Ipsos Corporate Reputation

EMBARKING ON THE DATA INTEGRATION JOURNEY: SMOOTH SAILING

Communicators today are in the fortunate position where data is more abundant than ever; from reputation surveys to campaign measurement tools, business intelligence to employee feedback systems, and from media analysis to owned platform insights. The options for data collection and analytics are endless. However, making sense of this data and consolidating it into a useful system, where insights can be quickly drawn and communicated to leaders throughout the organisation is a daunting task.

A variety of data sources are used by communicators today, each providing different inputs to overall reputation measurement and management programmes.

Each of these data sources has a specific purpose within the communications environment. Social and traditional media analytics can help to determine how messages resonate and can provide intelligence regarding overall tone, sentiment, topics, and issues covered for a company versus its competitive set. Whereas issues monitoring can help a company keep abreast of regulatory issues that may impact the business environment. Reputation metrics and key stakeholder feedback can provide more detailed data about a company’s reputational strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats, as well as a deeper understanding of what attributes will have the greatest impact on reputation.

Rather than looking back and only analysing what we have done, using it to inform what we could do or should do.”

The use of these various data sources runs the spectrum from not being utilized at all to integrated systems providing real-time intelligence for reputation monitoring and crisis management.

“We talk about data informed decision making, not data driven, and that is an important distinction. PR people have traded on their gut feel forever, “It feels like the right thing to do” or “It doesn’t feel like the right thing to do” and that gut instinct is really important and we shouldn’t lose that but we can’t trade on it anymore, we do have to have the data to inform the decision. It is how we interpret that data and the experience we bring to looking at that data and the gut feel that is critical. So that is why we say data informed.”

“We have information spread in the organization. We are not ready to take advantage of all we have [due to a] lack of tools and resources.”

“The team uses a lot of media listening, we are just starting social media listening and if you call it a data source, our monitoring, our media monitoring of ourselves and others.” 

“We have more data than we think, and we do not use it enough.”

“Live tracking of social media. I think what is critical is not to be too led by real-time data. Watch your trends but don’t watch for immediate [changes].”

“We look at data to see what the best route is of telling a particular story. We’re looking to see at what’s cutting through. What topics of a particular campaign worked or didn’t. We measure corporate reputation in 12 markets and report it quarterly.”

“When we look at research, we look at things in the immediate, mid-term, the long-term, and then the agile step in between. To start with immediate, we look at leading impressions and an understanding of where we are and how we’re playing. Sentiment is an important part of that. In crisis management, we’re not just looking at the value of the conversation but the velocity of the conversation.”

“The other thing is reputation tracking is important for us. We’re looking at [specific stakeholders] and understanding what drives reputation for them.”

With so many sources in use, how do communicators ensure they are utilizing the right data mix and taking a holistic picture into account when planning communications strategies, developing messaging, navigating today’s regulatory environment, or determining whether an issue is likely to turn into a full-blown crisis?

The key is successful data integration to merge data sets and create a system that allows for easy exploration of key topics, issues, trends and reputation metrics. Robust data integration platforms have the ability to bring together real-time social media data, online and traditional media, broadcast and video content, legislative and regulatory updates, and survey data into a common platform allowing for ease of data exploration and insight identification. The days of Boolean search strings to monitor static topics have given way to machine learning and topic modelling to identify related topics and issues in real-time data streams. Alerts can identify meaningful shifts in volume or sentiment on critical topics to provide an early-warning system to alert communicators of potential issues requiring attention. When paired with frequent survey data, an integrated data system doesn’t just display data side-by-side, but it instead is designed to track the key issues and attributes that have the greatest potential to impact reputation, as identified by deep survey exploration and using these as the basis for ongoing social and online media tracking.

The most sophisticated systems can utilize always-on survey data paired with real-time digital intelligence feeds to generate predictive analytics that help determine whether media stories or social content will have a meaningful impact on reputational metrics.

The takeaway from our Reputation Council members is that integrated data streams are becoming a more critical tool, allowing more timely, informed decisions on how to proactively manage reputation, navigate the issues environment, and monitor emerging crises. However, today, many communicators feel they have a long way to go before they truly have integrated data available. When asked how they would rate themselves on a 10-point scale, most put themselves somewhere in the middle – not completely siloed, but not very well integrated.

It’s a manual process really…through people getting together and sharing [their data].”

“In comms it is still very siloed at the moment. We have a data analytics team, a data science team who are pulling all data together from all our products and looking at it from an operational maintenance point of view, but from a comms point of view we are still a long way off.”

“We have a good dashboard, but we really lack this type of data integration.”

“We’re using AI and data lakes rather than trying to get a standard system in which everything goes into but actually has spiders that are able to crawl through. We’re looking into the extent to which we can predict how a story will impact our reputation.”

While data integration can take time and care to execute in a way that will be most beneficial to each organisation and comms team using it, data is not enough on its own. It’s critical that communicators have the expertise and resources available to extract insights, identify issues and trends, and be able to translate the data into a narrative that supports their objectives. Strong partnerships with market insights and analytics and working collaboratively with data analysts to be sure they understand the mission and objectives of the communications team will help to ensure these tools are utilized to the best of their ability.

“As a business we are still learning how to use data and what does it mean. Data is useless without the analytics.”

“Honestly, the function isn’t run by people who tend to be very good at data.”

“Data is the fundamental piece of information that [our internal stakeholders] are going to respond to and make a decision on. But you still need to tell a story and have a narrative.”

The data integration and analytics journey is one many communicators are just beginning to embark on, but one thing is certain – those who are able to harness the power of today’s data streams and analytical capabilities will be able to make smarter, faster decisions that allow them to separate true crises from turbulence, to capitalise on unique opportunities, and to design more effective strategies that result in positive reputational impact.

“This is one of our biggest opportunities – looking at how to bring all the sources together to draw intelligence and insights. [It’s a] huge opportunity on our priority list and we haven’t gotten to it yet.”

“The biggest growth area in corporate relations is your ability to analyze data effectively and make the right decisions. This will eventually be a part of each team within the corporate affairs team.”

“ONLY 19% OF COUNCIL MEMBERS FEEL THEY HAVE INTEGRATED DATA IN THEIR COMMUNICATIONS”

KEY POINTS:

01. The proliferation of data sources has put more information at communicators’ fingertips, but most communicators have not fully integrated their data sources, limiting the ability to develop fully-informed strategies.

02. Social media analytics and feedback from key stakeholders are the primary data sources used in corporate communications, but may lack the comprehensive insights needed to enable the best decision-making.

03. Reputation Council members desire greater data integration, but most are uncertain of the best methods to do so.

It’s the environment, stupid!

ENVIRONMENTAL CONCERNS ARE NO LONGER JUST PRESSING ETHICAL ISSUES, BUT QUESTIONS OF FINANCIAL PRUDENCE. OVER HALF OF BRITISH CONSUMERS FEEL WE ARE EXPERIENCING A CLIMATE CRISIS, AND OVER ONE THIRD SAY THEY WOULD SWITCH OR BOYCOTT A FINANCIAL ORGANISATION IF ITS INVESTMENTS HAVE A DETRIMENTAL ENVIRONMENTAL IMPACT. DESPITE BIG CONCERNS AROUND COVID-19, THE ENVIRONMENT REMAINS A PRIORITY FOR THE PUBLIC, AND BUSINESSES WILL BE EXPECTED TO CONTINUE THE TRANSITION TO A SUSTAINABLE ECONOMY IN THE POST-CRISIS PERIOD.

Whilst it doesn’t roll off the tongue with as much zest, James Carville’s ‘the economy, stupid’ slogan is aptly modified for Larry Fink’s announcement earlier this year that BlackRock would base future investments with environmental sustainability as a central goal… ‘It’s the environment, stupid!’. If anyone could ‘wake up’ the market to the tipping point which has now been reached around the environment, it is the Chief Executive of the world’s largest asset management firm. “Awareness is rapidly changing” wrote Mr Fink in the company’s annual letter, “and I believe we are on the edge of a fundamental reshaping of finance”. This has been compounded more recently, with the announcement that the UK’s biggest pension fund, the government-backed National Employment Savings Trust (Nest), will begin divesting from fossil fuels, and BlackRock “launching a selection of ESG multi-asset ETFs, to provide investors with a cost-efficient, transparent and sustainable way to invest”.

Data from Ipsos’s 2020 Sustainable Business Monitor survey amongst the British public echoes these sentiments. With a majority of the public now feeling we are dealing with a climate crisis, it appears that cash may no longer be king in investments. Only 21% now claim to care more about financial returns on investments than on whether the financial provider is ethical in how it invests money. This is compared to 28% of the public who prioritise ethics over financial returns and 26% who feel they should be given equal footing. Even allowing for the possibility that consumers may not be quite so ethical when faced with this trade-off in reality, it is clear that there has been a change in the drivers of investment decision making.

The growing imperative for investors to prioritise companies with a good sustainability track record is brought into sharper focus when looking more closely at the attitudes of millennials. Findings from the Ipsos Sustainable Business Monitor show that 54% of 18-34 year olds would be concerned about investments in Oil and Gas, compared to 47% for the UK public overall. This isn’t limited to the UK either; sustainable investing interest among US millennial investors jumped from 84% in 2015 to 95% in 2019, according to Morgan Stanley’s Institute for Sustainable Investing.

So, what does this all mean? Unsurprisingly, that Fink is right.

Over one third of those asked said that investment in projects or companies that have a detrimental environmental impact would lead them to ‘switch from’, ‘stop using’, or ‘boycott’ a financial organisation. Indeed, sustainable investing is ranked alongside executive remuneration – an issue that has a long track record of being a strong driver of negative opinion for the finance sector.

This sentiment is further reflected at a global level when looking at Ipsos data from the recent Earth Day 2020 report, highlighting that even when set against the crisis situation that COVID-19 has presented, concerns around the environment remain steadfast. Over 7 in 10 people around the world agree that climate change is as serious as the pandemic, whilst 65% agree that in the economic recovery from COVID-19, it’s important that government actions prioritise climate change.

Recognising the growing commercial opportunity facing the sector, and the long-term risk of investing in environmentally unfriendly industries, Fink notes that “as a fiduciary, our responsibility is to help clients navigate this transition [the reallocation of capital]. Our investment conviction is that sustainability and climate-integrated portfolios can provide better risk-adjusted returns to investors”.

But where does this leave industries which have been traditionally harmful to the environment, such as the oil and gas industry, for a long time the bedrock of investment portfolios and still an essential service despite growing environmental concern?

In light of BlackRock’s position, The Economist wrote: “[t]o cynics, all the climate-friendly noises amount to little in practice, since few people are ready to make carbon-cutting sacrifices that would force oil firms’ hands. But noises are sometimes followed by action. Should they be this time, the 2020s may be do-or-die for the oil industry”.

It isn’t a case of ‘adapt tomorrow or die’ for fossil fuel companies however, and Fink makes this clear, forecasting “the energy transition will still take decades”. Citing fairness and justice, “we cannot leave behind parts of society, or entire countries in developing markets, as we pursue the path to a low-carbon world”. The demand for energy will continue whilst technology works to bring cost-effective replacements to conventional fuel sources, but it is incumbent on the sector to aggressively pursue cleaner energy; not only from an ethical perspective, but also in order to remain an attractive investment. The same is also true for a number of other sectors which have for a long time been harmful to the environment, and must adapt with the new way of sustainable investing.

Companies from within the fossil fuel and investment sectors which are leading the transition to a more sustainable future are on the right path, reinforced by public support. This should not be derailed. Communicators in these sectors therefore have the opportunity to maintain messaging around this transition, but with fairness in mind, should also remain sensitive to the societies whose energy programs are not as developed as some of the leading world economies. The transition to sustainable investing will need a collective effort – innovation from industry, reallocation of risk, government support and sustained societal scrutiny, but in adopting Fink’s position, it should be worthwhile effort for investors, producers, and consumers, from both an environmental and a financial perspective.

Contact: Alex Russell - Email | LinkedIn

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