With corporation tax once again hitting the headlines this week, business leaders may well be wondering if there is any way of communicating the contribution they are making to the economy and to society without inviting criticism – especially in an era when businesses are under more scrutiny than ever before.
The answer is that public statements – especially those about red-hot topics such as tax, workplace diversity and CSR initiatives – need to be supported by genuine action rather than just words.
In fact, despite the pitfalls obvious in a number of recent high-profile cases, businesses that do succeed in demonstrating that they are supporting the UK (as opposed to just talking about it) are likely to reap commercial, not to mention reputational, benefits. Edelman’s 2016 Trust Barometer revealed that the two biggest factors driving the general population’s trust in an organisation are whether it produces economic growth and if it ‘contributes to the greater good’. Unsurprisingly, consumers are more likely to buy from companies they trust, pay more for products and recommend them to their friends and peers.
As Edelman’s UK CEO Ed Williams said at the launch of the 2016 Trust Barometer, gaining public trust “can be about paying taxes, it’s as basic as that”. And, as you would expect, the less a company is trusted, the less likely it is to attract customers or their loyalty.
Thus, the real challenge for businesses is to find a way to communicate their commitment to bettering society without drawing the ire their predecessors attracted. In many cases, this rests just as much on the strength of a company’s internal communications processes as it does on its external communications team and spokespeople.
Fundamentally, businesses need to make sure that what they’re saying publically is backed up by what they’re doing behind the scenes. The Trust Barometer makes that crystal clear too: employees who believe their company supports the local community are more loyal. In hard numbers: employees who feel they work for a company which is addressing broader societal issues are 32 percentage points more likely to recommend it as a place to work. Think about what that says about the way your workforce feels about working there, and everything else that follows from it.
Change can be achieved by measures as simple as ensuring that what is being said to journalists matches what is being said to employees. However, smarter companies should be looking to put governance in place to ensure all significant business decisions are being made with consideration of their reputational implications – and this entails making them in partnership with their communications teams, rather than in silos.
Make no mistake, interest in businesses’ contributions to society and the economy is showing no signs of slowing down. And taking the time to marry business strategy with communications approach is crucial for organisations looking to capitalise on this appetite in the longer-term – and for those looking to build and foster the public’s – and their own people’s – trust in their organisation.