Economy is key for PR chiefs

The recession may officially be over, but its effect on firms' reputations continues to dominate comms activities for top in-house communicators.

Ipsos Mori surveyed 41 heads of communications and PR firms on its 'Reputation Council,' including staff from BAE Systems, Cadbury, Diageo and McDonald's. The pollsters found the economy remains the single biggest reputation issue for the in-house comms chiefs.

One head of comms said: 'If (your firm is) not delivering the goods, if you're not making any money, then your reputation with investors and shareholders is going to take a caning.'

Transparency and ethics were also identified as key issues, but in-house communicators remain focused on the bottom line, with many continuing to slash costs.

Sixty-eight per cent have or plan to slash spending on travel and conference attendance, while 64 per cent of respondents have cut sponsorship and hospitality budgets. Headcounts have also been affected, with 41 per cent forced to restructure their team and 42 per cent instigating a recruitment freeze.

The impact for agency spend has been significant, with 71 per cent renegotiating contracts and 19 per cent admitting to having or planning to terminate an agency relationship.

In light of the economic downturn, 56 per cent said that trust had become a more prominent issue in recent times, while others insisted it had not become more prominent because it was already at the forefront of their organisation. More than half of respondents (56 per cent) have experienced cynicism from stakeholders in the wake of the credit crunch.

Council members advised firms attempting to engage cynical audiences to seek a commonality of interest, focus on the issues that matter to these stakeholders, align comms with behaviour and engage third parties to help tell the company's story.

Milorad Ajder, MD of the Ipsos Mori Reputation Council, said: 'The issues faced by the banking sector have made communicators more aware than ever of the importance of trust.'

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