Thought leadership is the most effective form of marketing for most professional service firms, so it’s no surprise that PR agencies produce a wealth of surveys and studies, supplemented each year by external research into topics like reputation and credibility. Excluding our own excellent research, and emphasizing new initiatives or new findings over well-established pieces of intellectual property (particularly those that have made this list in previous years), these are 10 of the most important from the past 12 months.

1. Why Do PR Firms Pay Women, People of Color Less?
A shameful gender and diversity pay gap that continues to plague the PR industry, an issue Aarti Shah explored in depth drawing on research from Ketchum, which revealed that white women make $6,000 less than white men in the profession—and this gap grows larger for people of color.  The most obvious pay gap driver between men and women is related to who is groomed for and pointed toward leadership positions—a situation obviously unacceptable for an industry that is supposed to be in touch with the modern world. The research was an ideal companion piece to an earlier report, from the City College of New York's branding and integrated communications program, which interviewed 16 CEOs and two former CEOs of major PR firms and found widespread agreement on the business benefits of increased diversity.

2. Investors See Need For Companies To Take A Stand On Political Issues
Yes, even investors. There was a plethora of research into business and politics as “the Trump factor” changed the traditional rules—like this study from Global Strategy Group—but this Edelman research, a Trust Barometer Special Report, was perhaps the most striking, finding that roughly half of institutional investors think that most companies do not acknowledge the risks to their business from the current political climate, and that more than three-quarters (76%) of investors believe that companies have an urgent obligation to take a public stand on issues such as education reform and training, environmental issues, and free trade.

3. More Firms Consider Selling
The vast majority (92%) of independent public relations firms responding to a survey from law firm Davis & Gilbert have been approached about selling and 56% believe it is likely or very likely that they will sell their firms within the next three years. But relatively few are looking to be absorbed by a giant holding company, according to the research, presented by Davis & Gilbert partner Brad Schwartzberg at the Independent PR Firm Forum in Miami. Most firms expressed a preference for being acquired by another independent PR firm, followed by a consulting firm and a private equity firm.

4. Talkability More Important Than Trust For “Post-Truth” Consumers
Challenging the conventional wisdom about the primacy of “trust” in consumer marketing, Golin's first Global Relevance Review found that although consumers have been continually let down by perceived brand trustworthiness and truthfulness, they continue to buy products if the brand has relevance, and is talked about and recommended by others. Having lost faith in brands and institutions, people are looking to each other—friends, family, advocates and influencers—for validation of the choices they are making.

5. Google Returns Negative Content For Nearly Half Of Big Businesses

A study from Grayling found that nearly half the biggest companies in five key consumer categories suffer from negative content on the first page of Google searches. Much of this negative content was old; the oldest story on page one of a company’s search profile dated back to July 2013, and 85% of the negative content was more than a month old—with stories about corporate ethics, poor customer service, and cybersecurity problems proving particularly “sticky.”

6. Fake News May Be Good News For Traditional Media
Finding a silver lining in one of the darkest clouds facing the PR industry in 2017, a report from UK-based corporate and financial specialist Instinctif Partners suggested that fake news could be good news for traditional, mainstream media. Based on a survey of 2,000 media consumers, the study suggested that mainstream media outlets had the opportunity to rebuild and re-establish brand values and trust with media consumers: 60% of respondents said that increased coverage of fake news accented the need to get news from a source with a team of professional journalists.

7. Half Of Americans Rate CEO Reputations As "Bad"
Half of Americans rate the reputations of today's CEOs and corporate leaders as "bad," according to research from The Harris Poll Reputation Quotient. Only one-quarter of the public rates CEOs with "good" reputations; 26 percent are neutral. The five most important CEO traits, according to the survey, are trusted, ethical, accountable, competent, and respectful (this might explain the approval rating of the nation’s CEO). The five least important traits (from a list of 25) are resilient, visible, risk-taker, bold and curious.

8. CEOs Visible On Social Media, But Not Engaged

Perhaps the numbers above would be improved if CEOs paid attention to this study on “Socializing Your CEO” from Weber Shandwick, which found that while the majority of CEOs from leading US public (92%) and private (76%) companies are visible online in social media and on their company websites, engagement levels are also low, with only 22% of public company CEOs and 34% of private company CEOs interacting with other people online within the past year.

9. Technology Brands Ranked Most Authentic
Consumers have ranked five tech companies—Amazon, Apple, Microsoft, Google and PayPal—as the most authentic brands in the world, reflecting the segment’s ever-growing strength and influence, according to the 2017 Global Authentic 100 ranking produced by Cohn & Wolfe. Reliability, respectfulness and “being real” were rated as the primary drivers, and Cohn & Wolfe CEO Donna Imperato said the report’s findings showed that companies perceived as authentic are better able to build brand loyalty.

10. For Brands In Motion, Positioning Is Dead
Another piece of research that called conventional marketing wisdom into question, WE Communications’ “Brands In Motion” study concluded that in the modern era, traditional brand positioning is dead. “Brand positioning became dead when social media became mainstream,” said WE’s Alan VanderMolen. “Positioning suggests a fixed destination. Brand motion reflects the realities of acceleration, disruption, dislocation and the exponential expectations of your customers. Brand motion is built from the truth that neither your brand, your customers, nor anything in your environment is static.”