Day one of #RTSPECTRA saw compelling sessions by leading global communications leaders. The first keynote address of the day was with the Global Head of Communications and Responsibility for Allianz, Sabia Schwarzer, who began by elucidating why reputation counsel is of utmost importance for companies. Good reputation gives companies the license to operate, increases their optionality and expands their room to maneuver.
I, You, We
Any good reputation counsel worth its salt will comprise of three parts – the ‘I’, the ‘You’ and the ‘We’. Let’s see what see meant by each one of these:
The ‘I’ of Reputation Counsel
The ‘I’ part of reputation counsel is concerned with the company, the CEO , or the spokesperson of the company. She narrates a story about her encounter with a very successful CEO of an investment bank in New York who in an interview to his alma mater climbed up the majestic chandelier in his climbing gear, at the bank’s New York headquarters, to signify he had climbed up his way to success. Sabia Schwarzer was dumbfounded by the degree to which the CEO had lost touch with the real world. She goes on to explicate how working non-stop in an enclosed world of business, profits, investors, people often lose touch with reality. With the power of representing something much greater than oneself comes the responsibility of representing the values of the larger entity in accordance with the values of the land it is operating in. The ‘I’ of reputation counsel helps in combining the personal idiosyncrasies of the people representing a company with the values and attributes of the company.
The ‘You’ of Reputation Counsel
In this unbelievably interconnected world companies no longer can fathom who their potential ‘You’ is, who their potential stakeholders are. Schwarzer here uses the example of the rise of Greta Thunberg, the seventeen year old activist who is already the figurehead of a movement, and whose opinions companies must take into consideration.
Schwarzer says, the factor unifying all stakeholders everywhere is that they demand to be treated as humans and as adults. So companies, CEOs, company spokespersons must realise the time has come for dialogues with stakeholders where they’re treated as equals. Every ‘You’ wants to be heard, listened to and engaged with. There will be stakeholders who won’t see eye to eye with you on certain issues. Here, you need to stand your ground as a representative of a larger entity and also be transparent about such trade-offs with the larger audience. Transparency and honesty of this kind is respected everywhere.
The ‘We’ of Reputation Counsel
Schwarzer next talks about the ‘We’ of reputation counsel. ‘We’ here is ‘I’ combined with ‘You’ and something else. They can be researchers, observers, opinion makers, they can be anyone. The good news is, with the rise of analytics and social listening tools companies can now listen to and connect with people who care about the same issues as they do. Because the big problems of the world cannot be solves by one, be it an ordinary person, a CEO, or an organisation.
Schwarzer draws on the example of Allianz when it initiated a UN-convened net-zero asset owner alliance – they got together thirty institutional investors who committed to making their portfolios net-zero emissions by 2050. This was to demonstrate how communities are essential to bring about real changes. Schwarzer now goes full circle and she makes the importance of reputation counsel even more profound – she goes back to how reputation counsel provides companies room to navigate and maneuver; “but for what” she asks – “to make this world a better place”, she herself answers.
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