Are your business partnerships costing you your reputation?

Last week, on a rare sunny day in this very soggy April, I joined my dad (aged 85) and his friend Howard (aged 67) in dad’s garden. They reminisced about their time as traders in Leeds Kirkgate Market, where they first met around 45 years ago. Dad was a fashion retailer, and Howard sold bananas!

Part of their conversation struck me. As worldly-wise men, both with broad networks of business associates, they agreed on the importance of having ‘a good name.’ I asked what that meant to them. Both replied without hesitation…

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In that moment, it struck me how my own business values have been shaped by my parents. Some of the business decisions I’ve made have definitely been to my short-term financial detriment, but not to the detriment of my reputation.

A Case Study: The Daily Mile

An organisation which doesn’t appear to have thought through the implications of its corporate partnerships is The Daily Mile charity. The initiative encourages primary schools and nurseries to take children outside running for 15 minutes each day.

It sounds great, right? However, the programme is sponsored by fracking company, Ineos. A wellbeing initiative sponsored by one of the world’s largest manufacturers of chemical and oil products?

In itself, the mismatch of values should have been apparent to its Founder, Elaine Wyllie. More confusing still is that she is a former headteacher of a school in Scotland, where there is an effective ban on fracking.

The decision for a ban came in October 2017 following a public consultation in Scotland, where 99% of 60,000 respondents opposed fracking.

Now, Ineos Shale is challenging the decision. It recently won the right to bring a legal case to court to challenge Scottish Government. The company is seeking a judicial review, and is sueing the Government for damages due to a breach of its human rights.

Managing Reputational Risk

According to insights from Standing Partnership’s 2016 Reputational Risk Report, based on a survey conducted by Edison Research, risk should be considered in four key areas. These are: customer satisfaction, public perception, product quality and integrity. The Daily Mile has failed to address at least three of the four areas:

Customer perception: how parents and teachers will view the association.

Public perception: what the general public will think – including people like me who will discuss it with our networks.

Integrity: how the core objective of health will be compromised by the association with a business area where health implications – including respiratory issues – have been widely researched. (See our report on behalf of the Green Enterprise Network to learn more).

ITV is now also coming under fire for promoting the initiative, along with Ineos’ branding, across its media channels. It’s fair to say that what started as a genuine desire to improve the fitness of children has turned into a PR disaster.

We can’t afford to compromise values

As the Founder of a movement myself, I do my research on potential partners, be they clients, funders/sponsors or corporate partners. It’s important during this early stage in the development of Inspiring Women Changemakers.

Having worked hard over the years to build a reputation for the quality and integrity of my social impact and inclusion work, I cannot afford to let that be diminished.

Sometimes due diligence won’t pick up a risk. I might not always get it right. But if I’m to maintain brand integrity, making the best possible decision on who I work with is crucial.

It’s clear that some want to align with us to tick Corporate Social Responsibility boxes but don’t have a genuine intent to make meaningful change.

With our annual Igniting Inspiration awards, it would be easy to accept sponsorship from certain corporates. If their values are not aligned with ours, I’d rather say no. A quick buck? No, thanks! I’d rather keep my good name.

Anj Handa is the Founder of Inspiring Women Changemakers. She helps women to speak up: for themselves, for others and for social issues.