From the editor-in-chief: Learning the hard lesson of reputation building

Corporations gain great reputations through actions rather than words. And that takes hard work, writes editor-in-chief Danny Rogers

Lawrence Dallaglio says that while he was playing professional rugby he had learned to do his talking ‘on the pitch’. Indeed, some of his talking off the pitch had got him into deep water.

Like most sporting clichés, it derives from an important lesson; that, ultimately, reputations are won with actions rather than words.

From mid-September we are treated to another major sporting event on home soil with the Rugby World Cup, but it is also the start of a new corporate and political year. That’s why PRWeek has chosen to focus on corporate reputation in this issue – and we find that some have yet to heed Dallaglio’s advice.

Big corporations such as banks, oil companies and airlines have suffered historically low levels of public trust over the past seven years following the 2008 financial crash and attacks from pressure groups such as Greenpeace, which have high-lighted their lack of consideration of our precious environment.

Many have also maintained a rather cavalier attitude towards customers and the media – the main reason why brands such as RBS and Ryanair still suffer severe trust deficits.

Does it matter, when their profits have generally increased? It certainly does, because when there is an operational crisis – and inevitably there will be – that corporation will find forgiveness and recovery hard to come by. Tesco may be learning that very lesson this year.

UK corporations such as British Airways and Sainsbury’s have sought to change fundamentally over the past decade and are reaping the benefits today. Relatively high levels of public trust and affection will stand them in good stead.

It is encouraging to see that energy behemoth Shell may be starting to listen and adapt to growing climate concerns. Even some of the banks have learned from the experience of 2008/9.

But it takes much more to guarantee a sustainable future in today’s business world. Organisations must dig deep and find their driving purpose; some inner truth that motivates them to improve, much like any great sports star.

History will show that trust among stakeholders – whether that’s customers, suppliers or investors – can only be entrenched when organisations are authentic, ethical and display genuine leadership.

Talking a good game is one thing. Great reputation can only be achieved through actions ‘on the pitch’, day in and day out.

Danny Rogers, editor-in-chief

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