An Industry Mindshift: 20 Years of Building Trust

By Charlie Arnot / Founder & CEO of Look East

The old adage is true. Time flies. It’s hard to believe that it’s been 20 years since I hung out my shingle as a solo practitioner and launched Look East.

Up to that point, I had worked in radio and television and then transitioned to a career in public relations where I had the opportunity to help a large agribusiness company establish its communications department.

Our focus back then was on defending our interests – a popular strategy at the time. We talked about our science and our economic impact, and we attacked those who attacked us.

What I began to realize toward the end of my career there, however, was that the strategy was no longer working. I set out to explore what might be more effective and I landed on the missing piece – building trust.

It’s the foundation of any good relationship and the cornerstone of meaningful communication. If you don’t have trust, you don’t have much.

The Trust Model

As the team and client base quickly grew at Look East, we could clearly see that our trust-building approach was getting results. But we didn’t have the research upon which to build a foundation.

So we partnered with Iowa State University and conducted a meta-analysis of 21 different pieces of research and discovered that three factors drive trust – influential others, those we look to for expertise on a topic, competence, or information and skills and abilities, and finally, confidence, or establishing shared values with those you’re engaging.

To further our research, we conducted surveys of 6,000 U.S. consumers over three years and what we found was powerful – that communicating with shared values is three-to-five times more important to earning trust than sharing facts, data and science.

This truly was a revelation in our business and a new way of thinking for food and agriculture. Earn trust by connecting on values first – and only then are you given permission by stakeholders to introduce facts, science and data.

“You Help Us Think Differently”

Hailing from the Cornhusker state and having grown up on a small farm outside of Lincoln, Neb., I’ve had a long connection with agriculture and a deep respect for the people who grow, raise and produce our food. It’s been an incredible honor to empower those in food and agriculture over the past two decades to build trust in their people, products, processes and brands – whether that’s with multinational corporations, producer associations, farmers, technology developers or others.

I’m proud of our Look East team, which I admire tremendously. It’s not just because of their deep knowledge and expertise in food and ag, but because of who they are. They care deeply about each other and the work we do – and work collaboratively to serve clients across the food system.

And I’m humbled by the feedback from clients who embrace the value of our trust-earning approach. The best compliment we’ve ever received from a client was, “Our previous firm helped us talk about who we are and what we do. You help us think differently.”

It’s fostering that important mind shift that has been our driving force since 2004 and will continue to motivate us as we partner with the dedicated people involved in producing our food in the years ahead.