Exclusive analysis from Hanover shows the value of corporate reputation is increasingly recognized in boardrooms, as communications and corporate affairs roles become more influential—and still, senior communicators and corporate affairs professionals tell us that when it comes to the reputation of their business, they are most concerned about the external environment.
Did you know that keywords related to resilience were Googled the most last year? According to their trends data, people most frequently searched for ways to heal and move on, to pull together and process ‘the unprecedented’.
Al Gore said, “we often confuse the unprecedented with the improbable,” which can go in some way to justify our renewed focus on resilience.
Against a constant backdrop of political upheaval, environmental meltdown, and brutal war—to think of the headlines of the last weeks alone—it is no wonder we seek to better understand and build our resilience not just on a personal level, but when it comes to building resilient teams, and reliant businesses, and, of course, resilient corporate reputations too.
The work that we have done in the last year has led us to the simple answer that a resilient business rests on the balance of outside and inside forces.
But what does it mean to build a resilient reputation?
We are particularly passionate about this at Hanover and we have worked to put together a framework to help us evaluate business resilience from a corporate reputational perspective. We accounted for the pace of innovation and speed at which a business can adapt and respond to its wider operating environment, the role and the value of a clear vision, and strategy, and the strength of a values-driven organizational culture—as well as a business’s ability to mould and influence its own reputational story.
And the work that we have done in the last year has led us to the simple answer that a resilient business rests on the balance of outside and inside forces.
Take any common characteristics of a resilient business, for example agility and adaptability, they require an understanding of market trends and consumer demand (outside forces), as well as a strong culture of change and a commitment to change that starts with building new functions not in times of crisis but investing in new opportunities in times of good fortune (inside forces).
How do you balance building agility and fluidity in your strategy to be able to respond to the changing world around us, but ensure enough rigidity to make it stand up in these testing times?
The anonymized data we have collected from our Rewire diagnostic tool helps us answer this, and better advise our clients on how to improve the resilience of their reputations at a strategic level. It shows the confidence clients have in different aspects of reputational resilience, from the strength of the organization’s vision and values to the power to influence of its leaders.
Our first cut of the data shows that while senior comms professionals are confident about the levers for reputation within their own four walls, their confidence declines when it comes to managing the externalities in a world in constant flux.
Many of our respondents showed confidence in the extent to which reputation is embedded within their organization. Over half of our respondents were very confident that their leaders recognize the importance of reputation to driving business value. This supports our broader view, which is that communications and corporate affairs roles have grown in influence in recent years and are increasingly visible in the boardroom and connected to the organizational strategy.
The majority was also confident their purpose and vision are clearly established and embedded—again, we see this in our client work, helping build powerful internal communications campaigns that engage employees with company purpose. But there is clearly still more to do inside businesses to really live these values—only 21% were very confident their purpose is being lived through every aspect of brands and behaviours—raising the spectre of a reputation gap between words and deeds.
There is also more to do in terms of data and measurement—only 18% feeling very confident that they have an effective and holistic reporting mechanism in place. Many of our clients are awash with data, but some don’t yet have the structure to integrate this meaningfully into reputation management.
Our diagnostic tool shows that just 7% of corporate affairs leaders are confident that their companies have constructive dialogues with detractors.
Confidence declines noticeably when moving outside the business, into the power to influence externally and into preparedness for the future. Just 14% have strong confidence that they have a clear, systematic approach to identifying and measuring reputation risk; a further one-third rate their confidence on this measure at 5 out of 10 or below. And in a world where constructive dialogue with detractors is part and parcel of a resilient reputation, just 7% have strong confidence their company is doing this effectively.
Interestingly, despite higher levels of confidence about reputation being given prominence at the heart of the business, confidence falters when it comes to its strategic delivery. Nearly 40% of respondents scored 5 or below on having an up-to-date strategic plan for managing reputation with allocated resources and responsibility. This chimes with what we hear from some clients: that the need to be in constant firefighting mode draws energy and focus away from longer-term strategic delivery.
The backdrop of economic instability, geopolitical conflict, climate crisis and increasingly rapid technological transformation means none of this external pressure is going away. We believe there’s a greater reset required—a need to rewire strategy more fundamentally to account for a world in flux.
Our initial findings suggest areas for leaders to explore might include: building in greater agility to the organizational design of your communications function; embedding accountability for reputation beyond the function; embedding data to help track and measure reputation more effectively and creating an outreach strategy to engage with detractors as well as advocates.
We will continue to invest in understanding the anatomy of resilience in reputation and tracking the confidence of the industry in this subject—and would love to hear thoughts from the wider industry on this important topic.
This article was initially published by our sister company Hanover.
——— Teodora Costed is the Strategy and Insights Director at Hanover, sister company of NATIONAL Public Relations