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Communications supporting business transparency

The recent financial crisis was a game changer on many fronts, not least for corporate communications.  The discipline has now morphed from managing monologues to driving dialogues as the public mindset has awakened to corporate performance and behaviour.

Successful corporate communications is now a key part of any organisation, taking the central role to protect its license to operate and enhance its reputation.

And there is nothing like a national or global crisis to bring home just how essential the central role corporate communications is in projecting and protecting business and brands, particularly for the food industry.  Just last week Heinz had to tighten supply controls in China after an infant food scare, and McDonald’s Japan has said it will stop importing chicken from China and its restaurants will stop selling the meat following a recent supply driven scare.

The biggest stress test for UK food companies dates back to 2013 with the horsemeat scandal – nearly every brand implicated or investigated was caught off guard, with notable, established brands coming under criticism for not having enough knowledge of their supply chains to even understand where or how they might be exposed.

It brought into the public consciousness a whole host of issues for food and drink businesses, which already face extensive scrutiny around labelling, consumer health and sourcing.

Corporate communications should be the knowledge bank and conscience of an organisation, working with business to determine behaviours that cover everything from environment and employment, to supply chain process.  A good communications function, particularly for a food business, should be the litmus test of consumer reaction, understanding the policy and business pressures and matching these with the consumer need.

Only then can it not only credibly communicate the right storytelling content, to the right communities, in the right channels, but also go one step further, and influence corporate behaviour throughout the value chain.

Just how could integrated corporate communications have helped those affected by ‘horse-gate’?  By working with compliance, quality assurance, procurement and supply chain, issues and areas for reputational risk could have been identified and prepared for; supporting business in enacting operational changes and improvements in preparation for these external events that can come galloping (sorry!) out of nowhere.

Communications as a whole is no longer the function that can ‘PR that’, but a strategic business essential, that is the guardian of reputation and the very precious permission its public gives it to exist – which can disappear in a second without the right due diligence and corporate transparency, or the agility and knowledge to react to a breaking crisis.

By Lynda Redington (@LexisAgency)