If a business gets noticed by the public and makes headlines, it’s not usually good news. Our weekly polling of the UK’s most noticed businesses has demonstrated this for over five years.
Take 2019 as an example. Around 2 in 3 of the most noticed businesses each week were remembered for reputationally negative stories. Only a handful of the noticed businesses (less than 1 in 10) were recognised for something positive.
People typically picked up on stories such as cutbacks, closures, privacy breaches, or allegations of profiteering, rather than on stories of businesses achieving success or making positive contributions to society. But with unprecedented circumstances on the horizon, the rules were soon to change.
A golden opportunity
Enter 2020 where the Coronavirus dominates people’s attention and amid the doom and gloom stories, a bright spot emerges for businesses. The public is turning to the private sector to show how they are helping in the country’s hour of need, presenting a golden opportunity to show how your business is contributing to the recovery. Between March and December 2020, the number of times businesses were at the top of our most noticed list for something positive more than doubled compared to 2019.
The businesses most successful in attracting positive attention are those who have shown they are contributing to the public good rather than focussing on profit. They include:
- Supermarkets stepping up their operations to provide food and looking after vulnerable customers
- Google and Apple contributing their services to the UK Government for tracking apps
- Dyson offering to make ventilators
- Pfizer and AstraZeneca successfully developing vaccines.
Some thoughts from our respondents …
“Sainsbury’s allowing pensioners to shop away from other shoppers three mornings a week for one hour.” [interviewee, 23 March 2020]
“Tesco and precautionary measures being taken to help food shopping.” [interviewee, 14 April 2020]
“Tesco were the first big retailer to return their business rates relief as they didn’t need it. Other retailers have followed suit.” [interviewee, 7 December 2020]
“Pfizer and AstraZeneca for their creation, testing and distribution of a COVID-19 vaccine.” [interviewee, 14 December 2020]
“Profit before lives”
Other businesses have fallen short of the moment. Instead of seeing the opportunity to demonstrate adaptability and responsibility to the public, they have found themselves criticised by a captive audience for profiteering and not doing the right thing for either their staff or their customers. Prominent examples that were mentioned by individuals we interviewed included Virgin, Sports Direct and JD Wetherspoon.
“Sports Direct for putting profit before lives by opening their stores.” [interviewee, 30 March 2020]
“Wetherspoons – poor handling of the whole Covid-19 situation.” [interviewee, 30 March 2020]
“Virgin Atlantic Richard Branson requesting government bail-out, much public indignation as he’s a multi- millionaire who doesn’t pay tax in UK.” [interviewee, 27 April 2020]
“Virgin Atlantic to cut 1,150 more jobs. I have followed this story and think Richard Branson is disgusting for letting his company fail like this. He is an asset stripper and carpet bagger, and he should be thoroughly ashamed of himself.” [interviewee, 7 September 2020]
The effects of the pandemic on our country and worldwide are here to stay for many months ahead and we’re all looking forward to the gradual relaxation of lockdown. The opportunity for corporates to improve their brand reputation, pandemic or not, remains open.
The past year, more than ever before, has shown us that those companies who can authentically use their core competencies for public good demonstrate a trustworthy character. They are walking the talk when it comes to putting the public first, engaging the heart and soul of their existing customers, and winning new ones because of it.
What does your business’ reputational credit look like? Are you putting the public good first?