In Conversation with Rebecca Wilson

In an exclusive interview with Reputation Today, Rebecca Wilson, EVP International at WE Communications, delves into the latest trends in corporate image management post-pandemic. We discuss her diverse experience with global brands in various sectors like Healthcare and IT, and how it shapes her approach to reputation management on a global scale. Rebecca also highlights the role of ESG in altering corporate reputation strategies. She elaborates on her statement about fostering a culture of purpose and sustainability among employees, as mentioned in the #WEBrandsinMotion report, and its impact on corporate reputation. Lastly, we explore her views, as a former journalist, on the influence of new-age media in defining an organisation’s relevance and reputation.

Hemant Gaule: What are some of the new trends in corporate image management that have emerged post-pandemic?

Rebecca Wilson: It’s the sum of your collective actions – or inactions – that will always shape your corporate reputation. And some rules of reputation are evergreen – stakeholders will always need to see rational proof of the quality of your products and services, or consistent business performance. 

But what we have seen shift over the past 3-5 years is the meteoric rise in stakeholder expectations for brands to have a purpose in the world beyond profit – and for that purpose to address both the enduring societal and environmental issues of our time as well as the most urgent and personal needs people are feeling now.  

Our research also shows a shift in how brands are expected to communicate those commitments with stakeholders. 

Looking at WE’s Brands in Motion study it was clear that brands need to follow a new set of rules if they want to build and maintain a strong corporate reputation – namely, to address the big issues that are affecting people personally such as cost of living, to know that brands are being judged for their role as an employer, to practice a bolder form of transparency, and to proactively engage in the AI conversation regardless of sector or industry.

HG: How has your expertise in multiple global brands across Healthcare, MedTech, Information Technology, Retail and so on helped you navigate the big picture in reputation management on a global scale?

RW: Being deeply involved in the work has helped me maintain an essential pulse check of current and emerging issues that shape corporate reputation and business success. 

Working with such a diverse portfolio of brands in different industries, international markets and stages of growth has been instrumental in shaping my perspective on how corporate reputations are formed, protected, salvaged, and improved. There are red threads and common challenges that every corporate leader faces because of the shared reality of constantly evolving expectations of their customers, partners, employees, and stakeholders. Every brand, no matter your current state, can build a positive reputation by pairing purpose-led actions with proactive communications and effective issues management strategies.

HG: How has ESG and its growing importance contributed to a shift in the way corporate reputation is managed?

RW: Any stakeholders say a brand’s ESG strategy is a direct barometer of how you are living your purpose beyond profit. While it’s not the only space to demonstrate your commitment to meeting this expectation, ESG has quickly become the largest indicator in assessing corporate reputation. We expect purpose-led action to endure in the DNA of reputation, which means ESG strategies shared externally and proactively is also here to stay. If you aren’t sharing your ESG commitments, processes, and progress with your stakeholders yet, it’s time to throw open the doors and give access.

HG: Recently you made a statement about “creating a culture of purpose and engagement around sustainability”. How does building this culture among employees contribute to enhancing the corporate reputation?  (referring to your quote in the context of #WEBrandsinMotion report)

RW: Your employees are your greatest partners in building a strong reputation, but only if they’re engaged and feel invested in your commitments to areas such as DE&I or sustainability. In a recent WE Brands in Motion study, almost 2 out of 3 working professionals across the US, UK and Singapore said employees have very little or no involvement at all when it comes to their employers’ environmental sustainability efforts, so brands should consider how to remedy this as a first port of call (WE Brands in Motion, 2023.

Your employees can be instrumental in helping your brand meet its purpose-led commitments in areas like DEI or reaching carbon neutrality but can often act as the human face or reflection of your brand purpose and values to other stakeholders. This applies to your leaders or C-suite, who are more visible than ever externally. 

That type of employee engagement and investment goes a long way toward building a strong corporate reputation too, as our most recent survey shows. One of the new “rules of reputation” we lay out is that “employer reputation = corporate reputation.” What that means is that how companies treat their workers matters a lot to the public, whether they are potential customers, employees, or partners. That’s something that’s been shifting in recent years as it’s become easier to learn – through social media, pay transparency policies, etc. — just how employees are faring. 

And finally, our 2023 research shows that creating a strong, cohesive purpose-led culture among employees is taking on a new level of importance. In recent years, it’s not just prospective employees that look at your reputation as an employer. External stakeholders are now looking to things like employee satisfaction, policies, and experience to shape their opinion of your company too. In a time where brands are expected to look after the personal needs of individuals, there is nowhere this applies more than to your own people.

HG: With your background in Journalism, what is your perspective on the significance of new-age media in shaping an organisation’s relevance and reputation?

RW: There are several driving forces on reputation I’ve seen emerge from the modern media mix. The first is the new level of interactivity and therefore accessibility that stakeholders have to brands and the humans behind brands. With this newfound ability to engage in two-way vs. solely one-way communication with the organisations we experience every day comes an expectation that brands will in turn be as real and authentic and personal with how they engage us. Further to this, we are living in an age where everyone is a storyteller, everyone is a creator of content. What we call “the media” is rapidly changing and now includes influencers, blogs, social media, as well as traditional press. Our research reflects why this new era dictates brands step up to the pulpit and proactively engage in radical candour and open dialogue with their stakeholders. The lines between audience and medium blur further every day.

HG: How have the ways of measuring and analysing reputation management evolved while looking at the bigger picture? Has it become more personal and focused?

RW: Metrics like reach or share of voice will always be strong in gauging the level of brand awareness that exists in each market or region, but awareness does not correlate to sentiment and perception of your brand. Similarly, metrics like consumers reviews or sales numbers only shed light on one more evergreen aspect of your reputation – the quality of one’s products or services. As the factors of reputation have diversified beyond this, so have the factors brands should measure to get a clear understanding of their current reputation, and what levers to maneuvers to improve it. For example, looking at employee advocacy and experience, social chatter sentiment, or investing in brand health tracking year over year, are all newer metrics to consider measuring that better capture the nuance of modern corporate reputations.

The responses above are from Rebecca Wilson as shared with Reputation Today

Hemant Gaule
Hemant is an education leader based in Mumbai, India, and is passionate about education, policy, and media. After graduating from the Indian Institute of Management -Ahmedabad, he has counselled several private, social, political & government initiatives. He was a Co-founder & Director of Citizens of Accountable Governance, a team that spearheaded the national election campaign of India’s current Prime Minister Mr. Narendra Modi in 2014. After that, he has Co-founded (and is Dean of) India’s only institute dedicated to education and research in public relations – School of Communications & Reputation. In 2019 he became the first Indian to be conferred as a Fellow Accredited Public Relations Practitioners by ASEAN PR Network. In 2022, he was named among 40 Young Turks of India by Reputation Today Magazine. He can be reached at @HemantGaule on Twitter.

Be the first to comment on "In Conversation with Rebecca Wilson"

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published.