How's the picture? If you're still reading, then either I'm lucky enough to know you or the photographer made me look like I've got something intelligent to say - in which case, I'd thoroughly recommend him.
Or maybe you recognise Porter Novelli and have a reason for being interested in our perspective. Either way, I’d like to challenge you to consider whether PR is doing the best job it can for your brands and highlight a new dimension I think you should consider in helping to build your reputation.
I recognise strong brands as having the capacity to translate what is relevant in a customer’s world, driving demand and providing the basis for a relationship that underpins loyalty. Good corporate PR campaigns are consistent with a brand’s positioning and create value by supporting this dynamic.
Conventionally, corporate PR guys like me have defined reputation as the result of what you do, what you say and what others say about you. More recently, spurred on by the rush to social media, we’ve been advocating the power of conversation rather than one-way communication, claiming we hold the upper hand among marketing disciplines in achieving this. That’s not to say advertising doesn’t remain a great way of reaching mass audiences, but in a noisy world, PR holds the key to engagement.
I’d like you to consider a dimension of reputation building that’s becoming more important because enlightened consumers (and other audiences) are looking for brands to empower them in new ways. They’re seeking inspiration and support in taking positive action themselves on issues that prick their conscience, rather than delegating that responsibility to those with good CSR credentials.
From a strategic point of view, this means that brands need to identify the issues that motivate their key audiences and consider how they can differentiate themselves. CSR programmes are becoming less about what a company has achieved against goals and much more about what it’s doing to help others achieve their ambitions. The brands that will win are the ones that can resist grandstanding their own achievements and put the power for change in the hands of groups like their customers or employees.
In terms of campaigning, humanity and values are becoming more important. You can see many leading UK brands developing platforms to show they know what is important to their customers and offering them something of greater value than simply a product, service or transaction. The focus is on empowerment, not telling customers what to do or that it’s all done for them, but putting them in charge to take action.
I really like the recent NatWest Customer Charter campaign. It shows the bank is in tune with how customers are feeling right now and what their expectations of the brand are. It doesn’t try to deflect attention from something simple, like good service that is at the heart of customer desires, but offers support (if they want it) in taking greater control of their finances when this is top of their priorities.
The Morrisons campaign is a good example, too. The supermarket has championed fresh food at affordable prices over the past few years. Now it’s seeking to differentiate and make an even stronger play through a link to its support for British farming: by shopping at Morrisons, you can eat well, for less, and help this country’s farmers. That’s a pretty compelling proposition right now.
E.ON has a campaign that asks customers to use less energy. It seems like a brave move, risking a drop in consumption and revenue, but the reward is greater loyalty because the customer sees a brand that respects their priorities, empowering them to save money and cut their carbon footprint.
There’s evidence that companies in sectors such as energy, alcohol and confectionery have woken up to the power of enlightened conversations around moderation, thanks to the emphasis that has been placed on personal responsibility in recent years. Maybe the personal finance sector will follow.
The great thing about this trend in campaigns that empower is that they fit well with social media. Help a customer do something positive that matches their priorities and they may well have an overwhelming desire to share their experience with peers, possibly even advocating they follow suit.
So back to my challenge. Is PR working hard enough to engage your audiences on the issues that capture their imagination and desire for change so that it drives your reputation (and the business) forward? If not, you need to find the issues with potential and the people to help you capitalise on the opportunities they present.
Neil Bayley, corporate practice leader, Porter Novelli