True to its promise of “engaging the intelligent communicator”, Reputation Today Conclave held on April 20 at the capital city captivated the PR and Corporate Communications professionals gathered at Vivanta by Taj at Gurgaon.
The spotlight was on – Reputation Management and Strategic Communications, as industry experts presented their point of view, backed by their rich experience. Tracking the reputation ecosystem was indeed the action line for the day.
Calling the corporate reputation shots
Maneuvering corporate reputations to cross over hurdles is what companies like GE did at the international level and closer home it was Sage Publishers India.
To communicate was a critical need that a company such as GE recognized on time. Speaking on the “Role of Communications in Transformation into a Digital Industrial Company”, Banmali Agrawala, President and CEO, GE South Asia actually put forth the question – do we need to communicate? Having tasted success for over 100 years, did not keep GE in a comfort zone from where it did not want to budge. But when it needed to change, GE recognized the need to change and communicate with all the stakeholders. Agrawala disclosed that GE chose the path to communicate, to hold themselves accountable to society, for, if you do this, you are a better communicator. With the battle lines between business and society getting stronger and stronger, “Reputation of a company is so critical in this era when mistrust between business and society is so high. The CEO’s single most critical deliverable is to be accountable for the reputation of his company. So, in communicating, leadership and personal responsibility of a leader is critical. As a leader, my personal responsibility was to make sure nothing happens in this country which could cast a blemish!” he explained.
As a leader, you have the power to have a view of the future and you need to articulate that vision clearly and translate it to strategy. The current Chairman Jeff Immelt was behind the company’s evolution. He formally took the helm of General Electric in September 2001, and there’s no question the company has changed dramatically in the following 15 years. He took important decisions like the one after 9/11 happened that GE should be global and shifted to HongKong and to de-emphasize GE Capital when financial crisis hit GE hard.
GE made all the right moves. Have a strategy, be clear to stakeholders and allocate resources to it – was Agrawala’s maxim for success. They identified with the ‘Make in India’ theme, which was a great positioning, according to him – a strategy not by accident, but by design. If the future of the company is digital, you better change it and make it attractive to 25 year olds, he pointed out. So, internal communication is crucial, as internal resistance to change is greater. With this in mind GE turned around, to change the direction. “To bring in change talk from the rooftops. In a fast changing world, you have no alternative but to tell your story,” he disclosed.
At GE, he said “we learn every day, and have also changed values. We longer shape the world, but adapt to the world!”
Golden rules of reputation management @Sage
Extolling the “Golden Rules of Reputation Management” was Vivek Mehra, CEO, Sage India who started by defining reputation? We learnt that it is “The image created by humans that focus on the good and bad”. He spoke about the journey that Sage traced – the difficult times the company went through when ownership changed hands in 2005.
Sage Publishers has sat on the periphery of a global operations and he related the story of how the publishing fulcrum was changed by looking at 4 things: brand building, institution building, focusing on the work culture and enabling their growth accelerator.
The only capital a publishing house has, he firmly believed, is the people (internal and external) and “we started with the internal customer”. Changes swept through the company in 2006 to 2009 but the golden rules followed were: be transparent, be visible, and be reachable. This led the company up the path to realign its growth path. The image and reputation also grew. “The 2 important rules of PR are – listening to people and addressing their concerns. To build personal reputation – become the problem solver! At the end of the day, innovation cannot be left for another day,” he said.
The secret of an accepted, strong reputation is to build credibility with external stakeholders. “We stuck it out, kept freedom of expression alive and became evangelist for publishing. It was less about PR, but more about CSR,” was the insight he gave.
Read more about the engaging addresses and discussions from the RT Conclave in the second part of this feature.