Unilever, once said: “reputation has a habit of arriving on foot and departing on horseback”. In the past year, a welter of high-profile reputation scandals affecting businesses, their leaders and even whole industry sectors has, once again, focused our minds on the risks and rewards of this powerful but potentially volatile asset.

Some of these scandals have posed a genuine threat to companies’ continued survival or licence to operate. Others have fizzled out. In this edition, we examine how Reputation Council members distinguish between issues which might blow up into a genuine reputation crisis, and others that are just day-to-day turbulence. What indicators or early warning systems can communicators draw on, to help them build resilience?

The technology sector has been wrestling with some unprecedented reputation issues recently. Concerns around privacy, data leaks, advertising practices, AI and automation have come together to create the phenomenon of ‘techlash’. We talk to Council members about the implications for their own businesses and the lessons that communicators can learn from the way in which the technology sector is responding to techlash.

We’re also beginning to see greater scrutiny of the role that CEOs should play in external communications, against a backdrop of issues such as pay ratio reporting, gender inequality, shrinking CEO tenures and the ‘celebrity leader’. In this edition, we explore Council members’ playbook for CEO-led communications, and look at how the CCO can ensure that these communications build, rather than destroy, reputation value.

The opportunities and challenges that come with communicating in a global context is a theme we’ve examined in past editions. In this sitting, we ask Council members how they strike the right balance between global and local messaging and narratives, and how they keep a finger on the pulse of their reputation (or reputations) around the world.

Lastly, we’ve introduced some new, ‘quickfire’ sections, in which we analyse Council members’ views on a number of contentious, topical talking points, such as the death of CSR, the distraction posed by social media, the need to pick a side in a polarising society, and whether consumers will overlook poor corporate behaviour if the price is right

I hope you enjoy this edition of the Reputation Council report. Please do get in touch if you’d like to find out more about any of the issues covered or discuss how they might affect your own business.

Milorad Ajder
Global Service Line Leader
Corporate Reputation

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Global Perspectives on Sector Reputations

Which industries are facing the greatest reputation challenges at the moment?


Media: 44%

Tech: 44%

Pharma: 31%

Despite lingering reputational issues still plaguing the financial services sector, the recent assault on media and tech means that these two industries are seen to be facing the greatest reputational challenges in North America. Each of these industries is named by 44% of Council members.

Beyond these two industries, pharmaceuticals now holds the third position in terms of reputational challenges at 31%. Cost and value continue to drive the conversation, and with the US government putting more of a spotlight on drug costs, these reputational challenges are likely to continue.

"[Media has] got a constant drumbeat of ‘fake news’, how do you overcome that?"
"These are self-inflicted wounds [in the tech industry] – companies are not thinking through the implications of their actions on their customers."

Construction: 50%

Energy: 41%

Mining: 34%

In Latin America, construction rises to the top as the industry facing the greatest reputational challenges this year (50%). A number of corruption charges have embroiled not only specific companies throughout the region but also politicians and civil servants.

Energy (41%) and mining (34%) round out the top three most challenged industries, predominantly due to environmental concerns and a perception that they bring limited benefits to the local markets.

"There is a public perception that mining pollutes, does not produce profits for the country, and is a group of companies that do not add local value but add value to those who extract the material and take it away."

Finance: 44%

Energy: 43%

Finance remains one of the industries facing the greatest reputational challenge in Europe (mentioned by 44% of Council members). In the words of one Council member, “this crisis has not been solved yet, given that the image reconstruction process appears to be very slow.”

Additional challenges for the financial services sector include cyber security concerns and emerging FinTech players challenging the traditional financial companies.

Energy also continues to face reputational challenges, cited by 43% of Council members in Europe. Issues continue to focus on environmental concerns, climate change, sustainability and consumer costs.

"When energy companies don’t immediately pass on price savings from a barrel of oil to a consumer or to a client, then the negative repercussions are there immediately."

Finance: 88%

Energy: 71%

Media: 71%

Consistent with last year, the financial services industry continues to suffer reputational challenges in APAC, though mentions are higher this year at 88% (up from 73% in the last wave). Council members continue to cite the lingering effects of the financial crisis.

The energy sector is also mentioned more frequently than last year (71%), and while affordability and sustainability are still key reasons, government policy is now referenced far more frequently by Council members.

This year, media is also mentioned by 65% of Council members in APAC, with many attributing this to a changing media landscape as well as the resounding cry of ‘fake news’.

"The energy policy is a mess. Can’t separate from political environment."
"The Trump phenomenon and the constant hammering of ‘fake news’."

In full: how Reputation Council members around the world perceived each sector's reputation

Methodology: 154 interviews conducted with Reputation Council members between 25th June and 12th November 2018. Base: All Reputation Council members – Global (145), North America (16), Europe (80), Latin America (32), APAC (17).

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