Updated: Mar 20
When the 2021 Edelman Trust Barometer | Edelman was released in January, its findings showed that trust had declined in the world’s two largest economies, U.S. and China, accelerated with lives lost and joblessness due to the Covid-19 pandemic and how it was handled by those governing. Social media (35%) and owned media (41%) have suffered loss of trust due to misinformation, however it was traditional media (53%) that saw the largest drop in trust at eight points globally.
For the world of business, this year’s study shows that it is not only the most trusted institution among the four studied - Business, NGOs, Government, Media – “it is also the only trusted institution with a 61 percent trust level globally, and the only institution seen as both ethical and competent.” So, with the reputation of world leaders tested, are we looking to business leaders for guidance on how to be good world citizens?
People do business with those they know, like and trust
Branding is a projection of our own personalities and it can engender an emotional connection with a customer or consumer when we allow our personality to shine through. Reputation has the potential to influence consumers’ perceptions and behaviours, an example being to buy a brand we recognise over one we don’t.
People respond to people. They are likely to buy from, and listen to, someone who looks, talks and acts like them, as opposed to a large corporation\brand.
When studying public relations, I remember reading that reputation can be a company’s biggest asset and on balance sheets, it is calculated as a financial asset called ‘goodwill’. It is the thing that makes a company stand out from the crowd and gives it competitive edge, it is its badge of good character.
Professionally, I look at myself as an empathetic PR, supporting business growth through creating and enhancing visibility of brand and its specialties. Managing corporate reputation goes hand in hand with everything I communicate – it is always something any good PR person has in mind.
I was asked recently what three tips I would share about being in business:
Know your audience, know who your ideal customer is so that you are having conversations with the right people;
Ensure there is mutual understanding and respect from the ‘get go’ between you and your client;
Work hard, be customer-focused, results-oriented, have personal satisfaction in your work.
Is there really no bad publicity?
This theory no longer stands up. Companies come under fire for unsavory practices, leading to bad publicity and a PR crises. Practices such as using cheap labor or exploiting resources in poor countries can lead to boycotts or worse. Channel 4’s Dispatches revealed that the coffee plantation growing beans for Nespresso coffee had children as young as eight working eight-hour days for £5. As the brand’s ambassador, George Clooney made many millions and was quoted as saying he was not aware of the situation – I would like to have been a fly on the wall listening to the conversation with his human rights lawyer wife, Amal. The probe showed the children doing up to six-day weeks picking beans and shifting heavy loads to weighing areas in Guatemala.
A company with no shadowy areas in the chain of production is Sabert with a commitment to implementing quality control measures to ensure vendors meet sustainability, social and ethics requirements.
Defining what needs to be done to improve reputation and implementing the necessary changes is only half the battle. Suppliers must then communicate these changes to the public if they are to stand any chance of changing people’s perceptions and improving their corporate reputations.
Effective messaging is key.
Today, to not acknowledge or be sensitive to world events in our communications is to risk huge loss of reputation and face. In 2020, brands being insensitive and blatantly capitalising on people’s misery led to vilification, criticism and reputational loss. Unfortunately, there were many.
There were also reputational winners in 2020, one being the Scottish craft beer brewer, Brewdog, that switched production from their signature brew, Punk IPA, to ‘BrewGel Punk hand sanitiser’ to help combat nationwide shortages of the gel and in early-January, they offered their closed venues as vaccination centres. I am not Brewdog’s market, however I have huge admiration and respect for their quick thinking for the communities in which they operate and their lack of greed. OK, so it was a fantastic PR coup for them - great - that I don't mind because they have walked the talk. [The term virtue signaling is often used to accuse someone of trying to win praise for showing support for a social cause without actually doing anything meaningful to advance it.]
Technology for good in Covid times
The trauma experienced worldwide in 2020 has changed the tone of communications and there is a softer, more human approach in the technology sector in particular. Communities want to know how technology can help them. IoT (Internet of Things) is a technology that is evidently providing solutions to test anything from temperature screening in building receptions, virtual queuing, safer spaces, to footfall in public bathrooms\washrooms, it’s a good example of tech providing practical solutions for much needed day-to-day requirements.
Keeping our clients happy is one thing; maintaining a solid reputation is another. Although we may not be actively looking for new business, having solid relationships with people we already know is important to our health and happiness. We may end up being in business with the same customers for many years, so having a good reputation is critical to that business’ longevity.
To be effective, an organisation needs to listen to the opinions of those with whom it deals and not solely provide information.
Making time to interact with the people in our communities – followers and connections, people of interest – is an opportunity to share something of ourselves and I believe people more than ever today are curious about the person behind the brand.
Tips to guard your reputation
A wise and socially engaged friend gave me the following pointers:
Avoid sharing highly controversial subjects (unless you’ve decided that those subjects are truly part of your brand).
If you have other people posting for you on your social media accounts, be sure to review those posts until you really trust the person.
Address any negative criticism by taking the conversation offline.
Don’t gossip about coworkers or other businesses.
Give others the benefit of the doubt.
If you would like to chat about PR for your business, please visit the Contact page on this site, thank you.