SPECTRA Day 1 – A unique virtual rendezvous with Reputation Management

Tracing back to the day when Indian and global PR professionals hit the chosen city for PRAXIS, all set to toast PR for the next three days, it was indeed an exclusive, wonderful experience. But, the picture in 2020 was different. It transformed into a unique virtual conference on Reputation Management, that was equally fascinating.

What is shaping the world of PR

Kicking off the virtual event – #RTSPECTRA (the online avatar of PRAXIS), Madan Bahal, Managing Director, Adfactors PR observed that today we will get a glimpse of what is new and what is shaping the world of PR. The current times put the spotlight on “when the world has gone topsy-turvy”, and “the pandemic (humanity has not witnessed such an event) has revealed some of our vulnerabilities and we were caught off-guard”. But the satisfaction is that it reveals strength of character and resilience at all levels. “We stood tall and stood with each other and worked relentlessly to mitigate the impact,” he insisted and added that looking at the solid testimony of strength displayed by the PR business, we can call ourselves ‘essential’ services”.

“India is a market with unmatched diversity and complexity, and we are getting into a different time in the history of our business,” he said and pointed out that we should join hands in capitalising on the opportunities. Some behavior shifts are required and, what is highlighted in this chorus for change?  As conscience keepers of our clients, he implored PR professionals to seize this opportunity and evolve as per stakeholder expectations; he also put the focus on – the urgent need on re-skilling for the entire PR business, a L&D opportunity for continuous learning with a sense of urgency is the only solution, and digital literacy is a must. The future outlook for the PR business in India is very favourable, compared to other communication disciplines such as advertising and media.

Protecting brand reputation in 2021

“In the new world we are slipping into – how much change is there and not?” questioned Rama Bijapurkar, Economist & Thought Leader in a Fireside Chat with Suresh Narayanan, Chairman and Managing Director, Nestle India. The talk focused on – ‘What should companies do to protect and build reputation in 2021, the new world?’ It is a situation that is confusing for the first time. But, he explained that, for businesses the whole equilibrium between people, profits has undergone a change, the global issue of diversity and talent has emerged, and issues around equality (the hardest hit were the economically deprived lot). And companies that have had longevity come into play when a crisis of this sort hits. It is compassion, reaching out which is important, he said which is manifested by –  the central leadership and the company purpose. Some companies have been devastated, but his company that is around 155 years old, has been fortunate. And, the ESG theme is trying to bring in a certain feature that is not profit – making it more inclusive. “If a leader has some idea of how to recover, it is in the interest of the business to try and pause and look at its people, purpose and partnerships (and not profits) – to secure the future”, he suggested.

Even though the realisation of societal impact of business is vastly better in Europe and US, in terms of values systems, the Eastern philosophies should do better, he felt and “we are starting that journey and we need to be champions of that change, but we need to learn this path as we go along”. On a scale of 1 to 10, he would put the performance half-way. The consumer will become more active in the ‘trust’ factor and this will put pressure on companies to build trust and reputation. Highlighting ‘purpose’ he said true purpose is emphasizing on your ‘reason to be’, like the Japanese concept of finding purpose in life – ‘ikigai’. It provides a guiding path, like it did for Nestle, during the Maggi crisis. When questioned if purpose comes with a price, he felt it did – definitely, for it can be a good checkback to the leadership in an organisation.

Will the pandemic will change the Indian consumer’s aspirations, attitudes, consumption and outcomes? He explained, “The consumer will become more acute in the trust placed in brands. Brands need to do the right things as far as the consumer experience is concerned, and also,  for the larger impact in terms of business.”

For the PR business, he put forth a 6-point strategy – building trust, transparency, a value chain, transmission, and it should be team-based, transcending time. “The role of a PR firm is that they have to be the conscience-keeper and mirror for a client,” he emphasised. They should be like a cardiologist, to take the corporate ECG of the company; and every CEO should be voice from within (the team) but the voice from outside too, especially in a troubled environment.

The Potential of Reputation Counsel

If you have a good reputation, it gives you license to operate and your room expands, noted Sabia Schwarzer, Global Head of Communications & Responsibility, Allianz as she discussed – ‘The Potential of a Reputation Counsel’, which builds a bridge between a brand and its stakeholders. It consists of three things – The I, U and We.  Anyone in the leadership space needs to think about the “larger than you” space and the Reputation Council makes sure there are no discrepancies between the personal self and the corporate self. Recently, some surprising stakeholders have emerged like children and today, we have Greta Thunberg, the Swedish activist. All stakeholders need to be treated well and the company can generate a lot of goodwill. ‘We’ refers to the community and honesty and transparency is important here, and managing that community is the work of the Reputation Council.

Storytelling has changed pointed out Himanshu Raj, Head Brand Communication, Mobile Premier League. How do you communicate to the ‘Ú’ and ‘We’? Sabia emphasised storytelling is more important than ever before and stories travel across the world in seconds; there is an opportunity today to tell stories globally and for companies it is essential. In twenty years down the line, communicating will become a task for everyone, but it’s good to have a department (Reputation Council) that keeps stock of what’s happening with the stakeholders. And how has Allianz changed the way reputation is managed? Allianz went to win hearts and minds of the stakeholders, and you have to appeal to intellect and the emotional aspects too.

Diversity, Inclusion & Equity

Engaged in a conversation, Ellen Ryan Mardiks, Golin’s Vice Chairman and Heather Woodard, Director for Multicultural PR and Brand Engagement, McDonald’s USA discussed a very current and volatile topic – ‘Diversity, Inclusion & Equity’. Both have been working around this scenario and they covered issues how these issue are working in society and especially how McDonald’s is addressing them. Against the global pandemic, there was the George Floyd unfortunate incident that shook the nation. “We first listened before making a statement that was demonstrative of our stand with Black Americans who are the subject of injustices like in the case of George Floyd,” disclosed Heather. Authentic commitments make all the difference, added Ellen and Heather felt that commitment to community and workforce seemed to resonate well, and she was “proud of the statement that we made and that ultimate stand with Black Americans”

Defining the terms, Heather explained diversity – that it is about variety in people so that you can have variety in thought, especially when you have a diverse customer base. Equity is about changing the structure to an equal playing field. It’s important to make sure people are on the same page, to break down barriers and structures to break inequality. And, inclusion is about ensuring diverse perspectives and that these perspectives are represented. She felt “it’s not possible to prioritise any one, because they’re all equally important”.

McDonald’s commitment to community did not start with the George Floyd incident, but when the COVID-19 phase happened, they stepped up activities. “The reality is the black and brown people are in great despair because of COVID and the social injustice. We are proud we haven’t wavered in what to do – feeding customers in all walks of life,” she said. It was a team effort, with all hands on deck, to ensure they are standing with the customers. For her personally, it’s been exciting, empowering and a time to be grateful. Communication professionals are seizing the moment, recognising what a great moment it is! What we do, will shape our companies for years to come, was her prophetic parting shot.

The Power of Connections

Stressing the point that it is purpose that will help a company during these times, was Margery Kraus, Founder & Executive Chairman, APCO Worldwide, as she spoke on ‘The Power of Connections in Enabling Purpose’.  “We are facing a global crisis, we don’t know when it will end and we need to change behavior,” she noted.

At APCO, teams look at adapting and adjusting behaviour every three months. Besides the pandemic, she felt there are times where there is increased division, acrimony and a sense of hyper-nationalism that can’t be good news for business. It is purpose that will help a business. Referring to a concept from the World Economic Forum a few years ago, she pointed out that every company needs to have a ‘radar’ and a ‘compass’; the radar gives the ability to see ahead and the compass drives businesses to achieve their goals. “Purpose has become a lot more important to companies. It demonstrates our authenticity and it fosters our relationships with stakeholders. Ultimately, companies with a real focus on purpose tend to perform better,” she announced.

Businesses have an important role to play in society and the expectations are only rising.“COVID19 has highlighted the inequities in our systems; companies are expected to be engaged in the issues of our times. None of these big problems are going to be solved by governments, NGOs or businesses alone. The impact of business on society has probably never been greater,” was her firm opinion. Among the trends she recalled in the Western markets, she noticed that investors are increasingly looking into a company’s purpose and the way it reacts to environmental, social and governance factors. Besides raising capital, a purpose also helps businesses retain talent and stabilise a happy workforce. It also helps maximise the positive impact, and she gave it a special stamp – ‘reputational equity’.

Commenting how companies align around purpose, she presented a pyramid framework that APCO calls the 4As: alignment: how people align around what a business stands;  authenticity: how businesses walk the talk in the times of radical transparency;  attachment: becoming the emotional bond between stakeholders and the company and advocacy, which is the actual purpose. She added that CCOs must become Chief Connection Officers to make sure that a company’s goals are aligned with all constituencies and also create a reservoir of relationships.

When Madhavi Jha, Boeing India observed that in a world where businesses are struggling for survival, how does it work to focus on purpose, she noted that statistics show that purpose -driven companies  are doing better at the marketplace.

A Global Path to Purpose

“We’re a global snacking leader operating in India for seventy two years, said Russell Dyer, VP & Chief of Communications & Government Affairs, Mondelez International as he focused on – ‘A Global Path to Purpose’.

Tracking the story of how Mondelez found its true purpose, Russell recalled how Mondelez  recognised its corporate purpose through intensive internal and external listening and how over the last two years they arrived at the eventual purpose of ‘Snacking made right’ and how it was globally internalised. “As an organisation, we are a company built through mergers and acquisitions. The brand came with a legacy cultures and systems, identities, rituals and routines,” he said and added – finding a purpose that resonates with all employees was a significant hurdle. Among the other challenges, was identifying a purpose that will come to life at the brand-level across Mondelez’s varied categories. Also, being a global brand, it was necessary to be as relevant everywhere – in China and India as it is in Canada and the UK. The biggest hurdle of them all, he said, was the fact that it all had to be done in four months!

Analysing data, he said that “We dug deep on corporate reputation insights, we benchmarked our peers and competitors in the share-of-voice to understand how we fit into the food and beverage landscape. We did a deep dive with our talent acquisition teams to understand new employees and why would they come and work for a company like ours.” Mondelez International’s purpose, its universal statement was identified as empowering people to snack right or ‘Snacking Made Right’. Creating delicious moments of joy!! What is meant was – “We boiled it down to three main pillars. It’s about offering the right snack for the right moment made the right way,” he said, thus communicating the benefits of ‘right snacking’. They learnt the right lessons in their two year journey, through the purpose-building exercise, which were: touch the tension, don’t ‘overbake’ it and measure what you treasure.

What was the impact during lockdown, asked Ruchika Mehta, The Park Hotels during the Fireside Chat. And Russell observed that across markets there was a spike in demand and it was noted that consumers reached out for trusted brands “and customers trusted our brands for over 100 years” that lead to a “snacking ritual”.

Communication Measurement

Kerman Kasad, Vice President, Global Communications & Brand Project Management Institute put the light on the topic: ‘Communications Measurement: Adding Context to the Conversation’.

Declaring that there are few things more critical to brands than reputation when it comes to business impact, he explained that “Reputation goes far beyond just the product experience; it’s all about the stakeholder. The media plays a vital role in shaping your experience, too. Hence, measuring your PR programme, engagement, impact and outcome is critical”.

Categorising measurement in three ways, he segregated it into: product – the product experience and how one is aligning itself with the customer’s experience; employer – the employee experience defined by a well-crafted and executed employer value proposition to attract and retain talent, and citizen – how an organisation is represented in marketplaces at a time, when purpose is paramount.

Why does reputation matter?  Kerman Kasad then spoke about the importance of reputation for brands and organisations- “Reputation is the company’s perception by all its stakeholders – compromising employees, customers, investors, suppliers, media, regulators and authorities. It’s about the legitimacy of an organisation concerning a wide range of consequence including customers.” He pointed out that  measuring reputation can start by evaluating your reputation pillars, – “You can measure a campaign at the product level, programme level and community level.”

In a Fireside Chat with Kanika Dayal, Impact Research & Measurement, he laid emphasis on the point that measurement is not a choice, it is an imperative! In times of crisis, measurement can be a very effective tool.  It’s important to remember that numbers do speak  and can help you speak louder and stakeholders should understand how communication can achieve management goals and objectives.

In times of crisis, does purpose matter?

Today’s a moment to focus on purpose, opined Kass Sells, Global COO & President, International WE Communications, as he waxed eloquent on – ‘In times of crisis, does purpose still matter?’ Trust erodes if brands withdraw from purpose in tough times, was a strong point he made.  Harness the power of communication to fuel progress in our next world to change the way brands communicate – tell new stories.

As COVID-19 wreaked havoc on the global economy, now countries are slowly stepping back into the recovery path. In a crisis like this, he strongly propagated the fact now is the time for organisations to delve deeper into their purpose and look at it more than just a buzzword!

Asserting that during such times, an organisation needs to stand firmly more than ever behind its purpose, Kass listed out five principles of purpose that is followed at WE Communications:

  • Stay true to your purpose
  • Be prepared to act
  • Speak truth, be clear
  • Be human to the core
  • Good communications start at home

With the 5-point initiative that can lead to changes, we have the opportunity to be better and drive influential changes across the world. “Purpose has to be much more than a CSR programme, more than just ticking the box. It has a higher goal,” he elucidated and added – purpose must be rooted in truth and authenticity. “It must be aligned with a brand’s values. Purpose is a higher goal. One must go beyond the short-term, self-interest and really needs to answer the ‘why’. Why does your organisation exist? Why do you do what you do? And how you are making a positive impact in society?”

Finally his clarion call was – “Don’t cut purpose, lead with it!” In the middle of crisis, lead with purpose, he shared with Snehhal Chitneni, Director, Communications, Sustainability & Public Affairs at LOreal India. And most significantly, his closing statement was –  authenticity to purpose is being human to the core!

The views and opinions published here belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of the publisher.

Shree Lahiri on EmailShree Lahiri on LinkedinShree Lahiri on Twitter
Shree Lahiri
Shree is the Senior Editor at Reputation Today and hopes to move from one focus area to another in the editions that will be released this year. Having worked in Corporate Communications teams, she has experience of advertising, public relations, investor and employee communications, after which she moved to the other side – journalism. She enjoys writing and believes the power of the pen is indeed mighty. Covering the entertainment beat and the media business, she has been involved in a wide range of activities that have thrown open storytelling opportunities.

She can be reached at: @shree_la on twitter

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