We do a considerable amount of work with clients in the food system and recently received a stark reminder that there is much about corporate reputation management, particularly in the food business, that is out of our control. This became very evident when an animal welfare group released an undercover video that depicted animal treatment that most, if not all, would consider cruel and unacceptable.
When something like this happens, no matter how isolated or contrary to mainstream, it is easy for consumers’ net takeaway to be that the video is representative of the whole of the industry. It undermines any trust that has been built over time and reduces the concrete and sincere steps many companies have taken to advance animal welfare to mere lip service with just seconds of outrageous imagery.
What companies can control, however, is their behavior before and following such an event. Fortunately, there are independent organizations in this category, such as the Center for Food Integrity, that can help companies manage their reputations through regular animal care audits, analysis of operations and policies, and promotion of best practices for companies throughout the food system.
Thankfully, we work with clients that put doing what’s right, for their business and society, at the heart of their short-term and long-term decisions and actions. This is, in a nutshell, what effective corporate reputation management is all about.
There will always be “bad actors”—companies that only think about doing the right thing when they know someone is watching and only try to manage their reputations during the heat of a crisis (which is a step away from being too late). Hopefully, there will continue to be more and more companies that understand the unique power they possess to do good in the world, not just through traditional business benefits such as job creation, but also in their communities, in the lives of their employees, and through the net benefits of what their products are and how they are made.