The State of Reputation: Today’s Context; Tomorrow’s Expectations

Hear corporate reputation research insights exploring the impacts of COVID, Diversity and Inclusion, ESG, Internal Communications, Supply Chain issues, and more.

The author(s)

  • Trent Ross Executive Vice President, Global Chief Research Officer, Corporate Reputation
  • Jason McGrath Senior Vice President, Head of US Corporate Reputation
Get in touch

Each year, the Ipsos Global Corporate Reputation practice conducts interviews with over 150 leading communications and reputation executives globally to understand the trends, issues and concerns facing today’s reputation practitioners. The annual findings of the Ipsos Corporate Reputation Council help provide detailed reputation management guidance from the leading experts in the field.

Revisit our recorded webinar to hear Ipsos’ Trent Ross (CRO, Ipsos Corporate Reputation) and Jason McGrath (SVP, Ipsos Corporate Reputation US) share research findings from the 15th sitting of the Ipsos Reputation Council. The topics in the most recent sitting cover the attitudes and opinions of corporate communicators on:

  • The impacts of COVID-19 on corporate reputation and the business of communications
  • Diversity and Inclusion and the role it plays in business broadly and in reputation specifically
  • The pressures that companies face when it comes to ESG and sustainability
  • Internal Communications and the role of employee communications in managing reputation and business success
  • Supply Chains and their impact on sustainability and company reputation

AI-generated audio transcript is offered below. Apologies in advance for inconsistencies that have been included.


Thank you for joining us for today's webinar Exploring Misstate Corporate Reputation.


Today's presentation will be given by Jason McGrath and Trent Ross.


Throughout today's session, you will remain and listener. However, throughout the webinar, you may submit questions online using the Q and A feature.


Time permitting, we'll answer questions at the end of today's session, however, if time is short, and your question will be answered by e-mail.


Today's webinar is also being recorded and will be directly e-mailed to you.


Now, without further ado, it is my pleasure to introduce today's first speaker, Jason McGrath, Senior Vice President, Head of Corporate Reputation floor.


Thank you very much, and welcome, everybody, and pleasure to have you here with us today.


Today, we're going to be talking about the state of corporate reputation and the findings from our most recent Reputation Council. I'll be presenting, with my colleague, Trent Ross, who is our global Chief Research Officer. And I am the head of US Corporate Reputation for its us, helping our clients to explore where they stand in the minds of stakeholders, perceptions and drivers of reputation, and how to more effectively communicate and engage with key stakeholders.


Our Reputation Councils study is in its 15th sitting, and this is a study we conduct annually with senior communicators globally. Each year, we interview approximately 150 senior communicators at global organizations to explore the latest trends and issues and understand the impacts to reputation over time.


Today, what we'll be talking about, our key findings from this latest report, survey fieldwork and discussions that took place were conducted earlier this year from January until about two June globally.


And the findings have just recently been released. Today, we'll be exploring perceptions of the covert 19 pandemic and the impact on companies, diversity and inclusion, internal communications, and ESG.


We look forward to any questions you may have and to any follow up discussions after.


We'll start with Cove at 19 and in our discussions with senior communicators, we explored the impact of the pandemic to their business, to the communications function, and to a number of other areas.


And we wanted to start by just understanding the role of corporate purpose in the pandemic. What the role of a corporation isn't society. Whether business can be purposeful and still make a profit. And what we found from these discussions with senior level communicators set the response to covert 19, as you see here in a quote, has aligned well with companies trying to find a balance between business priorities and wider societal need. As I'm sure many of you experienced in your own businesses in your day-to-day pandemic had a major impact and continues to.


It quickly resulted in employees working remotely needing to connect teams across geographic geographic boundaries and in virtual ways. And perhaps in enumerate had no greater impact than on the way our teams engage with each other. And the ways in which a company communicates with its employees.


And what we saw in the response from it, senior communicators in the study, was that the response to the pandemic was perceived at the time that we were conducting the field work to be led by business. That business community had been taking a lead in tackling Covid-19.


As you can see here, seven in ten of our council members agreed with this statement and it's the business community that was able to really react quickly to be able to be agile during this period of discovering how we work differently. How we engage with our employees in a different way, How we provide our products and services to customers and clients in a different way. So, there was this overwhelming sense, and there continues to be that the business community has taken a lead.


Now that varies by industry, though.


What we found when we asked which industries in particular were seen as doing a very good job at addressing the pandemic. At the time that we were conducting this field work predominantly as vaccines were beginning to roll out here in the US and globally, the pharmaceutical industry, of course, was getting a lot of credit for its response to the pandemic.


But across industries, we saw a lot of positivity in the way that companies were behaving. And companies were responding to the pandemic.


Fact, the areas that we saw, the lowest agreement with this, was in oil and gas, and in social media companies. But across the board, we saw a lot of agreement that different industries were responding very well, and having a positive impact in the response to the pandemic.


This really caused companies, of course, to refocus on internal communications. Four out of five of our council members said the pandemic had greatly impacted their team, or function, many indicating that it required new ways of engaging new ways of motivating employees.


And of course, as most of us have seen a new focus on employee well-being, focus on mental health and the sense of balance, as many companies were trying to adjust to virtual work for an entire workforce. And of course, as we think about what's next, it is likely that we will still continue to see this focus on internal communications and how we adjust, and our workforces adjust to a return to the office as we emerge from the pandemic.


So if there is plenty more of course on the covert 1900 pandemic and plenty more to come as we continue to emerge from the pandemic and companies continue to evolve, implement new policies, implement new procedures, new ways of working. And we will continue to explore this both with our council participants as well as through additional research being conducted by Ipsos.


The second topic we explored in the reputation councils study was around diversity and inclusion, of course, social programs, sustainability programs, all growing in importance.


For companies, we wanted to understand, specifically, with regards to diversity and inclusion, how companies were implementing new policies, reacting to societal demands, and what they were doing in these spaces.


What we found first is that communicators, and the businesses that they work for are very much committed to progressive social agendas. And progress on some goals is being made.


But some of our respondents do see actions as lagging behind the words. Many indicating that companies are making a lot of promises, are talking about social purpose, but may not be doing enough in terms of action plans against that purpose.


Overwhelmingly, however, 96% of our reputation Council participants this year agree that companies benefit from embracing diversity and inclusion, creating more inclusive workforce's by having a more diverse background of employees.


And so, it's clear here, of course, in this quote by one of our reputation council participants, good intentions must be backed up by evidence of action or a clear plan on where progress will be made.


It is really about taking action against objectives and goals, not just communicating those objectives and goals. That's really where the value is in diversity and inclusion initiatives for companies.


And there is a sense amongst these respondents that there is a significant role for business to lead and tackle D&I initiatives. When we asked our respondents, Do you agree or disagree that it is the role of government, not business to tackle issues of diversity and inclusion?


You can see that overwhelmingly our respondents disagree with that statement.


There is a key role for business to play when it comes to diversity and inclusion. Only one in ten say that they agree with that, and it is the role of government. What we found, actually, is when we split this data, there is even stronger disagreement, meaning that business does have a clear role to play in emerging markets, as compared to developed nations. Only respondent who agreed to this statement that governments, not business should be tackling these issues, come from developed markets, though, it is a vast minority of respondents who agreed with that. So, a strong majority do believe business can, and must lead, and that we're seeing this demand from new generations of employees, from employees of different backgrounds, and really is across the workforce, that there is a role for business to lead in diversity and inclusion initiatives.


However, some companies are perceived as holding back, and the communicators that we spoke to this year. They agree that there is an expectation for companies to take action on diversity and inclusion issues. However, 62% of the communicators, we spoke to say that they believe their company hesitates on diversity and inclusion for fear of saying the wrong thing.


Now, clearly, in some instances, there may be, say, do gap. What a company says, and commitments that it makes, those must be followed by action. We only gain credibility with our employees, and with other stakeholders, by conducting the work that needs to be done by putting action to the commitments that have been made.


There is a severe fear of severe backlash that a company's commitment, perhaps, may not go far enough, perhaps, in some instances, could be perceived as going too far, to what society is ready for, or the employee base demands.


And, of course, there's a knowledge gap, with employees and with other stakeholders. So, there is this fear right now amongst communicators of saying the wrong thing.


And so, again, it is about learning, identifying authentic, incredible actions that can be taken to address diversity and inclusion, and to ensure that action is being taken in collaboration, of course, with the workforce and with other key stakeholders.


And, of course, it's important that companies respond to issues meaningfully. It's important that a company, of course, stays true, to strategy, to best address the company's need, short-term, and long-term, and so, therefore, it's not expected in the minds of communicators that they need to respond to everything.


It's about identifying the issues that have a potential impact on operations or potential impact on the employee base, and identifying prioritization on what a company is expected to and must address, versus where it can lean on other organizations, whether it be industry groups, community organizations, and others, to help address certain issues. So, a company should be evaluating where to respond, where to X, and prioritizing areas where the company can truly address the issue, and address it in a meaningful way.


What does all of this mean for the future?


We all, as companies, and individuals, probably have more to learn, more, to build a body of knowledge, more conversations to be had, internally, and externally to our organizations.


And as you see here in this quote, Not every lane of the D&I highway works for everyone. Because we just mentioned on the previous slide, it's about identifying the opportunities that stakeholders care about. Where we can have the most change, focus on those. Because it's not realistic for us to focus on everything.


And so, as we learn as we continue to discuss diversity and inclusion and other equality issues, it's important we continue to learn, engage with our stakeholders, engage with our employees, give them a voice, and continue to drive that through the organization, How we respond, how we prioritize.


So, diversity and inclusion very much still at the forefront for many companies, and will continue today, and plenty more still here to be done. I'm going to turn it to my colleague trend now to talk about our next two sections focused on internal communications and ESG, right? Great. Thanks, Jason. If you want to go to the next slide there, it's interesting. In this wave of the Reputation Council, how much?


What we talked about, and internal communications in this instance is colored by the discussion of covert 19 and of Diversity and Inclusion, really indicating that this is all part of the system.


It's not individual pieces that we can talk about.


So, for instance, one of the things that our reputation Council members said is that yeah, it's the, the pandemic ahead.


Their internal communications had to become much more.


Empathetic, let's say the CEO needed to show, and the leadership of the company needed to show that they understood what was going on with the employees and what they were going through.


And where it was managed correctly, they were able to really build their culture, even while everybody was working from different locations and different places.




There were so many conversations I had with Reputation and Council members about how internal communications has really changed from this top-down. You know, here are really, Oh, here's some announcements. Here's what we're going to be doing to a much more interactive system of checking in on people, and making sure they're doing OK.


And, where people failed to do that.


As you can see in the quote, I had real consequences, in terms of being, know, if you're tone deaf to your to your employees and what they're going through, I had bad consequences for the business.


And, part of that, if we go to the next slide, Immerged, in talking about the expanding social agenda among employees.


So, when you talk about diversity and inclusion, for instance, or covert 19 or climate change, uh, it's, again, not a matter of internal communications.


It's a matter of employee engagement and giving your employees the opportunity to lead.


I thought it was really important, as Jason mentioned, in the, in the TNI section, that now you have to be on the same page with your employees.


Otherwise, what you're doing just brings false, right?


And so giving the employees the ability to form affinity groups helps to build a culture.


It helps it help people get through the pandemic.


It help people when they are working away from each other to be able to get into like-minded groups, discuss, you know, what was going on.


And we've seen a lot of companies moving towards this model of addressing not internal communications but instead employee engagement.


And we see this also in our global surveys.


So these come from our global advisor study, which is conducted in 30 countries around the world.


This first data point is from March of this year, so 68% of adults in that global study agreed that if businesses didn't act to combat climate change, there will be failing their employees and customers.


And, you know, climate and ESG, which is the next section we're going to talk about, part of the reason that that is on the agenda of companies, is because it's important to their employees.


The second piece of information comes from a study across the G seven.


And you can see that 55% of adults in that study support laws banning discrimination against LG B TQ plus people in terms of employment, education, and housing.


Then, another tie.


two, you're employee engagement and to diversity and inclusion.


Then, finally, again, from our global advisor study, 79% of adults agree that reducing gender inequalities, benefits society as a whole.


And as Jason noted in his section on DNI, our reputation council members are basked agreement with us, that the more you can do to promote diversity and inclusion, the more you do to build your business.


And then, finally, as I, as I've alluded to, internal communications, the other big trend is this idea of employee advocacy.


You know, in some ways, employees will lead on this, because you can't do things as a business without the support of your employees, especially when you want to go well beyond the basics of your core business.


And as we work to kind of align what goes on externally, and internally, this has to be taken into account.


Yeah, if a business is saying something externally that the employees don't believe is actually happening, you end up with situations where you have employee whistleblowers, you know, indicating that the company isn't living up to its promises for living up to what it says about, uh, Social impact, for instance.


And that's a situation that you want to avoid, and you avoid that situation by engaging employees as part of the process, and building these systems, but also, in terms of being aligned, and what you're doing, and saying, both internally and externally.


I will now go to our final section for today is, is on ESG or Environment, Social and Governance or Sustainability? You can use all of those words.


Um, this was involved a lot of discussion with our Reputation Council members.


Uh, overwhelmingly, people breathe that ESD is important to the investors in their company and to other stakeholder groups.


So this is overwhelming agreement, you know, near 80% for both reputation Council members are a little less confident that it matters to customers or to the general public.


You know, while this is, sustainability is a boardroom topic, It's not necessarily a kitchen table topic yet.


And we've seen this also in our broader sustainability workwear, unless you really define it for people and make it concrete, they're really don't know what it means.


Oh, I would say that, in many cases, the general public is about 10 years behind companies.


In terms of understanding the, the sophistication of a response to sustainability for vast amounts of the general public. Right now it's still about recycling or, you know, using less or whatever.


They don't see the whole picture of sustained inability.


And so in that way, we look at the key considerations on ESG.


A lot of this is about how it applies with stakeholders. So if we go to the next one.


So, you know, what do our stakeholders expect, both internal and external.


So again, when we come back to this idea, the employees are one of the key stakeholders here.


Then, you know, is it a reputational gain or is the regulatory risk?


That's another consideration when our reputation council members are looking at sustainability.


Uh, there is also a lot of concern in the, uh, communications professional community around inconsistency, in approaches and reporting.


For companies, There's a feeling that they're still not kind of a standard even with the the UN s.d.g. reporting requirements and things. It's, it's still a murky environment.


You know, and as we mentioned, this is something that's important at the boardroom level, because it's about how do you align your ESG activities with your overall business strategy in order to make them something that is authentic to people.


Another point that we saw, you know, in ESG, a lot of people have mainly assumed that it's about the environment.


But what cov at 19 has indicated or has pushed, is this idea that it's more about the S, it's about the impact on society, rather than just the impact on the environment.


And as I've said, a few different times, the employees are at are a top priority when it comes to communicating about ESG.


So if we call on the stakeholder expectations, it's, you know, again, it's about the board and investors and suppliers, there's an entire ecosystem of people according to our reputation council members who are paying more attention to ESG commitments and to the actions that companies are taking.


Uh, you'll note that, in that quote there, that customers are in it, but not really, you know, it's, it's much more concrete, considered to be this upper level stakeholder engagement that's important on ESG, and part of that is because, when you look at the next slide on reputation regulatory risks, there's this idea that, you know, there's a, you have to have accountability and transparency, right?


And the more organizations and more different stakeholder groups are requiring this from each company.


And so, you have to think about, no, what are the risks that we're managing, but also how can we move forward in a positive way.


Then, as I mentioned, if we look at the next slide, uh, you have this idea that the pandemic has triggered this greater focus on the social part of ESG and giving, given companies really an opening to talk more about their social impacts rather than just environmental impacts.


And we do have some consumer data that backs this up.


So, if we look at the next slide, what we did was, this is a multinational study, again, on our global advisor platform, across 30 markets, And we asked people about the role of multinational companies.


And rather than using, the standard definition of ESG, actually, came up with, through various qualitative exercises, uh, definitions of E SNG that are more pertinent to people at the general public level.


And overall, if you try to, you know, rank these things, 1 to 3, which one's most important?


Second, most important, third, most important, Society comes out on top, by just a little bit.


When you look at the means, but by quite a lot, when you look at the proportion of people who stay there, that is first.


So, 41% of people of color across countries rank society first rather than environment. And this was a better way.


A bit of a shock, really, when we got this research back, to see that this idea that it's about improving society has more traction than improving the environment.


We then dug into each of these areas of SMG, just to try to get some guidance on what people want, right.


So what people want, you know, when they think about environmental concerns globally.


It's about reducing waste and pollution first and foremost.


It has the most top three votes of any of the other items.


And then, it's reducing plastic use and products less about addressing climate change, or reducing greenhouse gas emissions. And I think this is in part, because what we asked was, what is the role of multinational companies?


And so, when you ask about climate change, more people tend to think that's the role of government, and it has the role of companies.


So, that's probably why that's lower down on the list.


If we look at the next slide in terms of societal concerns, there are two things that really stand out that people want multinational companies to do it and that's improving worker conditions and improving worker health and safety.


And, boy, does this just turn right back around, or what we're talking about in terms of enter internal communications and diversity and inclusion, too.


The pandemic, this brought home to people that, you know, workers are people, too.


And the extent to which companies take care of their workforce is an indication of how good a company they are overall.


And so taking care of your workforce is very important.


And I think that's particularly important for companies in the US. To keep in mind as we go through this, the great resignation, they're calling it with people, walking out the door on jobs that are no longer supported.


If you don't take care of your employees, you are at great risk of damaging your reputation.


When it comes to corporate governance, there's one concern that stands about all the others.


And that's ending corruption and bribery.


Then pay their fair share of taxes, those are really the Yeah, things from a governance perspective that people want from multinational corporations.


And so when we think about out, you know, I think I've already pounded this topic home in terms of the role of employees.


Uh, do your employees expect your ESG commitments to be employee driven?


They want to make, you know, they want to have a chance to lead on this and it's about, you know, making them ambassadors about sure of your efforts by, by involving them in the upfront, so a few do's and don'ts that come out of our reputation counselor interviews, again.


Identify material issues, which means no.


Take action that really impacts your business.


Uh, because by taking on those actions that impact your business, number one and number two, those give you credibility.


I think the other thing that came through in our interviews, was that companies really need to think big when it comes to ESG. You can do a lot of small things.


Or you can do one big thing, and do it well, And the communicators and our reputation counsel, I think that taking on one big item is the way that you can then show impact, so that you can measure and report that impact.


And it will help you then, to communicate effectively to the right audiences, because you will have something to show them.


And this is actually pretty consistent from what we've seen in other years.


So, if we look the next slide, this comes from our 14th sitting of the Reputation Council, and at the time, Reputation Council members were talking about making CSR integrated, rigorous and genuinely aligned.


And it's the same thing that we're seeing now that hasn't changed over time.




But you know, if you wanted to simplify this, it really comes down to three things, so if we look at the next one, that comes down to being authentic, credible and effective with your ESG or Sustainability programs. Authenticity, it can be thought of as that, which comes from within.


Are you being in line with your company?


In brand values?


Are you in line with what your employees think and are willing to act on?


Is it something that is a material issue, part of the other side, in that, does it impact your business?


Because all of those things will make it more credible.


So, are you then, aligning what you can do authenticity, often, Authenticity, authentically, veritas, uh, as a business with what impacts the world? So, that is your external forces then determine your credibility in that area.


If you try to take action on something that people either don't think that you're capable of doing, or that they have no understanding of why that's important to your business, then it won't be credible.


And, finally, are you effective in terms of making an actual difference in the world?


So effectiveness, you know, can be about just creating goodwill.


But you also have to be able to show that, yeah, to have a real business impact in order to be considered effective.


So you do those things on our last slide here.




No, understanding your value chain, how sustainability topics link with what your company does.


Working from the inside out, in many ways to form your programs, and then making sure that you measure that impact over time.


So are the things that you're doing Have a real measurable impact in the community, or on the topic you wish to address.


And then you can communicate your findings, because you'll have something to stand on when it comes to your sustainability activities.


And eventually this becomes a cycle where your communication with stakeholders helps you then to adapt those programs going forward.


So that has more impact on your business, as well as on your stakeholder attitudes.


And so that wraps up our topics of discussion for today.


Um, I know that we've been taking questions in the chat. So we're going to see what we have there.


And Jason, I am going to hand it back to you to moderate that portion.


Fantastic, thank you. So again, I encourage anybody to submit questions into the chat trend. I do have to hear, oh, well, the first is around the comment section. How do we see things evolving as more companies do really begin to return to work? And I'm happy to address that one on that section. So I think that we're going to see a lot of learning and re-adjusting.


Employees, of course, have grown accustomed and have always demanded more flexibility. And we're seeing that the ability to work virtually the ability to work in hybrid environments and this greater flexibility has shown that we can still be effective that we can still be productive throughout all of this. And beyond the reputation Council, Ipsos has been exploring this in a number of different research studies. So we've got additional data available, we'd be happy to share afterwards.


But we are seeing, from a company perspective, the need for that flexibility in meeting employees, at least partially where they are. What we're gonna see, of course, is that continuous learning and evolution, as we all emerge from the pandemic and companies implement new policies, new tools, new methods of engaging. But it's about making sure, of course, that employees have a voice, employees' needs and expectations are heard.


Anything you'd like to add to that?


Don't. Well, and I think that's it.


It's also keeping the momentum that many companies have built around, around these affinity groups and keeping those affinity groups going even once we're back in person.


And even once, you know, people aren't craving contact, like they were during the height of the pandemic being able to keep those going, because those, in turn, strengthen the business and inform the communications of the company.




The second question I see here is around diversity and inclusion, so that point about fear of saying the wrong thing. If there's a fear of saying the wrong thing, what should companies be doing? I think here, it leads a lot into what Trent was also talking about, on ESG, right?


Diversity and inclusion falls under that in some regards as a societal expectation of employees and other stakeholders for the way in which companies operate. And so, as we heard in that last section, it's really about ensuring employees have a voice that they are heard, their needs and their expectations are genuinely considered in the different commitments and initiatives that companies are lost launching. So, it's really about listening, understanding employee, and other stakeholder needs. And really focusing on action. It's that authentic, credible and effective framework, but not just for the broader ESG components, but also for diversity and inclusion. What are those expectations from stakeholders that we can authentically contribute to create policies and create a framework to address that.


We can credibly addresses a business and that we can demonstrate impact or effectiveness against. So, it all lines up with that. And how we take a step in the right direction in terms of addressing these issues. Trying, again, anything you'd like to add to that?


Yeah Well and I think specifically on D&I, it's about following the employees leads in many cases.


There will be groups of employees who want to lead on this issue and that you follow the employee leads of these issues, the more likely it is to be something that's authentic.




Those are the only two questions currently in the chat so if there are no further questions, we do have on this last slide of course our contact information. I encourage you to reach out to Trent and or myself with any other follow ups if anything else does come through we're happy to address those by e-mail of course and we encourage you to also visit our site reputation dot ... dot com to see more of the research studies that we've conducted learn a little bit more about our corporate reputation practice.


Thank you, guys, so much. I want to thank you both for your super, same presentation. Thank you, everyone, for joining us today.


If we did not get to your question, and we will do so by e-mail, can also receive an e-mail with a direct link to today's recording presentation. And, of course, as as these guys said, we welcome the opportunity to speak with you. So please feel free, skill free to reach out to us. That now concludes today's webinar. I hope you guys have a wonderful day. Thank you so much.


Thanks, Jay.

The author(s)

  • Trent Ross Executive Vice President, Global Chief Research Officer, Corporate Reputation
  • Jason McGrath Senior Vice President, Head of US Corporate Reputation