Corporate reputation – the impact of a Referendum in 2016?

The advent of a new year gives many that chance for a fresh start. The slate is clean and it’s time for new thinking leading to new decisions and new direction. As the frenetic pace of work life in a networked age takes over, we are thrust once more into the breathless pursuit of short term success.

But at this busy time very few executives will be considering the longer term, and in particular how one of the long term assets of the business, its corporate reputation, is being protected and built. It’s the job of the communications team to pause now and to consider what lies ahead and might impact one’s company’s reputation. For as we know, reputations are lost with one poor decision but are built with consideration over the long term.

One decision to get right today is how one’s business should react to one-off calendar events. This could mean the difference between a great year and one in which opportunities are missed or the business may even flounder. And in 2016 there are many interesting calendar events to ponder: a possible EU Referendum, the Olympics in Rio, the London Mayoral elections, the Queen’s 90th birthday, to name but a few.

And while these events may seem divorced from the day to day, a company’s key stakeholders will certainly remember if the company gets its association with these events wrong as they somehow touch and affect us all.   

For me the EU Referendum, still not confirmed but looking more likely, is the key event of the year to watch out for. Some will have prepared their businesses but many will not yet have considered its potential impact on their reputation. Yes one can shrug and say the Referendum is for others, but if it were to happen it will dominate the corporate landscape this year and we will all be involved.

Imagine if one’s CEO or senior executives say the wrong thing or are identified with the wrong team? Imagine how your employees will react if the company takes a careless position or approach? Consider the impact on the UK’s standing, remain or leave, and how that might impact the reputation of your company in the eyes of international stakeholders?

There is little time to consider what to do to ensure your precious stakeholders perceive you have handled the Referendum well. If one believes the current predictions of a Referendum in late June or early July then it is likely that the starting gun will be fired in mid to late February. It’s time to step back from the hustle and bustle of the new year and get your house in order for such a momentous event. It is an event that will define the future of the UK for several generations and it is worth slowing down and giving some thought to how it may define what people say about your business in the years to come.  

 

Simon Whitehead

Hill & Knowlton Strategies Search