Exchange: Will ethics and social responsibility become the biggest drivers of corporate reputation?

Our latest panel debate explored the impact of ethics and social responsibility on corporate reputation.

At this morning's Exchange we asked our panel and audience: Will ethics and social responsibility become the biggest drivers of corporate reputation going forward?

The debate, chaired by Helen Dunne, Editor, CorpComms magazine, included a highly experienced panel of Michael Prescott, Director of Corporate Affairs, BT, Ian Wright, Corporate Relations Director, Diageo plc, Philip Gawith, Managing Partner, StockWell and Fraser Hardie, Senior Partner, Blue Rubicon.

The debate started with the panel questioning whether corporate responsibility is becoming increasingly important. One panel member stated that we are in the age of crisis, which poses threats and opportunities for communicators. This, coupled with the growth of social media, where people are more quickly informed, better educated and more vocal than ever before, makes the risk of not managing corporate reputation potentially higher.

In terms of using social responsibility to improve corporate reputation the panel highlighted the importance of strong leadership and setting initiatives that aren't too metric or data focused. The point was made that corporate social responsibility initiatives will never work if they are regarded as a way of paying out conscience money or implemented as an afterthought. They should be integral and at the core of business principles as people will always see through a company using a CSR programme in an attempt to buy a good reputation.

As well as the challenge of implementing successful CSR programmes, it was agreed that a further challenge faced by companies is how to communicate their social contribution to the general public. It was argued that the biggest social goods companies can offer are jobs, new technology and products or services that improve people's lives, but that on the whole these social benefits aren't portrayed well enough - capitalists are not always good at explaining the social value of capitalism.

But how far does social responsibility drive corporate reputation? The panel advised that although people tend to like companies that like people and that consumers judge companies based on how they behave, meet goals and produce products, the effect of this on corporate reputation has to be kept in proportion. The overriding message from the panel was that performance is and will continue to be the biggest driver of corporate reputation. It's more important to sell good products and services than to do good things as people will stay loyal to brands based on these attributes.

The debate closed on this thought: The corporate sector as a whole has a bad reputation, how can it repair this and sell itself to the public in the future?

You can read the full write up in the next edition of CorpComms Magazine.

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Claire Melly
Head of Marketing, UK & Ireland

Call me +44 (0)20 3130 7424