Vanessa Liell a Partner at Orizontas
Orizontas, a new corporate advisory, recently held a roundtable briefing for business leaders across corporate, technology, finance and media sectors. It focused on the issues that will dominate the state and federal elections due this year, and quickly turned to the national and geopolitical challenges as we emerge from COVID-19 into a war in Europe, local weather catastrophes and the practical day-to-day issues Australian businesses are grappling with as they launch into 2022.
• The impact of the war in Europe on energy costs and security and the implications for transitions to lower carbon,
• The tightening economy with wage rises, interest rates and cost of living,
• The ability of Australia to compete effectively globally and the need to foster innovation and entrepreneurialism,
• The lack of diversity at all levels including boards and executive teams, and
• The talent shortages in Australia exacerbated by the border closures.
These challenges are not new but are heightened as we recover from the pandemic and navigate international relations including trade and supply chains in the current context. Regardless of who wins the elections, nationally and in South Australia, Victoria and New South Wales, there is an opportunity for industry to get in on the ground floor of a significant policy re-set and have a constructive voice in what will be a robust ongoing dialogue this year.
There is an opportunity for business leaders to influence this policy re-set – and given the reputational stakes are so high it would be wise for brands to take a proactive position. The alternative is to risk having the gap filled by your competitors, regulators or detractors or worse still, subject your business to the consequences of inertia.
However, with so many competing demands, the challenge is where to start with proactive engagement of stakeholders, particularly government to influence the policy agenda, build brand and reputation and mitigate risk in a volatile environment.
Key actions brands can take:
• Defining what you stand for – many brands struggle to define this, however if successful, it will underpin everything you do and drive both your internal and external reputation.
• A story you can tell – your corporate narrative sets the foundation for communication and engagement. If you can’t explain simply and in plain English your purpose, the impact you have and why you exist, it would be worth investing now in getting this right.
• Issues and risk mitigation – Warren Buffet famously said: “It takes 20 years to build a reputation and five minutes to ruin it.” We have seen numerous brands struggle with the response to the Russian invasion of the Ukraine. The difference in those that succeed is they can respond (not react) because they are prepared.
• Strategy – the days of designating your environmental and social initiatives to ancillary add-ons are behind us. Your Environment, Social and Governance (ESG) impact will need to be benchmarked, mapped and defined – however your ability to communicate how you will improve your performance in an honest, transparent, and accessible way will be key to building trust and reputation.
• Strategic communications – “We’re not just fighting an epidemic; we’re fighting an infodemic,” said Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director-General of the World Health Organization (WHO), referring to the excessive amount of unverified information that flooded every channel in every country during COVID-19, and paralysed all parties from governments to consumers who simply didn’t know who to trust or how to act. You are unlikely to be able to change the global environment, however one thing you can change is investment by your brand in high quality, purposeful and effective communication.
Proactive strategic communications should align to influence all your stakeholders – including government – with a consistent and powerful engagement. Given the year ahead, smart brands will be working out now how they will drive the agenda, rather than wait for it.