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Why corporate reputation is still front of mind for CEOs

Hotwire Global

This year’s ICCO Summit saw the launch of the trade body’s latest annual report, which featured several consistent key themes year-on-year.

IT and technology requirements growing at the most significant rate? Yup. (67% of PR agency leaders said it is in their top 3 growing sectors, up from 52% last year) This was followed by healthcare and then financial and professional services – all in exactly the same position as last year.

These findings aren’t necessarily a shock given the last 18 months we’ve all experienced.

Yet what certainly did surprise me was the resurgence in confidence among the industry, as we’re still working through the pandemic and its associated economic uncertainty. An “astonishing” 95% of leaders expect an increase in client income – compared with only one in five last year. This is against the backdrop of slow economic growth, inflation, interest rates at an all-time low and of course the great resignation – which threatens the stability of all businesses, irrespective of sector.

Another finding that struck me was around the growing importance of corporate reputation. Improving a company’s corporate standing has never been more important to CEOs, and as Francis Ingham, chief executive of ICCO remarked – joining the conference from home while recuperating from Covid (wishing you a speedy recovery!) – this is a theme that rings true throughout the report.

We’re seeing the word purpose come back into our vernaculars, too. Purpose-led companies. Building a purpose-led ethos. Contributing to broader positive societal change. Everyone’s trying to get in on this trend – but the news is, if you’re not living and breathing it in doing so, your efforts simply won’t wash.

While being ‘purpose-led’ has been ‘in vogue’ for at least the last 24 months, there is an increased skepticism from the public around authenticity (or lack thereof) of the businesses trying it. If your organisation even gives a hint that it’s bolting on CSR – or ESG – initiatives for some alleged PR gains, it simply won’t pass today. Whether it’s greenwashing, charitable partnerships or basically lying about the ways in which employees, partners and suppliers are being treated, the public will find out. And the backlash will be much worse than simply not saying anything at all.

So if you’re on the pathway to purpose, it must be engrained throughout the organisation. Lord Karan Bilimoria, founder of Cobra Beer and president of the CBI, spoke passionately on the initiatives his business have rolled out. Its very processes within its supply-chains are built to help local agriculture, save water and resources and improve the energy efficiency of the whole operation. He spoke of governments and businesses working together to deliver growth and prosperity, while driving the requisite change the world needs.

So there you have it. Day one of the ICCO Summit complete. While we’ve seen, read and discussed many of these themes before, there’s a renewed confidence within the comms industry of our role to help our clients navigate what can be still quite hazardous conditions. By leaning into strategic consultancy – helping our clients unpack who they are, where they play and how they’re helping their customers and communities – you’ll be able to find the white space for their industries, demonstrating their knowledge, expertise and purpose, with authenticity.