Rebecca Reilly, Open Road: All stakeholders are equal

Build a client's reputation by catering to the different interests of all its stakeholders.

As corporate communicators, we think we know a lot about which media and social media are well read and highly trusted by opinion formers. But do we? We talk about the death of the newspaper and hyperbolise the influence of social media, but do we always understand which media are really influential and who opinion formers really trust?

Our research with Populus shows that radio is the medium most consumed by UK opinion formers and that newspapers are the most trusted. -And, despite the impact of social media, more than a third of opinion formers never use them. Although a third of opinion formers use Twitter every day, almost half never use it at all. -Arguably, social media's biggest influence is the way in which they inform news articles in more mainstream media.

People's media consumption has changed as digital media proliferate, but not who they trust. The most widely read and influential media for opinion formers are traditional - the BBC is the most trusted brand in terms of its content and its commentators. Newspapers, TV and radio are by far the most trusted channels.

Influencers - business, NGO and public sector leaders; journalists and comms professionals - trust company websites more than Wikipedia, Facebook and blogs combined. Most companies make an effort to demonstrate transparency through their websites and other corporate channels - media and customers increasingly demand this - but it's reassuring to know that it's worth the effort to keep your corporate website up to date.

And business leaders are a jumpy lot. When asked how likely they were to respond to a negative claim made about them or their business, they were much more likely to respond in every instance than MPs.

How much time should we spend focusing on what the media and opinion formers think? Of course they are crucial audiences and we should ensure they have as much information as possible, but wider audiences such as customers, consumers and employees might be interested in different issues. And all audiences are often more interested in the way a company behaves than what it says or what is reported in occasional pieces of media coverage and temporary spikes in social media interest.

There is often a disconnect between what media and stakeholders want businesses to do and what customers, consumers and employees want from a business, so how can you prioritise the different groups?

In the E.ON example, while media and political stakeholders were interested in the environment, E.ON's customers were much more interested in energy prices. It makes sense that the key drivers of corporate reputation are the simplest business assets: the quality and price of the product you offer, the service you provide and the way in which you treat your employees.

It is important not to assume what key audiences care about, what messages will appeal to them and what media they consume and trust. Your customers and employees influence your reputation in the same way as media and stakeholders, so offer a good product and service and treat all audiences as stakeholders of equal value and you have solid foundations on which to build your reputation.

Communicators' jobs are ultimately about influencing external stakeholders but they are also about convincing colleagues of the reputational value of quality products and services, reasonable prices and responsible behaviour. As E.ON's Guy Esnouf says, actions often speak far louder than words.

VIEWS IN BRIEF

Which brand has gained most, reputation-wise, in the wake of the riots?

The reputation of the Met Police was severely damaged by its association with the phone-hacking furore and it was slow to react to the London riots at first, but officers turned out in vast numbers to restore calm to our streets. The other obvious beneficiary was Twitter, which enabled the public to beat the traditional media with news and updates, helping people understand what had been going on in specific areas.

Which film title best sums up the spirit of your agency?

Run Fatboy, Run.

Rebecca Reilly is director of Open Road.

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