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  • Writer's pictureStavros Papagianneas

Corporate Trust and Credibility: The Opinion of the Experts

"It takes 20 years to build a reputation and five minutes to ruin it. If you think about that, you will do things differently" - Warren Buffet

"Reputation", "trust", "credibility", "confidence", "trustworthiness", "acceptability" and "respectability" are all terms that are very much connected with each other. In the book Trust Inc. Strategies for Building your Company's most Valuable Asset, Robert Easton notes trust is an essential agent of social development and organisational sustainability. It operates in and allows for the intricate web of interaction between individuals, institutions, communities and society. We use words like "the glue", "catalyst", "energiser", or "connector" to describe trust. Unfortunately, most trust dialogue in today's world is about the trust deficit.

From December 2021 to January 2022, the RepTrak Company, formerly known as the Reputation Institute - one of the world's leading research and advisory organisations for reputation - surveyed more than 100,000 respondents in the 15 largest economies on the planet: Australia, Brazil, Canada, China, France, Germany, India, Italy, Japan, Mexico, Russia, South Korea, Spain, the UK, and the US.

In 2022, the global RepTrak Reputation Score went down for the first time since 2018. RepTrak data demonstrated the public's disappointment in the corporate sector globally. Perceptions in Europe and the Asian-Pacific region drove this shift, bringing the global average Reputation Score (scale is 1-100) down from 74.9 in 2021 to 74.2 in 2022.

The purpose of the Global RepTrak 100 survey is to measure the corporate reputation of 100 companies by asking the public questions about the emotional appeal of each company. The study scores the companies on seven dimensions: innovation, governance, products and services, workplace, citizenship, leadership and performance.

Nowadays, companies with solid reputations often have a foundation of measurement in place and focus their efforts on cross-stakeholder communication, corporate social responsibility and managing reputation risks. On the other hand, companies with an average reputation are still working on developing their business image and finding the best approach to measuring their reputation.

I asked an open question to a group of communication professionals:

"What is the role of communications in regaining corporate trust and building credibility?"

This is what they had to say:

1. Virginie Louis, Communications & Visibility Director, Stantec

Long past are the days of green-washing or attempting to use flowery language and catchy graphics as a shield to or aspiration of who a corporation is. Instead, communication has become a necessary strategic vehicle for transparency and honest depictions of who a company is and what they do. Through simple messages and stories shared by communicators, businesses and institutions can be better understood by the customers and citizens they serve. Who can then hold these corporations accountable for their depictions while equally using these messages as a building block towards lasting trust, a necessary foundation to build a mutually fruitful business and ongoing collaboration.

2. Abhinav Kumar, Chief Marketing & Communications Officer - Global Markets, TATA

Restoring trust in corporates in the technology sector is not a significant issue. According to the 2022 Edelman barometer, tech was #1 among all industries in terms of trust, with a score of 74. Along with the pharma and health sector, it kept the world operating during the pandemic. Technology and digital capabilities have allowed our financial systems, supermarkets, public services, entertainment (Netflix!) and work from home ecosystems to continue to operate during the most significant disruption of our times. Thirty years ago, it would have all fallen apart without the internet and digital tech. There is a huge appreciation for that service. However, there is a challenge related to trust in technology in the ancillary part of platforms and social media, primarily associated with the exponential growth in misinformation as a risk to society.

3. Tommaso Di Giovanni, VP Market Activation & Support, Philip Morris International

Reputation is key for any company, and communications is its main driver. We often forget that excellent communications happen only with great business. Any communicator should play a role in companies' decision-making, provide his management with reasoned advice on societal expectations and how best to be in sync with them or pioneer "better". At PMI, approximately a decade ago, we had the technology and science to replace cigarettes with reduced-risk products. This became our primary purpose. Communications were involved in decision making and proposed enhanced efforts to overcome entrenched misinformation and explain the value of change for smokers and public health. And communications have become an integral and important part of our vision of a smoke-free future. A vision that's now becoming a reality.

Bottom line

The foundation of a business's credibility is trust. Without trust, a company will never build up credibility. Communication continues to be an increasingly strategic and pervasive component in the processes of governance and management at all levels of a corporation. This evolution has been made evident by the importance that the communication function has acquired inside the organisational structure of companies. Communication is the thread that enables brands to create a culture of trust with stakeholders and clients.

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