Chief executives must flip the "pyramid of authority" and focus on their employees to gain trust with consumers, according to Richard Edelman, CEO of the eponymous public relations consultancy.
"The best play is for CEOs to do inside out. Focus on their employees. The number one way to get trust back is to pay your employees well and get them to speak well about the company," Edelman said, speaking to CNBC at the World Economic Forum in Davos today.
"The world has flipped upside-down. It used to be a pyramid of authority, now it's upside down. The influence actually rests with the mid-level people, who speak peer-to-peer. If they're for you, you win," he added.
His comments come on the publication of the , which showed that confidence in CEOs is poor. Only 37 percent of the 33,000 people questioned agreed that company leaders are credible or very credible spokespeople, a 12 percentage point drop on 2016.
People trust employees more than CEOs when companies talk about customer relations, financial earnings, innovation or societal issues, the report states.
Chief executives are also less trusted than political figures, Edelman said. "Trust in CEOs plummeted this year… CEOs are hardly more trusted than government leaders - not a great place to be."
Edelman added that being "authentic" is going to be key for senior leaders, when asked about president-elect Trump's impact, and Edelman's previous statement that companies will be tempted to imitate him.
"Well, not politically, but they're going to start going direct. I think that the idea somehow of being authentic, genuine, speedy, somehow of the people is really important and I don't think that CEOs should necessarily be the chief tweeters, it actually could be the people doing the work and using the products," he said.