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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The AI Paradox: Businesses must not overlook their responsibility to reputation as investment in this technology grows

Digital technologies, from social media to Artificial Intelligence (AI), have undoubtedly altered peoples’ lives – some for the better, some for the worse. We’ve seen the rise of intelligent assistants like Siri and Alexa, grown reliant on communication platforms to keep in touch with friends and family, and have witnessed the positive impact of wearable technology in healthcare.

According to a 2017 PwC report[1], AI technology could deliver a 10% increase in the UK’s GDP by 2030, provided that different types of AI technologies are invested in. To nurture this potential, in early March the government outlined a plan to position the UK as the global leader of artificial intelligence[2]. The plan incorporates investing in R&D, helping people develop skills for the new age of AI, and supporting sectors in boosting their use of AI and data analytics technologies. The hope is to create resilience among the UK’s workforce as the use of AI becomes widespread across sectors and helps boost the economy.

The indication that AI is the future is evident among business leaders too. In a recent study by Ipsos, the authoritative Captains of Industry, three in five stated they have already invested in digital technologies such as machine learning and artificial intelligence. Another third plan to invest in the next five years, as businesses prepare for the utilisation of AI technologies, align with government priorities, and foster the potential for economic growth – especially in a post-pandemic world

However, while the benefits that could be reaped from digital technologies are limitless, it doesn’t come without its challenges. In an Ipsos poll published by the World Economic Forum, four in ten adults across the world said they are worried about the use of artificial intelligence, and nearly half of adults globally agree that the use of AI by companies should be regulated more strictly than it currently is[3]. In another poll, less than one in five adults in the UK believe their job will be automated in the next 10 years, and almost four in five feel confident they already have the skills to carry on with their current employment in the future – contrasting senior leaders’ perspective of digital technologies potential.

While government and businesses are working toward unlocking AI’s potential, efforts will need to be put in place to convince employees of AI’s positive societal impact, the need for upskilling, and the benefits it could bring to jobs in the UK. Uplifting the reputation of AI and automation will need to be at the forefront of the government’s transformational strategy – especially as trust in the sector[4] hit an all-time low in 2020, according to the Edelman Trust Barometer.

Companies such as Microsoft have already taken some steps toward convincing the public in their efforts toward responsible technology by publishing six ethical principles to guide the development and use of artificial intelligence[5], with focus on working closely with employees and teams across the company to enable this effort. The government is also taking steps on this by launching an independent Centre for Data Ethics and Innovation that will advise on the ethical use of data, ranging from evaluating its social and economic impacts through to its fair and responsible application across businesses.

These efforts are a step in the right direction. Digital technologies are notorious for their fast evolution, with policies and regulations coming too late to resolve issues that have already left a negative mark on society and employment. Governments, businesses, and industry experts will need to work coherently and transparently when implementing AI, and work toward foreseeing issues with its implementation before they happen.

Building trust with the public will be key, alongside convincing the UK workforce of the benefits for upskilling, with a focus on fully communicating how utilising digital technologies would affect society and employment, both positively and negatively. Turning the UK into a global AI leader will be a challenging endeavour, but as long as we remember that having the capability to create technology is not all it takes for its success, realising all of its social and economic benefits are very much within our grasp.

Article links

[1] https://www.pwc.co.uk/economic-services/assets/ai-uk-report-v2.pdf

[2] https://www.gov.uk/government/news/new-strategy-to-unleash-the-transformational-power-of-artificial-intelligence

[3] https://www.ipsos.com/en-us/wef-artificial-intelligence-press-release

[4] https://www.linkedin.com/news/story/were-losing-our-trust-in-tech-5042340/

[5] https://www.microsoft.com/en-us/ai/responsible-ai?activetab=pivot1:primaryr6

For more information please contact:

Nadya Valkova
Research Manager, Corporate Reputation

Nadya.Valkova@Ipsos.com

What drives judgement of an organisation’s reputation?

An important focus for Ipsos Corporate Reputation is to help our clients understand what drives their reputation, in other words, what are the issues stakeholders think about when they make judgments about companies and organisations. In this article we will show what are the key aspects organisations should be mindful of according to MPs and business journalists who we regularly interview.

What exactly drives reputation will vary from one organisation to another – there isn’t a single, off-the-shelf answer to this. Feeding into an organisation’s reputation will be elements of what it does (for example, product quality and innovation), what it stands for (such as business acumen, ethics, corporate social responsibility and ESG performance), expectations and perceptions of the sector it’s in, expectations of business and industry, and other wider context issues. Furthermore, an organisation’s delivery against its corporate promise needs to match or exceed the expectations it creates.

There will be many tangible benefits that an organisation gets from building reputation value. It will, for example, help ensure your point of view is heard in policy making and regulation, make stakeholders more receptive to communications, build resilience to draw upon during times of crisis, and strengthen your employer brand.

Factors shaping reputation will vary from company to company, as reputation isn’t formed in a vacuum. It is shaped by perceptions of the sector, by the ongoing socioeconomic climate and policy agenda, as well as the behaviour, performance and communications effectiveness of a company. However, MPs and journalists have told us which issues they tend to consider when they from opinions about companies and organisations, which we’ll discuss here.

The most common consideration for business journalists when judging an organisation tends to be its financial performance. Often, this is seen to be a hygiene factor which an organisation needs before it can start to credibly engage with other issues. As one national business journalist states;

“If you haven't got that [financial performance] you can't do anything else. If you're not a viable business nothing else really matters. You can be as nice as you like to everyone else but if you're going to go bust, there's no point.”

Other common considerations today among business journalists include quality of management, treatment of customers, treatment of employees, and how it engages with journalists.

Journalists tell us that there are three key benefits for an organisation from engaging well with them; it allows journalists to get an organisation’s message across in the pieces they write, it could position an organisation in a more favourable light, and it helps journalist to report more accurately and less one-sided. As a regional business journalist explains;

“You're never going to stop bad headlines if things go badly but engagement on a number of specific issues such as remuneration, climate change, you know if I have a full understanding of a company's policy and why it's doing something, I'm much less likely to shot from the hip. If I have a full understanding of that company's strategy and why something has happened, I'm probably going to have a more holistic, a fuller appreciation of what that is rather than just writing "This is a bloody disaster"”

Indeed, between 2015 and 2017 we saw that engagement with journalists rose in importance as an important factor (see illustration below), and it has maintained its importance ever since. It’s also interesting to note how treatment of employees has become an increasingly important factor for journalists; as Covid-19 lockdown restrictions start to ease and companies announce their plans for their employees (a return to office working or a continuation of remote, flexible or hybrid working), companies need to be mindful of how their demands of employees might be perceived and how this might impact on their reputations.

Meanwhile, the factors that MPs most commonly consider when judging organisations are treatment of employees, track record, financial performance, social responsibility and environmental responsibility.

When asked to rate each aspect in terms of importance, treatment of employees has over time continuously been rated as an important attribute by MPs, while social and environmental responsibility is becoming increasingly important:

However, which aspects are of most importance does to some extent depend on which side of the House an MP sits on.

For Conservative MPs, a company’s track record and financial performance are the key considerations – and financial performance is far more commonly mentioned by Conservative MPs than Labour MPs. As one Conservative Backbencher states;

“Longevity is important, successful track record in either financial terms or stuff they sell or market. The reality is you don't really know about their CSR. The brand reputation is hugely important.”

Meanwhile, the key aspect for Labour MPs is treatment of employees (a far greater consideration among Labour MPs than Conservatives), followed by social responsibility. As one Labour Shadow Minister sates, the way a company treats their employees can be seen to be a reflection of the wider ethos of a company;

“First and foremost, in terms of the management and the whole ethos, the way they treat their employees… how employees are treated is very important to me, are they on proper contracts, are they paid properly, do they have security of employment, do they have things like pensions.”

In line with the views of Labour MPs, our most recent wave of the Reputation Council showed that corporate communicators commonly view employees as a stakeholder group which is increasingly influential on company reputations (legislators, such as MPs, are also seen to be increasingly influential by corporate communicators). Employees are no longer an afterthought for corporate communicators and are increasingly treated “much more seriously as a sophisticated stakeholder audience” and a trusted and credible source of information about a company.

Once organisations understand how key stakeholders form their opinions of them and their competitors, and how they perform against these criteria, they can then put plans in place to target communications more effectively – as well as identifying how (and if) an organisation needs to ‘course correct’ to deliver against stakeholder expectations. In terms of planning a communications strategy, further insight on how best to engage with MPs can be found in our recent post: Creating relevant and engaging comms with MPs for effective corporate planning.

Ipsos MORI can help you better understand what drives opinions about your organisation among various stakeholder groups, and the steps you need to take to bolster the way you are perceived to perform on those key attributes. We provide tailored advice through bespoke research and/or through our syndicated stakeholder surveys among legislators, journalists, business leaders and investors.

Want to know more about our MPs and Business Journalists syndicated surveys (or our wider bespoke surveys)? Get in touch with Ipsos MORI….

For more information please contact:

Guto Hunkin
Associate Director, Corporate Reputation

Guto.Hunkin@Ipsos.com