Trust Leader: CNN

May 26, 2016

How CNN Builds and Protects it’s Brand of Trust

A few weeks ago,  I had the opportunity to meet with Greg Agvent, Senior Director of New Operations at CNN (Cable News Network) of Atlanta, Georgia, USA to discuss the importance of trust in the media. I asked him several questions relating to the CNN brand and the impact of the viewers and user’s trust to CNN’s bottom line.  I've captured the highlights of our conversation below.
What are the most important core values of the CNN brand?

“Seeking truth in an unambiguous and unfiltered way. There are so many shades of grey in any story. It is truth, it is about eliminating spin. Holding people accountable to the truth. Our brand is absolutely about trust. Without trust we have nothing.”

How has CNN built a culture of trust in the organization?

“It is kind of self-perpetuating. You put good people with integrity and great character together to form the team. This was started by Ted Turner (CNN founder) in 1980. The people that started with the company in the early 1980s are the people in the leadership roles today, these people have integrity and great character. We have a culture of growth, honesty, and integrity when it comes to the journalism. We believe it is an honour, a privilege and a responsibility to work here."

In the news industry what are the 3 biggest critical trust risk points?

  • "The biggest one by far is getting it (the news/ the story) wrong. You have to get it right."
  • "Number 2 is Getting it wrong."
  • "Number 3 is Getting it wrong."

As one of the most trusted brands in the world, how does CNN protect the trust it has with viewers, digital platform users and customers?

“We build on our experiences. We are human, we have made mistakes, we learn from them and fix them quickly. We have an ombudsman, an extremely engaged and active legal component to our business; we have fact checkers...several layers of fact checkers.”

“To us (CNN) we would rather “have it right than first.” In the news business a most want it first. We don’t rush, it is more important to us to have it right. We have to have two sources and everything is approved at a senior level. If it is not an accepted news source we do not go forward. We vet constantly.”

Has social media changed that?

“New media, in air quotes, changes how we approach a news story.  It is democratization - everyone has the ability to tell a story now, however, everyone is not a journalist. It hasn’t changed our view and our core value that we would rather have it right than have it first.”

How about the use of drones in the news industry?

“At CNN, we believe in compelling images that speak for themselves, high quality production value, unique story telling and powerful news. We use drones as an example to provide another view of a story or a news event to our viewers and users. Drones are a very powerful tool. With our 35 years of ethical standards, we have strict standards and rules we adhere to. We spent 18 months developing our operations manual (on handling drones). We want to use our drones to cover the news not to be the news.”

How does having your customers trust affect CNN's bottom line?

“You are rewarded by consumption of your product. When they trust us, they watch our programs. If they do not trust us, it would impact the bottom line.”
What advice do you have for brands that want to get on the most trusted list?

“Our product is consumed and we have constant feedback: ratings on TV, on line we have comments and discussion. We also have what we call ‘war rooms’ where we measure user and viewer feedback in real time. I would advise companies to engage with their customers in the media in which they are using, most likely social media in an open and honest way. I would also suggest companies need to monitor and measure their reputation and what customers think of them proactively.”