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Reflections from the International Women’s Forum 2017

International Women’s Forum 2017

Edelman Brussels' Aleksandra (Ola) Kozik was one of Edelman's International Women's Forum 2017 delegates in Stockholm recently. Read their blog post here: Solving today’s unprecedented challenges will require a completely new approach to leadership, one...

Edelman Brussels’ Aleksandra (Ola) Kozik was one of Edelman’s International Women’s Forum 2017 delegates in Stockholm recently. Read their blog post here:

Solving today’s unprecedented challenges will require a completely new approach to leadership, one in which women have a critical role in bringing new kinds of alliances together. That was one of the clear messages at the International Women’s Forum 2017, a gathering of more than 700 people from across business, government and NGOs that we attended as Edelman’s IWF delegates recently in Stockholm.

The event’s theme — sustainability — extended well beyond environmental concerns, with discussions covering everything from business to politics to pressing societal challenges. Session speakers pulled no punches in addressing what is required if we want to change the present global dynamics around issues like climate change, populism and human rights. But across every issue and every session, what struck us most as we took in these passionate debates was the simple, yet powerful concept that “partnership is the new leadership,” which took on increased meaning over the course of the two-day event.

Despite their diverse backgrounds — from a former UN Secretary General and Swedish Environmental Minister to company CEOs and activists — all agreed that it is only through genuine partnership that lasting solutions to the issues impacting our world can be found. Everyone has a part to play, and it’s not always the same role — but that’s as it should be. It’s more about being part of a solution rather than trying to “be the leader” and go it alone, which too many brands and individuals still try to do. Change that builds a truly sustainable world requires looking outward to see how to collaborate with disparate individuals or organizations, to carefully listen and learn from others to advance your thinking, and to realize that a business’s obligation is no longer only to its stakeholders.

In that context, Dr Obiageli Ezekwesili, vice president of the World Bank’s Africa Region and co-convenor of the #BringBackOurGirls movement, said something that is worth pondering: we need a more communal way of working and women, by nature, are typically more inclined to that approach. While this idea could be dismissed by some as a gross over-simplification, and is certainly as much a quality of character (whether you’re a man or a woman), it rings true for many women.

Clearly there still is a long way to go, though, to ensure more women are in the ranks. Despite the increase of women in leadership globally, the numbers are still appallingly poor; according to research gathered by UN Women, a global champion for gender equality, only 22.8 percent of all national parliamentarians were women as of June 2016. The Pew Research Center reports that as of 2017, the share of Fortune 500 female CEOs was a dismal 5.4 percent. When examining female board members across that same Fortune 500 audience, the number rises to a more promising 20.2 percent, but that’s barely a 10 percent increase from where we were 22 years ago in 1995 (9.6 percent).

As Edelman’s IWF delegates, we are quite proud to be part of an organization that actively works to increase the number of women in top leadership positions to 50 percent. There is an untapped potential in the power of female leadership and in embracing the power of “collaboration” rather than the “self.”

Regardless of gender, nationality or background, we each stand to benefit from embracing this “partnership = new leadership,” which can be applied at different levels:

  • Any brand, company, or non-profit can benefit from positioning itself as collaborative versus going it alone. One example is Swedfund. Owned by the Swedish state, it provides risk capital in emerging markets. Swedfund partnered with a multinational clothing-retail company on an initiative to improve the textile industry in Ethiopia. Their partnership strategy created workforce transformation that substantially improved quality of life, especially for female workers. Another synergistic example is the partnership between the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and a global pharmaceutical company to revolutionize access to an injectable contraceptive for women in some of the world’s poorest countries.
  • As communications marketing professionals, we must ensure that we use the partnership/communal approach in the way we work within teams. We must always consider integrating external partners while building value for our clients.
  • Personally, we returned from IWF with more of an “activist” mindset. Inaction is often caused by people feeling that their actions will make no difference, which is a dangerous construct. We realize that WE can also do more as individuals to drive change, whether through partnerships with select organizations or simply by working together with other individuals looking to give time, attention and support to a cause that means something to them. We can act as agents of change.

Looking back on the event, the words of Dr. Ezekwesili remain fixed in our minds: “You only become voiceless by choice. Your voice must be used because you don’t have it just for yourself.” We move forward from here, charging ourselves to be active partners who drive change and create a more sustainable world for all.

Cathy Yue (Asia), Marisa Maldonado (Latin America), Nina Godard (Canada), Ola Kozik (Europe) and Rupa Patel (United States) were Edelman’s 2017 delegates to the International Women’s Forum.

Doing Business Under Macron: An Edelman Briefing

business under macron

French President-elect Emmanuel Macron has a major task ahead of him: his presidency will test whether a centrist, pro-European leader can govern France and whether an inexperienced politician can do better than the “traditional” political...

French President-elect Emmanuel Macron has a major task ahead of him: his presidency will test whether a centrist, pro-European leader can govern France and whether an inexperienced politician can do better than the “traditional” political classes. His pro-European mindset will face a strong Euro-skepticism and reluctance to globalization strongly anchored in French culture. Some of Macron’s proposals seek to further liberalize the French economy, reduce public deficit, more flexible labor market regulations and refresh the political domain by introducing new rules and more transparency.

Business under Macron will not be “as usual”.

From a geopolitical perspective, Macron will preserve France’s alliance with Germany to maintain the Euro, political stability and peace in Europe. France will likely try to impose a “political” management of the Eurozone with Germany by creating a Euro governance, benefiting from the German political agenda (general elections in September). Paris and Berlin will likely pressure the UK through isolation and defending the indivisibility of the European Union. Macron will maintain the Atlantic Alliance as a pivot of the French foreign policy to prevent President Vladmir Putin from further gaining influence in Europe.

Our colleagues in Paris have prepared a note on how Emmanuel Macron’s presidency is likely to impact not only French politics but also business. The analysis sets out President Macron’s personality, policies, agenda and main challenges.

Read it here

5 Types of Activism Every Brand Should Prepare for in the Activist Economy

activist economy

How to balance value and values in the activist economy These days it’s virtually impossible to log on to Facebook or Twitter without a discussion unfolding around politics. In fact, it’s become common for people...

How to balance value and values in the activist economy

These days it’s virtually impossible to log on to Facebook or Twitter without a discussion unfolding around politics. In fact, it’s become common for people to take “breaks” from social media to limit their exposure to constant political controversies and social issues.

As a consumer, it’s difficult to remain neutral when it feels like everyone has taken a side. From a brand perspective, it’s not much different.

If there was a clear trend to emerge during this year’s Super Bowl—it was brand activism. From Airbnb to Audi to 84 Lumber, brands decided it was time to take a stand on issues dominating the societal discourse. In some cases, brand activism was cheered on by consumers, but backlash was just as common. Since 84 Lumber’s ad aired, the company’s CEO has worked to clarify that the ad wasn’t meant to support illegal immigration.

This situation goes far beyond the Super Bowl. Many brands have recently found themselves in the middle of political debates, and even if a brand isn’t taking a side—its consumers still are.

Welcome to the “activist economy,” where a brand’s value and values are now becoming intertwined and indistinguishable. And it’s not limited to consumers of brands, but also a brand’s employees, partners, representatives and even the brand itself.

In the activist economy, these societal issues will continue to penetrate the consumer consciousness in five key areas:

1. Consumer activism

Empowered by social media and fueled by political issues—consumers have the power to quickly organize, assemble, vocalize support or express dissent. For brands, these actions can help in the form of positive sentiment or hurt in the form of protests from the purse. For example, Uber reportedly lost more than 200,000 customers during the #DeleteUber consumer activist campaign because consumers were unhappy with the perception that the brand was unjustly benefitting from protests at airports across the country.

2. Brand activism

Much like consumer dynamics, societal and political issues are forcing brands to evaluate where they stand or risk leaving their position open to interpretation by consumers. The uptick in brands grappling with this emerging reality, either proactively or reactively, is symptomatic of larger societal shifts and realities including the re-emergence of populism, distrust in key institutions such as government and media, and world-shaping events like Trump’s election or Brexit.

Employees are consumers too, following issues that affect them while taking note of where their employers stand.

3. Employee activism

In today’s polarized environment, employees are also engaging on issues they care about. After all, employees are consumers too, following issues that affect them while taking note of where their employers stand. For too long, companies have ignored their employee base when it comes to communicating around key issues, whether it be taxes, immigration or trade, and this status quo is unsustainable as employees effortlessly toggle between concerned citizen and brand ambassador.

4. Spokesperson activism

From paid celebrities to influencers to corporate executives, today’s polarized environment heightens the scrutiny of people who act as the face of a brand in any capacity. YouTube and Disney both recently dropped deals with PewDiePie, the internet’s highest paid YouTuber, due to a controversy involving anti-Semitic rhetoric. In an activist economy, if you are compensated by a brand, consumers will hold you accountable. Equally, those representing the brand will hold the brand accountable when values are at odds.

5. Media activism

Polarization is reflected in media we consume in a landscape where we can find outlets and voices that reflect our world view and sensibilities, whether it’s The New Yorker, Fox News, Breitbart or The Huffington Post. Increasingly, this “self-selection” by consumers of media they agree with is symptomatic of trust issues with the media. Edelman’s Trust Barometer points out how trust in media is at an all-time low, and we can expect to see this self-selecting behavior continue.

If consumers, spokespeople, employees and media are all engaged in an activist economy, the implication for brands is multifaceted. A polarized environment will force brands to revisit their “value propositions” with the brand (and corporation’s) “values” and actions. For example, it is not enough to champion equal opportunities but not reflect this in the executive ranks or employee base.

A brand’s value proposition and values must be in lockstep now more than ever. So how can we evolve, promote and protect brands in this new activist economy?

Brands must be prepared to weigh in on a societal issue before it becomes a flashpoint. Having a playbook in advance will no longer be a “nice to have.”

In a polarized world where consumers are increasingly “taking sides,” it’s not enough for brands to simply link to societal issues to promote themselves or act quickly to defend the brand. They need to do both simultaneously. In addition, brands must be ready to ensure that the higher purpose of what they stand for aligns with how the company operates. For brands that find themselves navigating such fast-moving waters, the following construct will become essential:


Brands must be prepared to respond at a moment’s notice. Implement an “ABM” (Always Be Monitoring) approach not only for brand mentions on search and social, but for tangential issues that have potential impact. For example, Barilla (a client of my company, Edelman) has multiple listening rooms to monitor both brand mentions and issues as an early warning system. This monitoring should extend to communities offline where early signals help identify emerging issues before they become public.


In addition to being prepared, it’s important to consider the various issues that might offer opportunities for brands to take a stance on certain issues. The critical caveat is that societal issues should be relevant to the business. Before brands jump headfirst into taking a stance, several questions must be addressed:

  • Do we have a right to weigh in on a specific societal issue?
  • Do our core values align with our value proposition to the consumer/customer?
  • Who will we possibly alienate? Who doesn’t share the same values we do?


The current environment offers brands the opportunity to reimagine their own foundation for using both the societal and activist lenses as a blueprint for how their brand positioning needs to evolve. Patagonia, for example, refers to itself as “the activist company” and clearly articulates the societal issues it takes a stance on.  While this approach is certainly not right for all brands, many have yet to do this type of foundational work and still rely on brand equity through the traditional lens of the brand value proposition vs. how the brand values translate in a world prone to activism.

Brands can and will thrive in this polarized environment, but the intersection of what their value proposition means, how it’s articulated and and how it’s embodied must become one.

In addition, brands must be prepared to weigh in on societal issues before they become flash points. Having a playbook in advance will no longer just be “nice to have.” Consumers on any side of an issue will view their everyday interactions with brands through this fractured prism.

For brands, the activist economy will play out at the intersection of aligning a brand’s value proposition with living out the company’s values. For consumers, they will act accordingly to what resonates with their own.

Written by David Armano, Global Strategy Director, Edelman.



Influencer marketing saw extraordinary growth in 2016 and shows no signs of slowing. With millions tuning in to their favourite YouTuber or blogger every day, that’s not surprising. However, as more brands continue to adopt...

Influencer marketing saw extraordinary growth in 2016 and shows no signs of slowing. With millions tuning in to their favourite YouTuber or blogger every day, that’s not surprising. However, as more brands continue to adopt influencer marketing and audiences become increasingly aware of sponsored content, what will 2017 hold for the influencer space?


2017 will see spend on digital marketing exceed that of TV for the first time. With the use of influencers increasing, authorities such as the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) and Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) in the UK, and the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) in the USA, are paying more attention to brand-sponsored influencer content to make audiences aware that they are being advertised to.

Brands and influencers must follow the regulations. They’ll face stiff penalties if they do not disclose sponsorship with the inclusion of hashtags such as #ad, #sponsored or #sp – not to mention a loss of credibility among their audience.

However, the power of influencers comes from their authentic social connection to their audience, and too much overt advertising may erode this.

This year brands will have to play a delicate balancing act. They’ll have to work with influencers to reach their audience transparently, while maintaining the integrity of the influencer’s social connection with their audience, and preserving all the trust that influencer has built up.


While many people don’t mind being advertised to, they can become fatigued when exposed to too much sponsored content which is not relevant to them, or out of character for the influencer.

There’s nothing wrong with sponsored content – sports figures and celebrities have been endorsing products for nearly a century. But if an influencer is constantly switching, say, from an energy drink one week to a laptop unboxing another week, this strains their credibility. When influencers post conflicting messages, followers are often quick to call them out.

In the coming year, look for more long-term partnerships growing up in the influencer world, as the relationship between influencers and brands matures. Some of the influencers with the largest followings are maturing into established media brands in their own right – a development that only underlines the importance of building long-term relationships based on real, shared values.


Some 60% of brands have used influencer marketing in 2016, and this is set to increase to 75% by the end of 2017. With some online superstars like Zoella featuring multiple brands every month, and influencers like Melanie Murphy sometimes listing dozens of brands in a single post, the market is rapidly approaching saturation.

The cost of working with major influencers has increased as more brands secure their services. Some influencers’ fees tripled in the last year, and there’s no sign of this trend reversing. Developing a focus on the middle-tier influencers, or micro influencers of your industry, will be key.

Smaller influencers, with a more localized or specialized audience, often see significant levels of engagement and tend to be much more accessible than their major counterparts. This accessibility allows brands to explore influencer campaigns without having to stretch budgets to reach the higher-reach influencers.

On the other hand, finding relevant mid-tier influencers or micro-influencers with access to a specific audience is more complicated. Methods will have to get more sophisticated. Top-ten lists and media reports won’t do on their own, and specialized research approaches will be necessary. That’s why 2017 will see an increased use of specialized tools and methods to find the right influencers for a brand.


Through the year, brands will enter an ever more intense competition for consumer attention. There is a profusion of influencers creating content, and more and more brands trying to affect it. That’s why influencer strategy will need to be integrated into brands’ wider marketing mix at the highest level. The use of paid promotion will rise, further extending the lifespan of compelling influencer content. Integrated influencer and content campaigns will become the standard for effective online communications.

Brands should become more savvy by using paid promotion to elevate their content beyond influencer communities. By pairing paid social with co-created influencer content brands will be able to cut through noise and ensure that their content is reaching audiences en masse.  Content formats will have to evolve too, for example using influencers as talent or involving them in in-person or community activities. Online influencers aren’t going to disappear, and brands are learning how deeply they can impact their audience. But so far we’ve only scratched the surface of how they can work together.

Written by Blaine Doherty with Philip Trippenbach Edelman London



The 2017 Edelman Trust Barometer reveals the largest-ever drop in trust across the institutions of government, business, media and NGOs. Trust in media (43 percent) fell precipitously and is at all-time lows in 17 countries,...

The 2017 Edelman Trust Barometer reveals the largest-ever drop in trust across the institutions of government, business, media and NGOs. Trust in media (43 percent) fell precipitously and is at all-time lows in 17 countries, while trust levels in government (41 percent) dropped in 14 markets and is the least trusted institution in half of the 28 countries surveyed. The credibility of leaders also is in peril: CEO credibility dropped 12 points globally to an all-time low of 37 percent, plummeting in every country studied, while government leaders (29 percent) remain least credible.

The Trust Barometer found that 53 percent of respondents believe the current overall system has failed them—it is unfair and offers little hope for the future—while only 15 percent believe it is working, and approximately one-third are uncertain. Even the elites have a lack of faith in the system, with 48 percent of the top quartile in income, 49 percent of the college-educated and a majority of the well-informed (51 percent) saying the system has failed.

The gap between the trust held by the informed public and that of the mass population has widened to 15 points, with the biggest disparities in the U.S. (21points), U.K. (19 points) and France (18 points). The mass population in 20 countries distrusts their institutions, compared to only six for the informed public.

“The implications of the global trust crisis are deep and wide-ranging,” said Richard Edelman, president and CEO of Edelman. “It began with the Great Recession of 2008, but like the second and third waves of a tsunami, globalization and technological change have further weakened people’s trust in global institutions. The consequence is virulent populism and nationalism as the mass population has taken control away from the elites.”

Current populist movements are fueled by a lack of trust in the system and economic and societal fears, including corruption (40 percent), immigration (28 percent), globalization (27 percent), eroding social values (25 percent) and the pace of innovation (22 percent). Countries coupling a lack of faith in the system with deep fears, such as the U.S., U.K. and Italy have seen the election of Donald Trump, the Brexit vote and the failed Italian referendum.

The cycle of distrust is magnified by the emergence of a media echo chamber that reinforces personal beliefs while shutting out opposing points of view. Respondents favor search engines (59 percent) over human editors (41 percent) and are nearly four times more likely to ignore information that supports a position they do not believe in.

“People now view media as part of the elite,” said Edelman. “The result is a proclivity for self-referential media and reliance on peers. The lack of trust in media has also given rise to the fake news phenomenon and politicians speaking directly to the masses. Media outlets must take a more local and social approach.”

There is evidence of even further dispersion of authority. A person like yourself (60 percent) is now just as credible a source of information about a company as is a technical (60 percent) or academic (60 percent) expert, and far more credible than a CEO (37 percent) and government official (29 percent).

Of the four institutions, business is viewed as the only one that can make a difference. Three out of four respondents agree a company can take actions to both increase profits and improve economic and social conditions in the community where it operates. Moreover, among those who are uncertain about whether the system is working for them, it is business (58 percent) that they trust most.

Yet business finds itself on the brink of distrust, and perhaps most concerning for business is the perceived role the public sees it playing in stoking their fears. A majority of the global population surveyed worries about losing their jobs due to the impacts of globalization (60 percent), lack of training or skills (60 percent), immigrants who work for less (58 percent), jobs moving to cheaper markets (55 percent) and automation (54 percent).

“After the challenges of 2016, 2017 has the potential to be a whole lot worse,” said Gurpreet Brar, General Manager for the Edelman Brussels office. “Across the continent we are seeing challenges materialise for the key pillars of society – politicians, business leaders, NGOS and the media – as the belief in the current system falters and a loss of trust in institutions becomes mainstream.”

“With this backdrop we have to ask ourselves, if we actually want to preserve these institutions, what we should do: the answers will be complex, but one simple conclusion is that a top-down solution will not do.”

Other key findings from the 2017 Edelman Trust Barometer include:

• Trust in business (52 percent) dropped in 18 countries, while NGOs (53 percent) saw drop-offs as high as 10 points across 21 countries.

• Employees, on average, are trusted 16 points more than CEOs on messaging around employee/customer relations (53 percent), financial earnings (38 percent), crises (37 percent), innovation (33 percent), industry issues (32 percent) or programs addressing societal issues (30 percent).

• Half of the countries surveyed have lost faith in the system, led by France (72 percent) and Italy (72 percent), Mexico (67 percent), South Africa (67 percent) and Spain (67 percent).

• Trust in traditional media fell 5 points to 57 percent, the steepest decline among platforms since 2012, followed by social media (41 percent), which dropped 3 points. By contrast, online-only media (51 percent) received the biggest bump in trust at 5 points.

Read the full report here:

A Global Perspective on the US Elections


Edelman teams worldwide have put together an overview of the global reactions to the US elections. From Argentina to Japan, the UK and EU Brussels, it features points of view from 18 markets in seven...

Edelman teams worldwide have put together an overview of the global reactions to the US elections. From Argentina to Japan, the UK and EU Brussels, it features points of view from 18 markets in seven regions, as well as implications for global public affairs from a policy perspective.

Read it here

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