Communicators, marketers and advertisers are continually being told to create ‘stories’ that resonate with their target market. They are also urged to engage with social issues and to tackle activist projects of resistance, to develop as ethical brands, to stand out from the crowd.
Most brands are quite terrified of negative stakeholder perceptions, especially when it comes to expressing controversial views. So they tread the safe path and remain the same.
Not Nike. In keeping with its Just Do it slogan and its fearless philosophy of facing sporting challenges, Nike launched its 30th Campaign by featuring brave sports celebrities in its ads.
The most recent Nike ad features the face of Colin Kaepernick, the NFL super star-turned-activist against racism and police violence, with the text “Believe in something. Even if it means sacrificing something.” And boy, did it cause outrage amongst critics and conservatives, #justburnit became their slogan, urging people not to support Nike, not to buy Nike sport products, to even burn the ones they had.
Just in case you missed the background story: In the USA it is common practice for players in The National Football League to stand and sing the national anthem before an important match. However, following the spate of police violence against black youths and other racial incidents in 2016, some of the NFL players decided to mark their protest by not standing with fists on hearts, but rather to bend-a-knee during the anthem. The purpose was to highlight the racial injustice in the country. President Trump weighed in, calling the players disrespectful and unpatriotic, even suggesting punishment and non-payment of player-activists.
Yes, perhaps Nike shares did drop a little initially, due to the raging debates, but within two weeks they were up again and Nike recorded 31% increase in online sales.
So Nike’s corporate activism – mixing politics with sport – has been vindicated, showing that taking a stand or doing good is good for business. A host of recent surveys and reports proves Nike’s controversial move makes total business sense. Marketing lecturer, Williams says, “Nike wants to be on the right side of history and the right side of its core consumers.” And these happen to be mainly sport enthusiasts and millennials.
A 2017 Edelman poll found “The majority of Millennials (60 percent) are belief-driven buyers,” – they want their brands to take a stand on social issues.
So companies – Just do it! Take a stand.
Global movements affecting company Reputation
Some thoughts on responsible leadership, public activism and reputation
Right now trust in mainstream media, government, business and NGOs is lower than it’s ever been. Organisations have to work extra hard at building trust, loyalty and reputation, and to avoid crises that may cause harm to their operations and reputations.
Management and Leadership changes
In the past, management would decide on its company culture, inform stakeholders and the public what it stands for and how it does its business, sometimes explicitly stated in a company’s vision and mission. Once done, the company would brand itself in terms of its culture and its products. And we, the public, would believe everything it said.
However, over time the public would rate a business on the extent to which its products and actions matched its goals. Too often public perceptions and ratings were ignored, leading to loss of reputational capital, while managers and leaders focused only on the other ‘capital’ – profitability. Today, because of the glaring evidence of crises resulting from public reaction to irresponsible leadership, organizations are being forced to act more ethically.
The public expects organisations (including government) to keep their promises. Individuals want to trust a business they deal with. Their perceptions of and attitudes towards a company must be positive before they can trust it. And business certainly needs loyal customers and stakeholders. No company can afford to ignore the reactions to their behaviours. They do so at their own peril. Managers and leaders must listen and adapt.
Social Media and Advocacy
Meanwhile globally, the rise of social media, and the grassroots engagement it affords, has contributed to the growth of people power. Companies are constantly being watched and evaluated by the man in the street who happily shares his perceptions, based on what he sees and hears in the media. These perceptions gain momentum and can lead to mass action, causing negative outcomes for the businesses concerned. There are so many examples of this, but H&M’s recent crisis over an alleged ‘racist’ advert is one. With the growth of public and employee word-of-mouth marketing, research has shown that advocacy statements by activists and ‘influencers’ on social media are far more powerful in terms of engagement and belief than content that comes directly from the brand or company.
Ethical branding is crucial as companies become aware of the importance of good corporate citizenship, responsible behaviour and transparency in all their dealings with internal and external stakeholders. More than ever before, building public trust is crucial to any business operation and its survival. Managers and leaders must ensure that the company performs well economically, ethically, legally, environmentally and socially, that is, as a corporate citizen.
The King Report, now in its 4th form, is regarded as the ‘go-to guide’ on corporate governance for large companies. Government and SMMEs too would definitely gain by consulting the document. Basically, it highlights key aspects of creating a corporate environment for the 21st century and beyond where corporate citizenship and responsible leadership are key. Only by focusing on its role in society and behaving with transparency can an organization ensure its reputation and sustainability.
KPMG’s name and reputation remains in crisis and in the headlines. We just can’t stop talking about it. So let’s start learning from it. Having been involved in practising, lecturing and consulting in Corporate Communication, I can’t resist throwing out some of my own thoughts on the matter.
Loss of ethics loss of Reputation
In terms of corporate citizenship, ethical branding, responsible leadership, accountability and reputation, here are my offerings:
- For many years now, the King Report has been the go-to document for guidelines on corporate governance, corporate citizenship and responsibility to one’s stakeholders, community, politico-economic and natural environment. Large corporate are obliged to take note and commit to upholding the principles and values contained in the King Report which is constantly being revised to ensure it remains valid, relevant and current.
- Transformational leadership. It’s simple: know what it means. Know the code of conduct. Know how to motivate and inspire. Know the law but act ethically. Know your people and their feelings. Know the truth. Spread the truth.
- Reputation management: Every company –small and large – must plan and manage its identity, its values and its behavior in order to manage outcomes and others’ perceptions of it. Only through critical strategic discussions with all stakeholders, including the media, can a company develop a strong positive reputation.
- Crisis management – Plan, prepare, strategise for negative disruptive events that impact your operations and your reputation. Without a crisis plan you’re doomed. Public sharing is vital for a reputable organization to gain support. Don’t apologise unless you mean it and are prepared to pay the price.
- Corporate culture: Vision, Ethos, Values, Beliefs and Behaviour. Accountability means to take responsibility for one’s decisions and actions and be adaptable to changes in the environment and courageous to stand one’s ground in the midst of potential threats, temptations and challenges. Be purpose- not greed-driven.
Finally, companies should strategise for sustainability. Their strategies must translate into best practice – setting standards and acting as examples for conducting ethical business, based on principles and values of trust, integrity, professionalism, not greed, status and power.
As we draw near to Youth Day on 16 June and remember the student riots, we need to remind ourselves what they were putting their lives on the line for.
We know what drove those students in 1976 to protest. The evidence is clear – Bantu education was appalling, especially when compared to that of whites. Students had to use a foreign language in their studies. Learning and teaching facilities were poor, conditions in the townships were not conducive to learning and teaching. Students were fighting for education and a better life.
While we acknowledge the changes that have taken place politically, economically, technologically and socially since then, we need to start real conversations about real and relevant education. What those students were fighting for may not be what we see and experience today. What type of education do South Africans want? What does the #feesmustfall Campaign envision for education today?
For the past 20 years we’ve been trying to ‘improve education’ in South Africa. Billions of rands have been spent. Many changes, many methods, many structures, many experts have been used, and yet every year we question our education system and make promises and plans to improve it – to no avail. We have SETAs and SAQA setting the standards, we have government promising to produce thousands of artisans annually, we have private ‘educational’ companies and institutions making millions from people desperate to get certificates, we have ‘free’ access to education, and yet we have not managed to educate the youth of this country nor prepare them for the world of work that is constantly changing. Not to mention the number of ‘degreed’ individuals without work – thrown into the world of ‘worklessness’. Clearly there’s a problem.
So it’s time we take note of Thomas A. Edison’s words:
I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.
Let’s learn from our mistakes and proceed with a strategic plan toward a more favourable outcome?
We must start asking meaningful questions about education if we are to truly address the problems that the very concept and its interpretation cause. Starting with:
What is education? What is its purpose? What is it used for? Do people really want to be educated? What does it mean to be educated? Is education still relevant in a global information society where anyone can access any information that they find useful? And jobs are evolving at such a rate the educators don’t even know they exist, so how can they prepare students?
Some see education merely as a piece of paper for a job-seeker; others see it as a process of developing one’s thinking and leadership qualities; yet others see it as needless rote learning of useless information only to regurgitate it in exams. Nevertheless, the honest responses to authentic probing into education would at least give us as a society a fair idea of what we’re dealing with before we set off on yet another detour. Let’s put our heads together and start that conversation today.
There needs to be another education revolution –this time in our thinking – for successful solutions to the problem of education in this country.
Ethical branding and sustainability trends for 2015 and beyond
There is so much talk of sustainability, ethical branding and how to strategise a company’s CSR programmes and efforts, to make ‘being good part of good business.’
I have found two interesting items on this topic. The first, a delightful, creative and easy-to-understand ‘story’ about becoming a ‘conscious industry.’ I love it. But my question is, who sees it, who is learning from it and who is doing it? This is a resource that should be circulated to every single business in this country. To experience it, visit: www.ogilvyearth.co.za
The other, EthicalCorp’s report on sustainability trends for 2015.
Ethical Corporation is hosting its 14th Annual Responsible Business Summit in May this year at which over 300 executives from across the globe will discuss the future of responsible business.
As a precursor to this prestigious event, Ethicalcorp conducted a survey to assess the current issues and trends in sustainability. What emerged from the 472 responses were the 3 top international priorities in 2015:
1. Embedding CSR
2. Creating a Sustainable Culture
3. Sustainable innovation
30% of respondents stated that sustainable innovation was the most exciting opportunity for their company in the next five years.
Nearly 25% stated that their companies were driven by sustainability. The hope is that this would increase as sustainability becomes more embedded in R&D and permeates through the organisation.
I say, there’s too much talk and not enough will for action!
In his article The acrid smell of dry rot, Theo Botha,partner at CorporateGovernance.Pro, laments the fact that ” Abil, PPC and HCI have been less than vigilant in executing their responsibilities.” This leads to ‘unsound governance’ that has 3 stages to the effects, namely – and I quote:
- Internal loss of trust: this could lead to weak compliance, the ‘bending’ and eventual ‘breaking’ and ‘flouting’ of rules (meaning to treat them with contempt); misuse of company assets, abuse of company powers, victimisation of well-meaning people, loss of strategic direction, loss of capable leaders,
- External loss of reputation: this normally leads to external mistrust, loss of business, loss of funding support, loss of profit, runs on the company, and total collapse, and
- Actions against the company: these could lead to closing of business.
Botha maintains, “it is important to put your finger into the tiny hole in the dyke as soon as possible….So do take care who we elect to sit on boards, and to the positions of CEO and CFO; do ensure that they are remunerated to get to the most preferred outcomes for the company; do ensure that these people act responsibly; do ensure that company actions are in the best interests of all stakeholders; do ensure that shareholders are vigilant (even asset manager-linked shareholders) and act on their responsibilities; and do require management and directors to be held to account.”
He adds: “What do we have at HCI, apart from very many unanswered questions? A damaged reputation, I would submit, probably irreparably damaged. Bad smells (dry rot?) all over. One very unhappy funder at Sabido. One very sad news service at eNCA (the relaunched name for eNews). And now, one ex-chairman at HCI.”
Read more on MoneyWeb…..
Some thoughts and comments on the PRISA conference held at Emperor’s Palace, Kempton Park on 9 and 10 June. The theme was “Managing Reputation on our Threatened Planet.”
As a Corporate Communication and PR consultant focussed on reputation management, I felt I had to attend. It would be the place to meet the movers and shakers, the decision makers of PR in South Africa. A great opportunity to network and meet people I could do business with……
But sadly, there were very few private business owners there, and the quasi-government organisations were represented by people unable to talk to me about possibilities. So I didn’t achieve my goal of finding connections for future work.
Regarding the speakers, the line-up on the programme was impressive, starting with Prof Jonathan Jansen, vice-chancellor and rector of the University of the Free State. In his usual irreverent style, he criticised the education department for not demanding excellence, and the general lack of a moral compass in a government that did not know the difference between social justice and transformation, between position and influence and between saying and doing. My favourite line: “Why don’t big business deliver textbooks?”
The very humbly gracious Advocate Thuli Madonsela, accepted the PRISA President’s Award and spoke on the impact of the Public Protector’s work on SA’s reputation. Not a charismatic speaker, but wow, she spoke her truth, exuding honesty, quiet commitment and brave tenacity. She was so impressive! Best line: “I am a servant.”
Another speaker I enjoyed was Trevor Ndlazi, of the Reputation Institute. Reputation management is one of my special interests, so I was very pleased to hear that “Reputation IS a tangible asset that needs to be managed”!
Paula Fray, a media expert with a focus on development communication, was a very engaging speaker who clearly knows what she’s talking about from years of experience. You can’t beat that.
New kid on the media block, and very popular, is Emma Sadleir, a social media legal consultant, who puts the fear of g-d into you with her stories of how tweets and social media messages, if not monitored and managed, could cause a whole lot of trouble for your company’s reputation.
There were many other good and interesting talks and presentations over the two days, but the one that stands out for me is the presentation entitled “stakeholder interventions” by Nazir Allie, CEO of SANRAL. This is definitely the most inappropriate talk of the conference as it clearly showed how NOT to deal with your stakeholders! PRISA staff must be kicking themselves for such a bad choice! All Allie did was blow SANRAL’s own trumpet, and make it very clear that the only stakeholder SANRAL considers important is government legislators. Very little respect was shown to other stakeholders like the public. He firmly believed that the public must pay for what the government spends on social grants etc. Sadly, Allie has no concept of building and managing his organisation’s reputation. Great pity.
Why a Mission Statement?
Part of my work as a communication strategist is to ensure that my client (business, organisation or even individual) plans where it is going and how it is going to get there. Together we develop a ‘blueprint’ that serves to align its business plan with its communication plan so that the overall ‘dreams or hopes’ articulated in the mission statement, are fulfilled.
There are many debates around whether or not a mission statement is worth all the attention we afford it. Some say it’s a waste of time, while others say it represents the soul of the organisation; it is a declaration of intent, the guiding principles for the way a company behaves.
Take a look at Geoffrey James’ article: Mission Statements are a Joke
Then take a look at the article on Holstee’s Manifesto:
What are your thoughts on a Mission Statement?