By: Michael Simmonds
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.
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.
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.
A rotten month for Apple
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.
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.
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.