By Oscar Tshifure
Media Torque and Events and Plus 94 Research will soon be publishing results of the 2021 Top Companies South Africa reputation research. What does it mean to be a top company and why does it matter? Reputation is the single most important asset any company can boast of having. It is the reason for engaging, buying and coming back for more. Consumers do not just buy your products, but also a piece of your reputation. Many companies have shown that they are more concerned about their public image and not necessarily their reputation. Image is an association that can be changed relatively easily and correlates quite strongly with the company’s identity.
Reputation is the company’s very being, its soul and heartbeat. It is far easier and cheaper to buy and sell an image – but not reputation. It’s the reason that the Top Companies of South Africa are announced annually. The aim is to raise the bar and to increase our understanding of the entire space of reputation management.
There are several misconceptions about reputation management. The most common one is that reputation management is about firefighting, or cleansing what is said, heard or thought of about the business. A strong reputation is not about how powerful a business is when it comes to crisis management instead, it is more about a crisis situation requiring less effort and resources to diffuse because of an already existing reputation equity. Understanding reputation matters because a society with reputable companies is more likely to be progressive, based on some sort of fair compact it has with ordinary people.
Reputation management should recognise that a company exists as part of the broader society and that it needs to grow, survive and thrive within that environment while that environment does the same. To that extent, reputation management should be about managing societal expectations of business, both overt and covert.
That society is not directly appealing to companies to help does not imply that such messages are not being conveyed, or that there are no expectations from the business. In characterising current efforts towards corporate social investments, it can be seen that these efforts are largely termed enlightened self-interest, an excuse to get something back from the taxman or to feel like the business is doing something to assist with problems, but without necessarily getting to the heart of those things that if they had been invested in, would radically transform that society.
Things like crime and employment of the jobless, poverty, development of infrastructure to support those who are underprivileged in different parts of the country, safety and health products, rural development, cost-effective products, investment in policing and policing efforts.
It is true that currently, corporate culture would hold the view that satisfying shareholders is a primary preoccupation of the business. In this line of thinking, the public is not viewed as a shareholder, notwithstanding the business’s dependency on the public for survival.
Such a one-sided approach can be associated directly with poor performance when it comes to research, societal relevance and innovation. While the road to profits is seen by many companies as the shortest distance between two points, it does represent a narrowness of focus that results in a lack of respect for businesses. A business that is empathetic is more likely to be creative and disruptive in its product offerings and to also trigger consumer empathy.
The 2021 TCSA report, to be released during the month of October 2021, will delve into the drivers of the most reputable companies in South Africa.