Americans’ faith in a variety of professions key to daily life continue to fall, according to Gallup’s 2023 Honesty and Ethics survey. Of the 23 professionals Gallup asked about, only one saw year-over-year trust growth: union leaders, an interesting wrinkle in a year that saw major organized labor wins. But even trust in this group increased by only a single point.
Every single other profession saw a decline.
Now, PR professionals were not among the industries Gallup polled on. The most closely related industry was advertising professionals, who are trusted by only 8% of Americans. They tied with car salespeople and senators and came in above only members of Congress, who ranked dead last (6%).
We can guess that PR professionals probably aren’t held in high esteem, falling into the same general category of spin doctors who work to sway public opinion for nefarious ends.
But the perception of public relations as a profession is the least of the industry’s concerns. Most practitioners don’t work to better the reputation of PR. Instead, they work to build trust and confidence in other professions. And these numbers give a sobering portrait of how difficult that job can be.
Medical professionals continue to remain among the most trusted professions in America (with the exception of psychiatrists, who are trusted by just 36% of the population), but the pandemic took a steep toll on that trust. Since 2019, trust in doctors and pharmacists has fallen 9%, in nurses 7%, in dentists 2%.
In a massive industry that relies on trust to literally save people’s lives, these numbers are concerning, and should remain at the forefront of every PR pro in the healthcare space. Without trust, patients don’t come in for checkups until it’s too late. Without trust, patients don’t take the medicines or vaccines they’re prescribed, and small issues become large ones.
All of these medical professions have managed to retain at least 50% trust (nurses fare best with 78% trust), but some just barely. Most fared worse.
The industries PR pros are often called on to represent are in a trust crisis as well: only 19% trust bankers, 16% trust lawyers, 12% trust business executives.
Not only is there rampant mistrust for the people and organizations practitioners are often called upon to help, there is mistrust for a key communications tool: the media.
Journalists, who many PR professionals rely on to spread the word of their initiatives, are trusted by only 19% of Americans. In other words, 71% of the population will have at least some mistrust for any story you place in the media.
What to do about it
This situation appears bleak. But this is what PR professionals were made for.
Public relations, or good public relations anyway, isn’t about spin. It’s about building trust. It’s about pulling back the curtain and showing how industries work and why they can be trusted. It’s about putting faces to corporations and industries and showing that these faceless entities are made up of people who want to do the right thing.
It’s about telling stories to show that while the industry as a whole might be mistrusted, your doctor, your lawyer, your business executive is different. They’re a thought leader who engages with interest, empathy and care. Their words and actions are designed to make the world a better place, treat their employees right, and uphold the ethical values of their industry.
It’s about finding journalists who still retain trust with the audience you want to reach, whether that’s getting a hold of financiers through the Wall Street Journal or young people with a particularly authentic Twitch streamer.
None of this is easy. But it’s the job.
Let’s work to rebuild trust together.