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Business Top Ten Most Noticed – February 2016

Every week, Populus asks a nationally representative sample of the public to tell us which business news stories they have noticed in the past week. Unsurprisingly, the public tend to pay attention to stories of scandal and financial woe. Here is our round up of the stories that have pierced the nation’s consciousness in the past month and our thoughts on what the stories mentioned could mean for the reputations of the businesses involved.


February’s most noticed business news stories


Google’s mentions make case for fair financial conduct as cornerstone of a good reputation

This month, Google has been the most frequently mentioned business – making the Top Five every week – and also received the highest mentions for week ending 14 February (noticed by 21%). Having first entered the Business Top Ten in January 2016, after the US firm’s agreement to pay £130m in back taxes to the UK Government, the tax settlement with HMRC has been prominent in the public’s mind. The public’s grumbling has been unequivocally negative. They have accused Google of being ‘tax dodgers’ and ‘tax avoiders’.

The tax deal, which has precipitated a wider inquiry into the UK’s tax system, includes an assessment of whether HMRC is doing enough to tackle tax avoidance. The outcome of the inquiry, and whether other businesses will get caught in the cross-fire, is a reputational sticking point, the resolution of which remains to be seen.

With Sundar Pichai reportedly meeting with Brussels’ competition chief Margrethe Vestager last week it is likely the tech giant will be in the public eye for a little longer.

The British public have made it clear that their view towards Google has become negative as a result of this financial practice. This should remind businesses that fair financial conduct is the foundation of a good reputation and – as per the case of Lidl who featured in the BTTMN in September 2015 as they announced they would introduce the living wage – can even generate some impactful, good press.

A good reputation is, amongst other things, critical in attracting top talent. People won’t stop “googling” but research shows that continued negative press could push talent to choose a career elsewhere and those still joining may well demand higher compensation.

It wouldn’t be the Business Top Ten Most Noticed without the banks

Most weeks banks find a place in the Business Top Ten – usually making headlines for all the wrong reasons.

In 2015, HSBC was the bank mentioned most often, and this year seems no different. HSBC has featured every week this February, rising to second place for the week ending 21 February (15%). Contrary to the norm this month it has been noticed for more positive reasons including announcing that its keeping  its headquarters in London and for innovation, namely, launching voice recognition and touch security services.

In the week ending 28 February banks were a prominent feature in the Top Ten as RBS took top spot (15%), HSBC 6th (5%), and Lloyds 8th (5%). HSBC were again benefitting from the positive news stories from the previous week. For RBS, the public focused on its losses, falling share prices, and bonuses paid out to some staff. Similarly, perceptions of high bonuses plagued Lloyds’ profile alongside constant scrutiny of its results. Rumbling scandals in the banking sector – and significant bonuses – repeatedly trump any glimmer of hope.

A rotten month for Apple

Apple, usually noticed positively for launching new and innovative products, was mentioned at the end of this month, for two consecutive weeks, in connection with the FBI’s investigation into the San Bernadino shooting. Attention focussed on Apple ‘refusing’ to cooperate. Negative opinion was further fuelled as the public noted thousands of iPhone 6 users claimed its latest operating system disabled handsets after third party repairs.

Supermarkets are never far from the BTTMN

Supermarkets have also found a space in the Top Ten. Tesco has featured prominently, with Sainsbury’s often hot-on-its-heels – regularly falling just short of the Top 5. Financial results – and common perceptions that Tesco is ‘in trouble’ – again inform public sentiment. In February the public honed in on Tesco’s delayed payments made to suppliers and their overstatement of profits at the end of 2014.

Ironically, Lidl and Aldi, who frequently hit the headlines as the budget rivals of the supermarket giants, or Waitrose – recently named for the second year running the UK’s top supermarket – are rarely noticed. Lidl last entered the Top Five – and the top spot (15%) – back in September 2015 due to its plans to introduce the living wage.

Lessons to learn

It’s clear from our round up of the last month’s business news that not only does negative press stick in the mind, it festers over time, sometimes causing seemingly irreparable damage to the reputation of businesses or indeed whole sectors.

The question is, will any of the businesses featured be making a concerted effort to improve the public’s negative perceptions in the long-term or can we expect to see more one-off gestures designed to placate the public like Google’s, and now Facebook’s, tax deal? Only time will tell.

Why reputation matters?

Reputation is the combination of many factors; trust, customer service, brand, engagement with stakeholders, performance on industry specific issues, and many others. Some are within the direct control of business, some can be influenced, some are determined at an industry or economy wide level, and some lie almost entirely outside a business’ control.

Reputation gives a business permission to operate. A strong reputation makes it easier to attract the best staff, makes conversations with legislators easier to secure and more fruitful, means positive media coverage, and loyal customers. A weak reputation makes it hard to hold onto the best talent, sees journalists and politicians rarely give the benefit of the doubt, and customers leave.

Populus’s Reputation Measurement system enables businesses to overcome even the most significant reputation challenges by understanding and influencing the complex contributing factors. Through a variety of research techniques and expert analysis, we help clients in all sectors to build a reputation that makes it easier to attract the best talent, engage effectively with legislators, receive positive media coverage and increase customer loyalty.

David Racadio

David is responsible for Populus's industry studies, which help clients in a range of sectors, including banking, insurance, food manufacturing, pharmaceuticals and retail, to benchmark their corporate reputations and understand the attitudes of key stakeholders that impact on their industry.

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