Every week we talk to, learn from, and are inspired by amazing people doing innovative things in the world of social value and we are excited to share some of those conversations with you.
Today we're talking to Daisy Powell-Chandler, a Director at Public First and host of the podcast for reputation professionals, Why Everybody Hates You. We talk about perceptions of social value, the competence and ethics mix, and risk.
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Five minutes with…Daisy Powell-Chandler, Director at Public First UK
What do you do?
I help large, complex organisations to understand and influence their reputation.
What’s the link between social value and reputation?
There is an increasing body of evidence that shows how important reputation is to the bottom line; to share price, the ability to hire the right talent, to legal and regulatory risk, and even the wellbeing of colleagues. At its best, reputation work is about a company looking at its business model, understanding the ways in which it impacts the world and considering how to improve this in order to create long-term reputation improvement. This intersection between reputation goals, commercial goals and how a company can do good is where social value comes into play.
How can a company improve its reputation?
It’s about looking at the ways in which the company can behave better in order to improve public opinion. This happens in one of two ways:
The challenge is that every stakeholder group has a different view of how a company should be more competent or ethical – not forgetting that employees are also key stakeholders.
Can you think of an example of a business that has improved its competence or ethics and created social value?
Santander is a great example. They got off to a bad start in the UK and were renowned for terrible customer service. Then when they launched the 123 account they set-up an entirely new call centre for 123 customers to make sure their experience wasn’t polluted by the old customer service. This real-life AB testing created a whole new culture of customer service, which did wonders for their reputation and improved both employee and customer experience.
Amazon is another interesting example. While the business has a lot of critics, you can’t deny they are really competent at what they do and big global businesses like this have the power to rapidly roll-out change. I find their commitment to net zero shipments really interesting as it will help stimulate the market for electric small size vans.
There is a lot of confusion around social value, ESG, CSR – people use the terms interchangeably. What are your thoughts on the correct terminology?
I talk about ESG and social value as two sides of the same coin. Companies understand that if they are not seen to be addressing ESG then it’s a risk, but the flipside is the positive, commercial outcomes of ‘doing the right thing’ – creating social value.
In terms of the terminology, there is a chronology. CSR was what we had twenty years ago - typically a charitable side-project with little to do with what the company was actually doing. Then we had purpose-driven business where we started to link CSR to what the business does. Since then, we’ve progressed on to ESG and social value.
For lots of businesses it’s still very new, but now that social value is such an important part of UK government procurement it means the UK is really ahead of most of the globe on this, which puts us in a really unique and interesting position.
Do consumers expect companies to create social value?
Yes. Our research at Public First shows us that this is exactly what consumers expect companies to be doing. They want companies to be looking after employees, showing up in the community, not harming the planet, paying their taxes etc and social value is the thing that ties all of these things together.
We’ve just published a massive poll about ESG where we asked people to rank which of the three areas (Environment, Social, Governance) they felt companies should prioritise when it comes to impacting the world around them. Half the population put ‘social’ first.
Do you think businesses are ‘doing the right thing’ for the right reasons, or are they just looking for good PR?
I do think it’s important that companies get credit for the things they do, otherwise the incentives to do good things will be less. Some of the cynicism aimed at companies is justified but a lot of it is also unfair. I often hear clients say “I don’t have permission to talk about this yet” or “we shouldn’t do something because someone in our sector is already ‘owning’ that particular area”. These are all just excuses because businesses are scared.
All companies have to start somewhere and the good news is that consumers really understand this! In fact, our research shows that consumers are very nervous of companies that appear to be too perfect. They want to hear from companies that offer realistic and credible solutions.
In my view it’s a positive thing that companies go out and talk about this stuff when they are doing it. It stimulates competition and allows us to share best practice. What I would urge companies to do is to think about what work needs to be done internally to be credible before you communicate externally. For instance, if you want to really focus on improving gender inequality, make sure you don’t have a massive gender pay-gap, or if you do, set out steps to tackle it and link every decision back to your business’ core purpose and values.
Finally, tell us about your podcast – Why Everybody Hates You'?
The podcast came out of a realisation that lots of people across different sectors and professions work in reputation but there was very little regular podcast content out there. The last series focused on the impact of the pandemic on big businesses like McDonalds, TUI and M&S. In the next series we will be focusing on ESG, the differences between the UK and US, corporate advocacy and how consumers link into that off the back of new research that we’ve been working on a Public First.
Why Everybody Hates You is released this September.