brand_imageI’M SITTING in a hotel room here in Davos, Switzerland, on the morning of the first day of the annual World Communication Forum at which I shall speak later, as I finish this article.

Inevitably, I’m thinking about things back in South Africa. I’m also thinking about some of the comments already received last night from fellow delegates at the opening dinner party.

The other delegates come from countries as far afield as the USA, Russia – yes, in the same room – India, Bulgaria, South Africa, and nearby Italy, Spain, the UK, etc. We shared views about where we come from and what we do. There is no doubt, after a handful of conversations, that there is a great deal of interest in the topic of corporate reputation.

Read this to cover all organisational reputation because it also concerns NGOs, state-owned companies, government departments, etc. People want to know how we do it in South Africa, i e how we manage corporate reputation – in cases where we do. They want to know what kind of advice people like me would give to foreign companies wanting to do business in in South Africa.

The American lady who interviewed me was interested in the concept of BBB-EE and whether it was an optional condition for doing business in South Africa and, specifically, whether not adhering to the codes could impact negatively on corporate reputation.

I responded in the negative to the first question – adherence to BBB-EE is a corporate governance requirement in South Africa – and positively to the second question, that corporate reputation could be harmed by non-adherence to the codes. I further explained that good corporate reputation management rests upon understanding and managing three key things in sync with one another.

Three key components

They are your company/organisation’s strategic intent, its stakeholders, and the ever-evolving issues that matter to those stakeholders. A point that complicates stakeholder management is that in today’s sociopolitical economy all of us are stakeholders, because everything that organisations do impacts on us directly or indirectly through people and causes that matter to us.

All organisations have to have a 360° vigilance and understanding of the world they operate in, to limit potentially harmful faux pas.

As I do this, thinking about home and all the recent media reports about shenanigans in our state-owned companies, I agree more and more with the often-repeated saying by media people and stand-up comedians that there is never a dull moment in South Africa.

No self-respecting journalist or comedian should be taken seriously if they complain that they’ve run out of material to write or make us laugh about. Our country is a 24/7 machine that churns out enough stories and material to keep stand-up comedians and media professionals busy.

Thinking about all of this, I get renewed curiosity about what the first mental associations would be in the minds of South Africans and communities of South Africa watchers out there, in other parts of the world, when any of these names get mentioned: the SABC, Eskom, the South African Revenue Service, PetroSA, the South African Nuclear Energy Corporation, the National Energy Regulator, South African Airways and, of late, the Independent Electoral Commission and BrandSA.

Do they stir up positive thoughts and stakeholder confidence, and are they attractive and inspire immediate love and shared respect?

Why we should never stop caring

Are we correct to give a toss about the reported levels of abuse of funds, nepotism, and all sorts of cover-ups of misgovernance; or is it that we South Africans are too critical of ourselves and simply enjoy regular sessions of self-flagellation, thinking that things are more negative than they actually are?

From a reputation management perspective alone, I think we have every reason to care. We should care because the resources that get abused are our collective resources; we should care because when funds get diverted from essential, planned programmes the same executive will come back to us – through parliament – to beg for more resources to misuse; we should care because in just less than a year’s time, the finance minister will come back with another exciting list of annual promises, infused with the usual PR spin, to tickle our underbellies without first outlining with the same meticulousness the extent to which different levels of government would have managed to spend according to the budget speech promises he made this year; we should care because if little appears to be done when abuse happens, our collective confidence will get eroded.

And when taxpayer confidence gets eroded, more people – especially those who get ‘gatvol’ and have enough resources to do so – will find more innovative ways to contribute as little as possible to the fiscus and thus deprive the country of much-needed funds for socioeconomic development.

Finally, we should care because we all love our country and want to continue travelling the world with our chins up, knowing that apart from the now-tired Nelson Mandela story, we continue to generate good stories to demonstrate that we’re the best to do business with.

Our collective national reputation rests on our ongoing vigilance.