Corporate Reputation – Story Telling, ‘Bear Traps’ and the ‘Covid-Lens’

Published On: May 26th, 2020Categories: PRBy

Recently, I have been tuning into the weekly Responding to Covid-19 webinars from Deloitte and whilst they have all been interesting, this week’s topic had me nodding my head in agreement throughout.

The impact of Covid-19 on corporate reputation has been particularly interesting because crises rarely affect all organisations at once and on a local, national and international scale. The nature of the pandemic means no organisation has been unaffected, making it easy to compare responses and spot those who have slipped up or those who have shone.

Deloitte’s Jo Ouvry, Director of Corporate Affairs, shared a few insights into their own corporate communications which I’d suggest have relevance to any organisation:

  • Deloitte has used a principles-led communication strategy, in other words, using your values to steer your communication strategy. This is something Black Vanilla brings into our crisis communications planning sessions, discussing and agreeing on an approach to comms that reflects the core beliefs of the firm, such as transparency, people-first, lead from the top etc.
  • They have focused on message delivery through storytelling. Again, this is another strategy we frequently discuss with clients, putting your team’s perspectives and voice at the heart of your communications.
  • Deloitte has been very sensitive about timing and tone – ensuring all engagements are seen through a ‘Covid-lens’ as well as being quick to react to other stakeholder activity. In the case of the pandemic, this means that the comms team is often sprinting from one announcement to the next. On a separate note, this means the PR team needs to be supported and must be conscious of health and wellbeing, particularly when a crisis extends into months, not just days or weeks.

Mark Hutcheon, Deloitte’s Reputation, Crisis and Resilience Director, continued the theme of how organisations are perceived by their publics by stating that we are in a new era for reputation management, with the recognition that how businesses continue to respond and react to Covid-19 will have a long-term impact – positive and negative.

His phrase ‘moments that matter’ is a great way to explain those moments in time, not always in a crisis, that really shape our opinions of people or organisations. PR teams are very attuned to those moments and will advise their clients of the risks they present for reputation and the opportunities they present for connecting to their audiences and communities in a meaningful way.

These significant moments allow organisations to show leadership, compassion and citizenship towards their communities, particularly those who are affected most. The ‘three Cs’ – care or compassion for those affected, control of the situation and commitment – are a good starting point for all statements or content during a crisis.

So, looking ahead to how we can help businesses rebuild and flourish, a laser-like focus on corporate purpose is needed, maybe now more than ever (read our blog on Purposeful Profits and the role of PR).

Organisations need to continue to show empathy, whilst also demonstrating how they can help their customers recover and rebuild.

Internal communications are critical. If your people don’t know what’s required of them and why, then you can’t expect results.

Remember, most employees will be unsettled by the pandemic. Can they still work from home? Are they safe at work? Is their job safe, and what about their colleagues who have been furloughed or made redundant? Will there be corporate restructuring? Are there new and exciting ideas to get behind? These are just some of the questions going through your employees’ minds right now.

What nuances and sensitivities do you need to consider with your sales messaging? Companies that are here to support their customers will gain trust, hard sell won’t work. This is where content, PR and relationship-building strategies come into play.

Can you be better after Covid than you were before Covid? (And yes, I do think ‘BC’ and ‘AC’ have entered our new acronym dictionary).

What do you need to do to become a better corporate citizen? Corporate social responsibility isn’t a nice-to-have bolt on, it must be rooted in your business plan and objectives for it to be authentic. Do not underestimate how people’s mindsets have changed; the fact that we are an interconnected global society has been highlighted, and that we do need to support and care for each other, for the greater good, is beyond question.

Be mindful of what is now important to your stakeholders and customers. Don’t be afraid to move beyond what is no longer relevant.

Be human. The pandemic has shown us all that digital technology is an enabler – for both business transactions and human interactions. Digital marketing channels such as social media have seen a sharp upward trend, but they are merely ways of connecting human beings, people need to remain at the heart of your communications objectives.

Don’t think we are out of the woods; as Mark said: ‘Prepare and plan for the reputational bear traps ahead.’ We must keep our radar attuned to audience sentiment and what risks may now be moving up the agenda, such as cybersecurity.

We need to continue to be sensitive to the now, whilst forecasting what the future might bring. Reputation is central to creating and maintaining corporate values, and corporate values are central to forming and maintaining reputation.

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