Ipsos Corporate Reputation

The Life of a Modern Communicator

Corporate communicators need to demonstrate a deep commercial understanding of the business issues their organisations face – this gives them credibility around the leadership table.
They operate in fast-moving and complex environments and need to be able to learn and adapt quickly.
Building strong relationships and networks with influencers and decision-makers (both internally and externally) is essential if they are to get things done.

There is little doubt that in the last 20 years we have witnessed the evolution of corporate communications from a predominantly PR orientated function to a more strategic all-encompassing management discipline.

This is in no small part due to the rise in the concept of the corporate brand – the idea that a company and what it stands for can provide added equity to its products and services as well as helping it to build relationships with a wide range of important internal and external stakeholders.

This change has led to the convergence of corporate strategy with corporate communications as companies seek to articulate their overriding purpose in a clear and compelling way.

What are the skills required by the modern corporate communicator?

Reputation Council members are adamant that the corporate communications function (or, more broadly speaking, corporate affairs) needs to be part of the strategic planning process. In other words, effective communications strategies can only be developed when senior communicators have an in-depth understanding of the business issues their organisations face:

"IF YOU ARE DEFINING A POLICY OF A BUSINESS… YOU NEED TO UNDERSTAND THE BUSINESS MODEL."
"BUSINESS PARTNERING... AND WITHIN BUSINESS PARTNERING I WOULD LOOK AT HAVING A DEEP KNOWLEDGE OF THE BUSINESS YOU ARE WORKING WITH."
"IN MY VIEW THE BEST ORGANISATIONS ARE INCLUDING THEIR COMMUNICATIONS DIRECTORS OR CORPORATE AFFAIRS DIRECTORS IN THE CONVERSATIONS ABOUT KEY BUSINESS DECISIONS RIGHT AT THE BEGINNING."

However, many respondents also felt strongly that broader business knowledge was not the only priority for today’s communicator. So-called ‘soft skills’ including empathy, judgement, flexibility, sincerity and enthusiasm were seen as vitally important in gaining the respect and support of colleagues and external stakeholders alike:

"FIRST OF ALL AN OPEN MIND AND CURIOSITY ARE IMPORTANT THINGS; FLEXIBILITY AND THE ABILITY TO COPE WITH A RAPIDLY CHANGING ENVIRONMENT."
"FLEXIBILITY, ADAPTABILITY, CURIOSITY AND CONFIDENCE."
"AN EAGERNESS AND HUNGER TO UNDERSTAND WHAT THE BIG ISSUES ARE AND ABLE TO COMMUNICATE THEM IN SIMPLE TERMS… A GOOD DEGREE OF INTELLIGENCE, EMOTIONAL INTELLIGENCE… AN INQUISITIVE NATURE."
Ultimately it’s about being seen as a trusted advisor

There was a clear consensus amongst Council members that the ultimate goal for most communicators was to be seen by the CEO and leadership team as a trusted advisor. The reason being that when this status is achieved it provides a powerful ‘platform’ for the effective co-ordination of reputation management activities – both internally and externally:

"IN MY VIEW THE BEST ORGANISATIONS ARE INCLUDING THEIR COMMUNICATIONS DIRECTORS OR CORPORATE AFFAIRS DIRECTORS IN THE CONVERSATIONS ABOUT KEY BUSINESS DECISIONS RIGHT AT THE BEGINNING."
"THAT TRUSTED ADVISOR ROLE IS VERY IMPORTANT: IT IS IMPORTANT THAT YOU GIVE A CLEAR AND UNAMBIGUOUS STEER TO THE BOARD, THE EXECUTIVE COMMITTEE AND THE CHIEF EXECUTIVE."
"YOU NEED TO HAVE AN EAR AT THE TOP TABLE. I WOULDN’T NECESSARILY SAY YOU NEED TO HAVE A SEAT AT IT, BUT YOU DEFINITELY NEED AN EAR AT THE TOP TABLE, SO A STRONG RELATIONSHIP WITH THE CHIEF EXECUTIVE, FINANCE DIRECTOR AND KEY MEMBERS OF THE C-SUITE. IDEALLY YOU WANT TO HAVE CONTROL OVER DIFFERENT LEVERS WITHIN THE REPUTATION TOOL KIT."
There’s no such thing as an average working day

Although it may well be a claim made by many functions within the corporate environment, there is no doubt that most Council members wholeheartedly believe that the average working day does not exist for them. The predominant view being that the nature of the corporate communications function within a global organisation means “that most of my days do not end up where I thought they were going to end at all.”

Council members work an average 60-hour week (not including periodic monitoring of emails over the weekend, which 88% of Council members do). This covers activity within the head office environment but also conference calls with colleagues from markets in different time zones. To varying degrees, respondents divide their time between planning activities (strategy development, meetings with communication colleagues and other functions such as HR, campaign development, etc.) and responding to internal requests as well as unexpected external events (including potentially damaging issues):

"THERE IS NO AVERAGE DAY! EVERY DAY IS DIFFERENT AND THROWS UP DIFFERENT ISSUES, THE ABILITY TO MULTITASK AND SPIN A LOT OF PLATES AT THE SAME TIME AND THAT IS DRIVEN BY THIS HYPER-CONNECTIVITY OF EVERYTHING."
"I WORK WITH A PROACTIVE AND REACTIVE ROLE. THE PROACTIVE SIDE IS WHAT I DO TO MAKE THE COMPANY APPEAR SOMEWHERE, CONVEYING A MESSAGE. THE REACTIVE PART IS WHAT I DO WHEN SOMETHING APPEARS IN THE MEDIA, A REPUTATION CRISIS. THIS IS DIFFICULT BECAUSE IT IS UNEXPECTED. YOU NEED TO ACT AT A MOMENT’S NOTICE."
"THERE IS NO AVERAGE DAY, THAT’S THE EXCITING BIT ABOUT WORKING IN COMMUNICATIONS. NO DAY IS LIKE THE NEXT. A CHALLENGE BUT ALSO EXCITING."
Single biggest frustration

In many cases the size and complexity of the organisation they work for lies at the heart of many of the frustrations cited by Council members. Specific issues mentioned include the relatively slow pace at which change can be achieved, the difficulty of gaining access to the right people and the challenges in aligning messages throughout the organisation:

"THE MOST FRUSTRATING THING IS NOT BEING ABLE TO GET HOLD OF THE PEOPLE YOU WANT TO TALK TO, WHATEVER THE REASON. THEY MIGHT BE AVOIDING YOU OR THEY ARE TOO BUSY."
"TO CREATE THE GUIDELINES AND POLICIES NEEDED TO REACH OUR LONG-TERM GOALS IS DIFFICULT. IT IS A CHALLENGE TO MAKE SURE WE STICK TO OUR VISION AND THAT EVERYBODY IN OUR ORGANISATION UNDERSTANDS THE IMPORTANCE OF THIS."
"INTERNAL BUREAUCRACY – THE LENGTH OF TIME IT TAKES TO GET THINGS DONE."

Other frustrations include lack of resources and budget relative to the deliverables expected and lack of understanding or unrealistic expectations of the communications function – “expectation that communications can solve unsolvable problems”.

Final thoughts

It’s clear Council members believe the corporate communications function has never been more important to the long-term performance and health of the organisations they work for, although it is also clear that the function is highly scrutinised for evidence of its impact on business performance.

Indeed, there are some individuals within the corporate environment who are still to be convinced that it should sit alongside other support functions such as HR and Marketing.

However, what is not in doubt is the determination of Reputation Council members to maintain the momentum that has driven communications and reputation management higher up the corporate agenda.

Methodology: 127 interviews conducted with Reputation Council members between April and August 2017.

Read more from the Reputation Council...

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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

Carl.Phillips@ipsos.com

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

Tom.Cox@ipsos.com