RepTrak's annual Global Trends in Reputation report, which was conducted in Q4 2019, showed a corporate shift towards external reputation management prior to the coronavirus crisis.

Now that focus is being validated and tested for companies worldwide, with heightened public scrutiny on how businesses are responding to COVID-19 and the ensuing economic hardship.

With people struggling financially and emotionally on an unprecedented scale, stakeholders are increasingly measuring corporates by their ethical positions and proactive social engagement.

This should start with becoming a lot more human and being more audience-centric than ever before. This is because audiences expect new levels of empathy, sensitivity and relevance in our corporate activities.

Here are four critical components when it comes to building reputation authentically during the difficult months ahead:

1. Look after employees

The key drivers of corporate reputation in this crisis are employees. How companies treat them, keep them safe, put them ahead of profits, motivate them and inspire them by being part of the solution will have significant impact on employee and public perceptions.

Putting your own people first has got to be the top priority. Pernod Ricard South Africa has aimied to do this by paying staff in full while in lockdown. Despite not being able to trade right now, a solid employee engagement plan is in place to ensure people remain connected, while working from home.

Use this down time productively by offering employees training opportunities and embarking on new projects to prepare your business for a stronger comeback.

2. Address the critical issues

President Cyril Ramaphosa has outlined a three-pronged strategy to deal with COVID-19 and its consequences. This focuses primarily on the public health response to slow down and reduce infections.

Secondly, it focuses on a comprehensive package of economic support measures to assist businesses and individuals. Thirdly, there is increasing social support to protect poor and vulnerable households.

Look at where you can respond most authentically to assist in one or more of these critical areas. By way of example, Chivas Regal has stepped in to support small business owners and entrepreneurs with a digitally-led campaign.

"Business Unusual' consists of a series of live interviews, designed to inspire and support small business owners and entrepreneurs. Chivas Regal will also be giving away R35 000 in funding each week, providing a much-welcomed cash injection for this base.

3. Support local communities

Numerous contribution funds and collaborative initiatives have been set up to help fund and support COVID-19 relief efforts, and these both demand and deserve a generous response.

However, authentic help starts at home, with the immediate communities that you depend on for running your business. These inlcude those that you have existing ties with either from an employment, supply chain or CSI perspective.

Find ways to provide solutions to the challenges of these communities. Inverroche, a local craft gin in the Pernod Ricard stable, is made from Cape fynbos and, as such, is deeply rooted in the Hessequa community at its production facility in Stilbaai.

In recent weeks 2 500 meals cooked by distillery staff have been delivered to people living in informal settlements. Inverroche is also supplying hand sanitiser that is made from neutral spirits intended for production of gin. These have been given to essential services employees in the community.

4. Reach out to help important stakeholders

Which important audiences do you rely on to deliver your product or service during good times? Make these key stakeholders the focus of your outreach during this period of disruption.

For Pernod Ricard South Africa, the hospitality sector is a vital interface with consumers of our spirits brands. COVID-19 has had a devastating impact on this sector with many restaurants and bars forced to close.

As a gesture of support, and as a way of saying thank you to our trade partners, we launched the '#KeepTheSpirit' initiative, committing R2 million to help alleviate economic pressure on bartenders and waitering staff over the lockdown period.

Over 1 000 individuals engaged in video training and were rewarded with weekly cash payments. Ongoing commitment is being made in the form of further training materials and sales incentives.

Ultimately, companies will be remembered for doing the right thing, not just saying the right words during these challenging times. To build trust and reputation during COVID-19 we must find platforms to help; that help must be authentic.

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