• Stavros Papagianneas

Reputation & the Art of Communicative Leadership


From December 2020 to January 2021, the RepTrak Company, formerly known as the Reputation Institute - one of the world's leading research and advisory organisations for reputation - surveyed 68,577 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.


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.


As a result of the pandemic, companies face an increasingly complex set of pressures and demands from stakeholders, including significant shifts in societal engagement and corporate citizenship expectations and acute uncertainty about the future. If COVID-19 has shown us anything, it is the importance of every stakeholder in a company's ability to function and thrive.


From the answers of the survey, we learn that despite the many challenges of 2020, the increase in corporate reputation worldwide indicates that not only did this year's winners respond to these simultaneous crises, but they also communicated their responses to their stakeholders determinedly.


Today's winners will become tomorrow's even bigger winners, capturing hearts and minds at a pivotal moment in time. In 2021, the top 100 companies achieved a "strong" global Reputation Score of 74.9 points vs 73.1 points in 2020, a 2.5% increase year-over-year. This global Reputation Score reached its highest point ever in 2021, maintaining a positive trajectory since 2018.


For Communication Leaders, this means that :


(a) There is no such thing as a wrong time to focus on reputation. With corporate reputation reaching new highs in a year of turmoil, it is time to get rid of the notion that there are good or bad times to focus on reputation. If reputation scores can improve in 2020, they can improve anytime.


(b) Global public wants companies to take a stand and communicate what they are doing to address the moment's problems. We would not have seen such notable increases in scores if people wanted more of the same.


(c) The data shows that reputation is not static. It is fluid, constantly evolving, and does not always act in ways you would expect. It is critical that Communication Leaders continuously measure and monitor their corporate reputations to scale up initiatives that resonate and quickly dial back those that don’t.


The survey shows that companies with established reputation strategies are at risk of losing ground due to seismic events or disruptive companies entering their space. Just because something has worked in the past is no guarantee it will work in the present. In fact, younger and younger generations are expecting more from business leaders. As we see in this year's data, companies had to do more just to maintain their ranking. Staying the same was equivalent to falling behind.


What was considered good in 2020 is only average in 2021, so companies looking to leverage their reputation as a competitive advantage need to up their game.


Reputation changes constantly, and as this year highlights, your communications strategy needs to adapt just as quickly. If your approach does not continuously measure your reputation and adjust your communications to changing stakeholder perceptions, you are already behind.


Reputation, trust, credibility, confidence, trustworthiness, acceptability, respectability are all words that are very much connected. In the book Trust Inc. Strategies for Building Your Company’s Most Valuable Asset, Robert Easton notes that 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 glue, catalyst, energiser or connector to describe trust. Most trust dialogue in today's world is about the trust deficit.


In their book The New Digital Age, Google top executives Eric Schmidt and Jared Cohen note that we will see a growth of organisations that cater to privacy and reputation concerns soon. This industry already exists with online reputation companies such as Reputation.com or Brandyourself.com which use various techniques to remove or dilute unwanted content from the internet.


Most of these tactics fall under the umbrella of SEO processes. During the financial crisis which started in 2008, it was reported that different Wall Street bankers hired online reputation companies to help them to minimise their appearance on the internet. In the future, this kind of organisations will diversify as the demand will increase.


Communication is the most important skill that a leader can possess. It is fundamental in building trust. It contributes in creating an environment of credibility around leaders that enables them to lead effectively and deliver results.


However, communication only cannot make us trust someone who seems to be untrustworthy. But it can help create a culture in which trust can thrive. Politicians or captains of industry who want to build trust with the principal stakeholders have a plethora of communication tools at their disposal, and competent communication professionals to assist them. But above all they have to be ethical, tell the truth in a polite way and avoid polarisation.


A trusted leader should be open and honest. His or her vision should be sustainable, credible and consistent. A leader should have the courage to ask important questions and be prepared to have more significant questions posed of them. A communicative leader should be approachable, respectful and express concern for the people.


Picture: Nick Fewings in Unsplash

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