Ipsos Corporate Reputation


The success of a communications strategy is in large part dependent on sound planning. Corporate communicators need to ensure that their function is fully integrated in the business. It needs to be capable of both proactively planning the year ahead whilst remaining sufficiently nimble to react to unexpected and hard-to-predict circumstances that often present communications challenges in the short term.

There are a number of components that make up the blueprint of an effective communications planning cycle.


  • Timely actions to support business strategy throughout the financial year
  • Insightful inputs to maximise chances of conveying a comprehensive message
  • The involvement of appropriate internal stakeholders
  • The right balance of aligned and unified internal and external communications
  • An ability to adapt to the unexpected

In this sitting of the Reputation Council, we’ve explored what the key factors are in successful communications planning, the most important changes in how corporate communicators work and the future of the function. In addition, we touch on other hot topics of debate, including the balance between internal and external communications and the timings of the communications planning.




Business strategy and priorities for the year ahead are at the heart of communications planning. The overall organisational strategy both short and long-term (i.e. five- or ten-year strategies) shapes both the overarching and tactical comms initiatives.

“Business strategy from the management department. And financial information from the finance department.”


Top management and senior decision makers often have an active voice in shaping the communications strategy of the business. They input their views at any stage of the design and/or signing off the final version of the plan.

“First and foremost, it’s from the general manager and board leadership of that business. We don’t plan anything until we’ve sat down with them and discussed their strategic priorities for the year ahead. I very much view corporate communications as supporting that strategic roadmap rather than telling them what their strategic roadmap should be.”


Financial constraints are a key factor to consider and corporate communications are often required to maximise impact with limited resources. This is an essential factor in determining the day-to-day execution of the plans.

“There’s the budget process, which is happening now. The amount of money you have to spend dictates some of the things you’re going to be doing – so budget dollars.”


Specialist opinion research, brought in from third party sources to understand the perceptions and expectations of various stakeholder groups, or test the validity of specific campaigns or initiatives is also a common input. It’s objective nature makes it particularly powerful in some businesses, as it brings clarity when conflicting internal points of view.

“External analysis – strategy and insights. What is happening in the surrounding culture, what are the pressures coming at you?”


It is often the case that corporate communicators discuss the challenges and opportunities facing their businesses with their networks of peers in the sector. Confidentiality certainly plays a key role here, but Council members often see this as a key way to validate current approaches and discuss fresh ideas.

“External stakeholders, inside market intelligence, customer intelligence, – several sources are integrated.”

“Business operating strategy dictates priorities; research with consumers for the business; financials (opportunities and threats); business performance.”


The past decade has brought deep transformations to the way organisations are expected to interact with their stakeholders. From day-to-day execution to overall strategies for stakeholder engagement, here are some of the changes most commonly mentioned by Council members:


The 24h news cycle requires corporate communicators to react quickly to news stories and have a point of view on critical issues with the potential to affect their organisation’s reputation.

I think the more we globalize, there will be much longer working hours. Especially in communications, the reaction is important. If something happens somewhere it needs to be dealt with. If there is an increase in overseas matters that cannot wait until the next day, I wouldn’t say we need to be in operation 24 hours but monitoring them will be tough.”


New communications channels, social media in particular, require corporate communicators to adapt their skillset and nurture more multi-disciplinary teams. There is also the need to coordinate the messaging across platforms and interact with stakeholders in a more direct way than in the past. Ensuring consistency and a single voice is of paramount importance.

Communication process has changed tremendously, there are fewer journalists, print has decreased in importance, development in fields of digital, social media, podcasts, videos and so on, a new audience is being addressed, the middle man (journalist) is cut out.”


Standard press releases are no longer good-enough to get a company’s point across. Stakeholders increasingly expect creative story-telling for press officers to stand out from the crowd.

We’ve changed how we think about external communications. We’ve gone from ‘press release happy’ to storytelling outside of the traditional press release. We can’t just check off ‘press release’ – we need to be more creative.”


These days, communications teams are expected to work closely with other internal departments. Externally, the communications process has moved from ‘broadcasting’ to ‘dialogue’, with stakeholders expecting a higher degree of interaction than in the past.

There is a breakdown in silos within business and this reflects a merging of communication disciplines. It used to be that internal communications, marketing and corporate communications were really separate areas but with so much blurring of boundaries between those and that has forced a greater degree of collaborative and integrated working which then becomes a bit of a self-fulfilling prophesy because you then get more blurring of boundaries, it just keeps feeding itself as a way of working.”

Really acting like an agency; bringing the full amount of expertise within the team. You could be working on something that you don’t support directly. We try to be as collaborative as we can and bring the expertise that we have in-house to any number of initiatives that we’re working on.”


As the role of the corporate communicator becomes increasingly complex, Council members discuss some of the obstacles they face in their jobs today. The most important are:


Increased scrutiny of an organisation’s activities and a global remit often lead to reputational crises that need to be dealt with decisively. Time commitments vary depending on their severity, but Council members agree on the need to carve out time to cope with unexpected challenges in a volatile environment.

“It’s being in such a reactive environment. There are issues and crises that we’ve had to deal with here. We have protesters. We have environmental issues. We have animal welfare issues. These things tend to pop up relatively quickly and you have to react to them. That, unfortunately, gets in the way of some of the more proactive things that we’d like to do to talk about our reputation and show how we’re activating on purpose.”


With increasingly complex organisational structures and competing priorities, coordinating processes and messages is a common challenge that needs to be considered. Equally, balancing short and long-term priorities is frequently a difficult exercise.

“Changing priorities, short term objectives…Once we have the strategy and plans, we have to change it.”


With Council members normally being part of leading global organisations, they often find that transposing global messaging into their local context is a delicate process that requires careful consideration to account for cultural differences.

“The biggest difficulty is aligning each global business strategy with each region. The difficulty is that what you see at headquarters is different from what you see locally, so I think it’s very difficult to get this alignment. The most common thing is the fact that we have a global team and the local team brings the raw information from the locals.”


The distinction (or lack of) between internal and external communications has been a hot topic of debate in the industry for a number of years.

On the one hand, the need to tailor communications to the different needs of internal and external stakeholder groups makes the case for separate work streams. For example, employee communications require a different approach to that needed with investors. Whilst the company needs the support of both groups to succeed in the marketplace, their experience of an organisation is vastly different. It is also a ‘fact that it is easier for the company to control internal communications channels than it is to shape the message in the outside world, thus tactical adjustments are often required.’

On the other hand, there is a strong argument in favour of having a consistent approach irrespective of the remit of the communications. Both internal and external audiences expect a degree of consistency that boosts confidence in what the company stands for and what it is trying to achieve.

Leaving differing corporate structures and channels aside, Council members feel that there needs to be a communications backbone underlining the way the company presents itself to stakeholders, both internal and external.

Increasingly, we’re trying not to draw a distinction. We have an external and internal comms team but we’re trying to blur those lines.”

It is entirely consistent, so we do not draw distinctions. But how the strategy is executed may be different with external and internal audiences.”

There are certain things that have a greater lean in one area or another. But primarily we look at the story and how are we building reputation. Employees are a key driver of our reputation internally and externally. Our employees are the best potential advocates that we have. There are very few moments where we’re able to separate the two.”



 The diversity of Council members and the various industries in which they operate means that there are no typical approaches to timescales and deadlines, with company calendars starting and finishing at different times of the year.

Completion [of the planning] is done up to the first quarter of the following year. Why? We have a long-term planning [cycle]. So, when you look at the plan for the next year, you have to evaluate the current year and then there are a lot of things (…) that were a little bit late… because there was a lot of change, new government, changes in the law. Laws that impact our business directly and this has had a major impact on our planning. And you have to adjust it over time. That’s why the process is long. It’s not one planning session and that’s it, we can check next year. No, it’s constant, it ends up being monthly.”


  • It tends to be an annual process with different stages across the financial year, which means that communications adapt to the needs of the business at certain points in time.
  • The initial round of planning normally lasts for a quarter, implying that setting a forward strategy requires time to consult with various parts of the business.
  • The third and fourth quarters tend to be the periods when planning for the year ahead begins, suggesting that evidence, for example from the external market and opinion research, needs to be captured before then.
  • Council members see the communications plan as a live document, continuously up for improvement as the company navigates the year and new circumstances present themselves, meaning the job is never fully complete.

“We’re kind of in constant planning cycles. We have our one-year planning, which happens in August, September, we have three-year plans. We’re always trying to make sure that we’re doing a mix of short-, medium-, and long-term plans.”

“We have a clear sense of what we want to do by the turn of the year but after our trading update and prelims we then start to finalise it.”


Council members expect the main changes and challenges they’ve identified to evolve and even become more prominent in the near future. Whilst the essentials of communications, such as building long-term, trusted relationships with key stakeholders or considering the views and expectations of various stakeholder groups will remain a constant, the environment in which corporate communicators are expected to deliver will go through further transformation.

It’s always going to have the same principles of what is an earned story that is at the core of your strategy. That’s a timeless skill and applying those stories and choreographing them. I can’t really envision what the technology or the channels of the future might be, but the same disciplines around strategy and smart narrative are timeless.”

Some of these changes will be driven by technological innovations, such as new channels and platforms for companies to get their voices heard and compete for attention, or processes for collaboration, with remote working among global teams being a prime example.

“The approach is likely to remain the same, but the actions, channels and forms will have changed to accommodate the dynamics of communications and technology.”

Other changes will relate to stakeholders’ expectations, particularly around the need for companies to have a clear strategy in areas such as sustainability and climate change. Finally, a more insights-driven approach to communications, and the availability of vast amounts of data, has already started to have a noticeable impact in the way companies communicate.


Corporate communicators are required to have a structured yet flexible communications process to navigate a complex and crowded environment. The initial planning phase is mostly useful to set the overall strategy for the year, but it inevitably needs to be adapted as circumstances and expectations evolve at an increasingly fast pace. Currently, there are already multiple inputs to consider, both internal and external. The successful corporate communicator is able to blend them all into a cohesive narrative that will support the organisation in achieving its goals.

With these trends set to develop further in the next five years, communicators need to make the case for the value of increased investment in multi-disciplinary teams and comprehensive skillsets, to ensure corporate communications continue to support and add value to the business.

Reputation on the rise: Safeguarding your brand reputation through investment in cyber security

There is a difference, it seems, between knowing something and really knowing something. As a professional of 15 years’ experience in the brand reputation space there are a number of issues that I have to talk to clients about again and again, where it is clear that the people I am speaking to know, and largely agree with, what I am saying… but then either fail to take the appropriate action or come back and ask the same question a year or so later. There are a number of these issues; whether general public marketing affects the opinions of politicians is one, as are questions about how to improve trust.

One that is perhaps less obvious a question is the importance of cyber security to reputation. However, it is a topic that has come up frequently over the years, both from clients asking about it through to Ipsos writing articles and thought pieces on the subject. Myself and colleagues wrote about the cybercrime threat to reputation back in 2016 and 2017, and warned that businesses were perhaps overconfident and underprepared for the risks posed by cybercrime in both 2018 and 2019.

Nevertheless, we still got the sense that despite our clients knowing that cybersecurity is a potential threat to their hard-worn corporate reputation, they somehow didn’t really take it seriously. I get that IT is less sexy than marketing and events when it comes to reputation management, but it is certainly as important. Losing data on a large scale strikes a blow against any company’s ability to portray themselves as competent, well managed or trustworthy.

Nearly 9 in 10 senior industry leaders invest in cyber security to protect the reputation of the companies they work for. It’s high time you joined them.

Bearing all this in mind, I was enthused to see data in Ipsos’s 2020 Captains of Industry survey that seems to indicate senior business leaders are not only cognizant that cybersecurity is important from an operational perspective but also from the point of view of reputation management.

When asked directly to give the main reasons for investing in cybersecurity, nearly nine in ten Captains of Industry said that it was “to protect our reputation”, with 30% saying that it was the most important reason. Only business continuity was more important. This is a huge endorsement of cybersecurity as a reputational shield, and one that is being embraced by business leaders themselves rather than being forced upon them by shareholders or customer demand (the more traditional triggers for investment in cybersecurity).

Given the importance of reputation – it is now the third ranked factor that Captains of Industry look for when judging an organisation – the way cybersecurity is being directly linked to reputation is huge positive and suggests that business leaders (and my clients) are beginning to understand its importance. I would even go further and suggest that cybersecurity not only protects a firm’s reputation, but it also safeguards its financial performance and perceptions of the quality of its management, the top two factors listed by Captains of Industry when judging a company or organisation.

While I am under no illusion that questions about the importance of cybersecurity to reputation are going to go away, hopefully these results indicate that we have reached a tipping point and that soon cybersecurity will take its place alongside the other recognised and respected tools of reputation and brand managers.

For more information please contact:

Carl Phillips
Director & Global Stakeholder Research Lead
Corporate Reputation,
Technology Sector


Fashion Victims: The Losers in the Fast Fashion Race

What can comms. leaders learn from the challenges facing companies in the fashion Industry?

The fashion industry has been under the spotlight recently for all the wrong reasons. The industry is going through a period of rapid change, brands and retailers are increasingly exposed to Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) issues in their supply chains, resulting in an intensified threat to reputation. Just last summer Boohoo was caught up in allegations around poor working conditions and allegations of paying employees in their supply chain below the minimum wage.

The restrictions imposed on consumer life throughout the COVID pandemic have acted as a rare speed bump on an industry that has otherwise been evolving unabated at a frightening pace. Ipsos Sustainability Monitor (SBM) 2020 data reveals that over half of consumers (55%) are buying less clothing than they were pre-pandemic. With the world on pause we ask what’s next for the fashion industry? How do brands best navigate these issues? How engaged are consumers in these issues? And what can comms leaders, across all industries, learn from the challenges being faced by the fashion industry?

Fast Fashion: a quick overview

Fast Fashion: “Inexpensive clothing produced rapidly by mass-market retailers in response to the latest trends.”

Since the late 90s, globalisation has opened-up Western markets to cheaper labour in the East. Cheaper clothing and ever shortening fashion cycles (including the development of the weekly ‘micro season’) means that clothing production doubled between 2000 and 2014, while the average number of garments purchased by the average Western consumer increased by 60% (McKinsey).[1]

Fast fashion is fuelled by celebrity culture, fads and the 24/7 nature of social media. SBM 2020 data shows that three-quarters of consumers agree that clothing and fashion are becoming cheaper and more throw-away in nature. And while just 14% of consumers say they feel under increased pressure to keep up with the latest trends and fashion, this rises to 24% among the youngest group (18-34 year olds). The fashion industry (and fast fashion in particular) are associated with serious ESG issues, outlined below.

Figure A) ESG issues typically associated with fast fashion (and the wider clothing industry)

  • Environmental issues: The fashion industry is considered by the UN Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) to be the second largest polluter in the world, after the oil industry (UN)[2]
  • Social issues: Forced/ slave labour, child labour, dangerous working condition… The Clean Clothes campaign reports wages in Eastern markets are typically a fifth of average living wage there.[3] Average working days are 14-16 hours, 7 days per week (Clean Clothes Campaign)[4]
  • Governance issues: Overproduction is a massive issue. More than half of fast fashion produced is disposed of in under a year, (McKinsey)[5] with consumers keeping clothing on average half as long as they did 15 years ago

1) Ethical considerations and the impact on purchasing behaviour

ESG issues around fast fashion and the clothing industry have been widely reported. As consumer awareness grows, we might speculate that ethical considerations will come to take on more importance in the minds of consumers. But how much impact do ethical considerations have over clothes purchasing decisions?

When it comes to what actually drives clothes purchase decisions, the more conventional levers such as price style and quality hold the most sway. None-the-less almost a third of consumers say that ethical issues are one of the top 3 factors that influence their decisions over clothes purchases (and 8% say that it is their primary consideration).

In the era of fast fashion it is perhaps surprising that ‘trends’ (keeping up with friends, celebrities, social media and advertising) is the least selected factor influencing clothes purchases. Caveats should be applied (the results are self-reported and people might underplay the amount of influence trends hold on them, the sample is 18+, missing a key demographic target for fast fashion, teenagers). But the result does suggest that fast fashion is concentrated not only in small proportion of the worlds markets (Western markets) but also within a small proportion of the population within those markets. A small number of people are likely to be responsible for a lot of clothes purchases. While 30% of consumers say they buy more clothes than they need, this rises to 42% among those that say ‘trends’ are a top 3 influencing factor, and 55% among those that say that ‘trends’ are the primary influence on their clothes purchases (SBM data 2020).

#1. Know your customer: For 3-in-10 consumers ethical issues are a key decision-making criterion in what clothes they buy. Whether your business is in fashion or elsewhere, there is clear reputational risk in not being aware of, or not fully understanding what motivates and what matters to your customers.  

Chart B: Ipsos SBM data 2020: Clothing and fashion purchase decisions

2) Consumer disconnects over ethical issues

What consumers want they don’t necessarily get

Ethical issues play an important secondary role in clothing purchase decision making but what action do consumers think should be taken? Four-in-five consumers agree that brands and retailers should do more to help protect the environment and safeguard workers’ rights within their supply chains, and 77% of consumers say that clothing brands and retailers should provide more information. However, there is a large disconnect between what consumers want and what they get. Just 17% of consumers agree that the fashion industry provides enough information about the environmental and social impacts of the manufacturing of clothes.

Consumer good intentions not necessarily reflected by their actions

When it comes to taking personal action, although 56% of consumers say that if a clothing brand was associated with environmental pollution in its manufacturing process, they would be putting off from buying clothing from that brand, just 28% of consumers have researched brands that provide ethical clothing.

#2. Be transparent: As globalisation has increased the complexity of supply chains in the fashion industry, it’s becoming harder for many brands and retailers to maintain transparency. Whether your business is in fashion or elsewhere, consumers want to be able to make informed decisions, they want to be provided with clear and complete information (and they probably expect you to do at least some (if not all) of the legwork).

Chart C: Ipsos SMB data 2020 & Ipsos Sustainable Fashion Survey 2018 data: The disconnect between consumer good intentions and their actions

3) What's to be done?

Consumers clearly want more ethical accountability from brands and retailers. But by what means do they want this delivered? In 2019 the Environmental Audit Committee (EAC) published its “Fixing Fashion Report”[6] making 18 recommendations to the government to help clean up the industry, including;

  • Mandatory environmental targets for fashion retailers with a turnover above £36 million
  • More proactive approach to enforcement of the National Minimum Wage with greater resourcing for HMRC’s National Minimum Wage team to increase inspection and detection work
  • The Government should publish a publicly accessible list of retailers required to release a modern slavery statement. This should be supported by an appropriate penalty for those companies who fail to report and comply with the Modern Slavery Act

The Ipsos SBM 2020 survey tested what level of consumer support there would be for clothing and fashion brands and retailers that adopted similar commitments through their own volition. Across the 8 statements tested by the SBM survey (see chart D) between 67% and 78% of consumers said that the measures would make them feel more positively about a clothing brand or retailer. Commitments to national minimum wage (43%) and proof of compliance with the Modern Slavery Act (40%) had the most ‘much more’ positive impact. There are notable differences by demographics.

18-34 year olds are much more likely to say that they would be ‘much more’ positive about brands across all of these measures:

  • 44% of 18-34 year olds said they would be much more positive about brands that set themselves environmental targets compared to 24% of 55+ year olds
  • 44% of 18-34 year olds said they would be much more positive about brands that made commitments to using sustainable materials compared to 28% of 55+ year olds

Women are also much more positive across all of the measures:

  • 46% of women felt much more positive about stores that set-up in-store schemes to help customers recycle their old clothes compared to 30% of men
  • 40% of women felt much more positive about brands that helped to reduce textile waste compared to 25% of men

Women and millennials with disposable income form a key target audience for the fashion industry. As ethical and ESG considerations climb up the agenda they are likely to hold more influence over brand reputation and consumer purchase behaviours. If your clothing range is targeted at younger consumers and women in particular, then commitments to the environment and the wellbeing of employees in your supply chain is quickly transitioning from a nice-to-have to a necessity.

#3. Collaborate with your customers: There is clear support for measures that help clean up the fashion industry and reputational rewards are available for brands that adopt similar commitments. Whether your business lies in fashion or elsewhere it pays reputationally to align your business’s commitments to those of your customer. Take pride in your commitments and collaborate with your customers.

Chart D: Ipsos SBM data 2020: Impact of brand and retailer ethical commitments

4) Conclusion & Recommendations: An opportunity to build brand reputation

Fashion at its heart is an outlet for self-expression, choice, freedom, communication, it’s a vehicle to bolster confidence, for consumers to feel good about themselves. Exploitation and corporate greed aren’t a great look for brands trying to make their customers feel good about themselves. And there’s evidence that fashion brands are starting to take a long hard look in the mirror.

Model examples   

  • Sustainable materials & Slow fashion - H&M offers a new ‘Conscious’ range. To qualify the product must contain at least 50% sustainable materials e.g. organic cotton or recycled polyester. Levi’s ‘Water<Less’ collection uses up to 96% less water in its denim production. Patagonia only uses sustainable materials in their outwear. They champion “slow fashion” by helping customers repair garments and encouraging customers to recycle and buy second hand
  • Circular economy – TK Maxx ‘Give Up Clothes for Good’ campaign has recycled 1.6m bags of clothing since 2004. They also have a zero waste to landfill target. M&S ‘Shwopping’ partnership with Oxfam 30million garments swapped and £21million raised for people living in extreme poverty. The circular economy is based on reusing and recycling materials rather than throwing them away
  • Codes of conduct – TK Maxx operates a ‘vendor code of conduct,’ committing vendors to use no child or forced labour, protect employee rights on wages, working hours and adhering to health & safety regulations in the workplace

Whether or not we see a return to business as usual on the high street as COVID-19 subsides, consumers are expecting more from businesses and brands, challenging them to perform a social purpose beyond simply turning a profit. This increased scrutiny presents a risk certainly, but with it also a growing opportunity. Ipsos Corporate Reputation Centre has 40 years’ experience in helping global businesses navigate reputational challenges.

Ipsos Recommendations

1) Know your customer – understand what issues concern them and to what extent it concerns them. How does this impact how they perceive your brand?

2) Transparency & third-party endorsements – good brand reputation is built on trust. Third party endorsements such as the Fair-Trade Foundation and the Impact Report are a means to showing your customers that you care and take their concerns seriously. Avoid shortcuts and greenwashing and practise what you preach.

3) Collaborate & take pride – show consumers that you are on their side, that you want to make life easier and more straight forward for them and that you can help bring clarity, speed and convenience to the purchasing decisions that they care about. Collaborate and work in partnership with customers towards shared goals.

Article links

[1] https://www.mckinsey.com/business-functions/sustainability/our-insights/style-thats-sustainable-a-new-fast-fashion-formula

[2] https://news.un.org/en/story/2019/03/1035161

[3] https://www.sustainyourstyle.org/en/whats-wrong-with-the-fashion-industry#anchor-environmental-impact

[4] https://www.sustainyourstyle.org/en/whats-wrong-with-the-fashion-industry#anchor-environmental-impact

[5] https://www.ellenmacarthurfoundation.org/assets/downloads/publications/A-New-Textiles-Economy_Full-Report.pdf

[6] https://publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm201719/cmselect/cmenvaud/2311/2311.pdf

For more information about how Ipsos can help you, get in touch:

Tom Cox
Research Manager
Corporate Reputation, Consumer Sector