Vanessa Eaton – Executive Vice President, Proof Strategies
Vanessa’s open-minded and empathetic nature along with her curiosity to know more and relentless pursuit of new ideas makes her a trusted partner to many long-standing clients. As Proof Strategies’ innovation lead, Vanessa is focused on collaborating with teams to shape the agency’s approaches and services to meet clients’ evolving needs.
Vanessa co-leads Proof Strategies’trust study initiative, the CanTrust Index. She uses study insights and knowledge along with her extensive communications experience to counsel clients on how to build trust internally and externally to foster stronger relationships that result in better business.
In her 20 years at Proof Strategies, Vanessa has held several positions including previously leading the Health & Wellness Practice where she led a team of communicators servicing clients in pharmaceutical, wellness and not-for-profit health sectors to build and protect brand reputation.
As a volunteer, Vanessa has served as a board member for the EMPWR Foundation, a charitable organization that promotes better recovery outcomes for sport-related concussions.
As co-leader of Proof Strategies’ trust study initiative, the CanTrust Index, what were you hoping to accomplish through this study? What was the main goal of conducting this study?
Trust is a topic that everyone cares about but is not deeply understood. Research has shown that trust enables people and organizations to innovate, take risks, experiment, and rely on and invest in each other. Trust is very important in times of uncertainty.
We do this study because we want to better understand trust in Canada, who and what Canadians trust, and how to build trust. As a Canadian-owned communications agency, we feel it is our responsibility to help our clients better understand trust so they can better build, nurture, and protect trust – high trust is very important for a healthy society and especially important in rebuilding and recovering during pandemic times.
For six years now, Proof Strategies has worked to shed a light on trust in Canada, within the context of our people, culture, and institutions.
Each January, we survey 1,500 Canadians as well as smaller samples over the years to look at specific communities, such as newcomers, rural residents, or Quebecois. We’ve surveyed over 10,000 Canadians so far. It’s a very Canadian survey, asking questions about Parliament, the CBC, legalized marijuana, public healthcare and more!
What were the most surprising results of the study? What results caught you off guard the most out of all the responses you received?
- My big take away this year is the pandemic trust shift – from friends and family as the most trusted source overall for reliable information in our study one year ago – to now doctors (trust score of 81%) and scientists (with a score of 77%). They are the two most trusted sources in every area of our study (including trust related to competency and ability to the right thing and as COVID-19 information sources). This is the COVID-19 effect.
- Our data represents an inflection point between trust and truth: We trust the truth and people who we feel will be truth tellers. These findings are encouraging and are in stark contrast to the state of decline of trust in medical doctors, scientists and subject matter experts recently in the United States.
- The pandemic has brought into clear focus the value and importance that Canadians place on credible information grounded in expertise and the institution of science which can both help to support a healthy democracy. For our health and pandemic recovery, we must continue to encourage a fact-based narrative of the pandemic in this country.
The study has revealed that many employees gave a failing grade to their employers and found that they were unable to build trust during the pandemic. In your expert opinion, what are some of the initiatives that you believe employers should be taking towards their employees to build trust, especially during a global pandemic?
Trust is built through consistent, demonstrated values, and competency with dedication and a focus on what Canadian’s value most: employee wellbeing and health, living one’s values, and open communication from the highest levels of the organization. Leaders can take specific action to build, re-build and preserve trust and provides their employees with a renewed sense of engagement and well-being.
- Be inclusive:Regularly consult with employees and ensure they have a voice during the disruption – particularly over decisions that affect them.
- Prioritize psychological safety:Recognize and create safe places for employees to work through emotions raised by the disruption and change and create mechanisms to develop the coping capabilities of leaders and employees.
- Communicate continually: Build a bridge between the past and present and expected future state of the organization that employees can safely cross. Connect the organization’s change agenda to the organization’s core values and purpose.
- Safeguard your organization’s core values and purpose:Evidence shows that managers who saw their role during the disruption as guardians of the organization’s purpose and core values, were more likely to preserve trust than managers who perceived their role as ‘change agents’ of the organization.
How do you believe the CanTrust Index study will impact the way Canadians view COVID-19 and the vaccine?
Our study is not designed to impact the way Canadians feel about COVID or the vaccine, but I can tell you that our study found …
Overall, 64% of people say they trust the vaccine to be safe and effective which is not bad. However, among lower income (anyone under 65 who is living alone and earns <$25k annually), trust in the vaccine is significantly lower at 50%. GenZ and Millennials also have lower trust (at 55% and 58% respectively).
A 64% vaccination rate is not going to bring us herd immunity. And, for our health and recovery, we must urgently engage in active efforts to better understand and address the concerns of those Canadians who are unwilling to trust the vaccine to be safe and effective. Then use the voices that people trust to share the unaltered facts.
Of note, trust for the vaccine is higher among those who engage daily or more with the news for updates. Trust significantly reduces among Canadians not following the news as often. This an important dimension to the story because traditional means of engagement may not be drawing these groups in.
Looking at trust in media, trust in traditional media is higher than online media or trust in social media companies. Why do you believe this is?
- News media trust levels have declined although core trust in newspapers (55%), television (51%) news and radio (50%) remain stable. And 85% of Canadians also believe it is important to have access to fact-based journalism. This trust score gets even higher in holder demographics – Boomers and up. Trust in traditional media increases significantly with age.
- Almost half (46%) of Canadians say they trust journalists for COVID-19 information.
- Overall, there has been a 10% point drop in trust in online media – from 49% in 2020 to 39% this year. There are basement levels of trust in social media platform companies (overall at 24%). From the data we can extrapolate that given the pandemic, Canadians are placing more value and trust in people they deem as truth-tellers. And while trust in media in some areas is down, people trust journalists more than media as an industry – and they want fact-based reliable information … not opinions or secondhand information that comes through some forms of social media. Disinformation can spread like a virus.
- How we actively address this misinformation in Canada must better reflect our value around truth and fact and evidence-based information. Younger Canadians trust social and digital media more.