Danny Rogers: Business must tackle anti-corporate narrative

At a lunch with a group of blue chip comms directors last week, I learned of the heightened concern about anti-business sentiment in the UK.

Danny Rogers: Business must tackle anti-corporate narrative
Danny Rogers: Business must tackle anti-corporate narrative

Comms chiefs around the country are sensing that trust in their businesses from various stakeholders is on the wane. Indeed, it emerged as the issue that was most likely to keep FTSE-level comms directors awake at night.

This is unsurprising following 18 months of tumultuous events in the corporate world. From BP's mishandled Deepwater Horizon catastrophe last year to News International's hackgate scandal this summer - underpinned by constant revelations about tax avoidance - public trust in business has been severely diminished.

It is most acute of course in the financial sector, where the lingering blame for the current recession lies firmly with the banks. This sector has been largely complacent ever since, failing to adequately deal with accusations over the excessive pay of bosses. The crisis of trust was only heightened this week by revelations that HSBC - one of Britain's biggest brands - scandalously mis-sold financial products to hundreds of pensioners.

The relatively small anti-capitalist demonstrations at Wall Street, St Paul's Cathedral and around the globe are only the pinnacle of a consumer world that looks askance on corporate profit at a time when many people are struggling with household finances.

Even the conservative British media are sensing the public mood and favouring stories about 'fat cat pay', tax avoidance and corporate greed.

For UK plc, it is one of those periods of history when the narrative is running against their interests. They need to act decisively to change its course.

But if big firms are to tackle this growing crisis of trust among their stakeholders, they must empower their comms resources to take the lead.

As one board-level FTSE comms director explained articulately, there is a requirement to argue that all firms exist to make a profit; that this is not necessarily to the detriment of society, indeed it underpins the economy.

However, it is an issue that needs to be handled sensitively and professionally. The danger is a perception of Gordon Gekko-style 'greed is good' arguments. Instead, big companies must present intellectual and coherent cases for private sector profit, with a light and common touch.

Crucially, this must be underpinned by genuine and transparent ethics. Effort, achievement and financial rewards must be in harmony in this febrile climate.

Professional communicators can play the pivotal role here, but their footing must be ethically solid.

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