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How a renewable energy approach can help countries improve their reputation

While the importance of a good reputation in the private sector has long been recognised as a key enabler to be success, countries and governments often still lag behind the depth and understanding of reputational value. It is changing slowly, however. A good reputation has an impact on virtually every stakeholder in a country. There is the inside-perspective: For citizens being associated with a positive country offers emotional value (self-esteem). And then there is the external perspective: there is a lot of money at stake for the export industry (including tourism), attracting foreign direct investment (FDI) and much more. Especially in an increasingly transparent and intertwined world, governments can hardly look away when their good reputation is at stake - or, conversely, not acting when their reputation is already suffering. Reputation - as opposed to self-perception - is the perception that other people have of you. This can lead to quite big gaps between the perceived ‘self’ and reputation, e.g., the awareness and understanding by others. Russia, the USA, and since BREXIT also the UK are all experiencing pretty wide gaps between their very high self-perception and their not so great perception abroad.

So, what drives the reputation of a nation?

In recent years, the Reputation Institute has measured the reputation of the 55 largest economic powers in the G8 countries. The top positions were usually held by all Scandinavian countries, Canada, Switzerland, Australia and New Zealand. The Reputation Institute identified three factors that promote or reduce a nation’s reputation:

  1. Environmental perception (openness of the inhabitants, national beauty, lifestyle and also environmental protection measures)
  2. Government affairs (security, ethics, international responsibility, social and economic policies)
  3. Economy (education and reliability of the workforce, contribution to global culture, and the quality of products and services)

These three factors combined provide for increased esteem, more trust, as well as better feelings and more admiration towards a country. To play in the top league of nations, all three factors need to be considered.

What does renewable energy have to do with this?

"Australia ranked worst of 57 countries on climate change policy" (The Guardian), “Australian government continues to put coal production ahead of climate protection” (NZZ). These are definitely not the headlines that promote a country's reputation, and yet, Australia has to accept such articles over and over again. And rightly so, because Australia's government continues to promote its coal industry (Australia is the world's largest exporter of coal, which is the worst energy source for our climate). While other First World countries are setting themselves (ambitious) climate targets and trying to rely on more renewable and clean energy sources, Australia is sticking to the old status quo. The same article in The Guardian, on the other hand, praises Portugal's ambitions for its efforts to achieve a net-zero emission economy by 2050. For Australia, this has several negative consequences: firstly, the country is portrayed as backward and ruthless - in other words, it loses its impeccable reputation, and secondly, it is about to lose its allies on the global stage (especially its closest ally, the USA, as the Biden government is determined to take decisive action against climate change). Thirdly, it misses a great opportunity to get a piece of the renewable energy cake and fourthly, future Australian governments will be faced with a huge problem: The moment China stops buying coal from Australia, the entire coal industry in Australia – employing some 50,000 people - is at threat.

Who gains reputational value through a renewable energy approach?

"Solar power reflects Morocco's energy ambitions"(Financial Times). The Kingdom of Morocco is an impressive example of how things can get much better. The country has understood that renewable energy sources (especially solar power plants in the Sahara) increase Morocco's energy security (reducing dependence on foreign energy) and can be exported and commercialised in the future. Positive side effect: according to the Climate Action Tracker, Morocco (and The Gambia) are the only countries that will meet the climate targets of the Paris Agreement. This, in turn, is causing much applause in the international arena and results in countless positive media articles applauding Morocco, as the above example from the FT shows. Morocco has understood the signs of times and knows how to play its cards: Marrakech organised the COP22 - the UN World Climate Change Conference in 2016 - where Morocco, once again, proved to be an African leader for a greener world. In fact, Morocco is playing its environmental card so well that political unrest around the Western Sahara conflict, a severe imbalance between men's and women's education and other internal challenges are being pushed out of the public eye.

Anyone who thinks that Morocco is an exception is mistaken. Plenty of other countries are investing in renewable energy for their own future and their reputation. Costa Rica, the small Central American country with about 5 million inhabitants has been causing sensational headlines for years with its climate efforts: "Costa Rica is moving towards carbon neutrality faster than any other country in the world", wrote Vox. This makes the country shine in the public spotlight. But the prime example par excellence is probably Norway. "Why is Norway so far ahead of the rest when it comes to renewable energy?" is the question asked by National Geographic. And indeed, Norway's internal greenhouse gas balance is excellent thanks to almost 100% green electricity and an exemplary electrification model on roads and even in shipping traffic. The question why Norway has progressed so far is in fact easy to answer: the country's entire prosperity is based on the export of its (climate-damaging) oil and gas deposits. Norway thus shows that also the reputation of a fossil fuel exporting country can be perceived as a leader for a more climate-friendly world if the country visibly invests in renewable, clean energy sources. And, again, Norway is by no means the only net-exporter of fossil fuel investing into its green future and “green-reputation”. Saudi Arabia recently launched a $28 billion renewable energy funding initiative, and the United Arab Emirates are hosting the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA).

Looking at these findings makes it actually pretty easy to advise Australia: If they want to uphold its great reputation it might be wise to do a bit more in terms of renewable energy investment and a bit less in terms of coal subsidies. For its reputation – and for the climate.

Learn more about how we can help you, your company or your country when it comes to reputation.

Cancelled business trips or events, media enquiries, anxious employees, and requests by your board or stakeholders on how you have prepared - By now your company has probably been affected by SARS-CoV-2, known as the Coronavirus. So, how can your corporate communications avoid misunderstandings and prevent reputational damage?

Reputation Affairs has listed useful tips to navigate your company successfully through these challenging times.

You are not (yet) affected by the Coronavirus?

If you are not (yet) directly affected you might find the following points interesting in terms of a driver for positive change within your company.

How can we help you?

We at Reputation Affairs are happy to support your company if you have any questions or challenges around the Coronavirus, especially around the following scenarios:

Get in touch with us to define your perfect strategy, we look forward to hearing from you.

Why you should be transparent – and why not

The Internet made the world more transparent, transparency creates credibility, credibility increases reputation – and a good reputation is the essence in todays’ age of the internet. The formula of this cycle is easy to understand. But is it also correct? What if transparency complicates business, what if published information is misunderstood, and what if your stakeholders prefer to withhold information? Will transparency suddenly become a curse rather than open, good intention? This article shows the importance but also the consequences of transparency in the often-criticized extractive industry.

Transparency is the "Swiss army knife of policy tools". A description that is often made – and not without good reason. Transparency challenges the privacy of companies and state sovereignty over and over again. Invoked in many highly critical areas such as security, financial policy, economics, corruption, human rights, and the environment, to name but a few. Thus, industries involved in all these areas are the most challenged. This applies, among other sectors, to the raw materials industry – regardless of whether gold and diamonds are extracted, oil drilled, or gas shipped to foreign countries: this is about safety for employees and the environment, about technological leadership, about human rights – and about money. A lot of money.

Being a winner thanks to transparency

Particularly in developing countries and emerging markets, the management of natural resources can generate revenues that are important for economic growth and social development. However, failure to disclose information on these revenues can lead to mistrust, weakening of administrative and governance standards, or even conflict. If it leads to conflicts or disregarded human rights standards, bad publicity is awaiting around the corner for the companies involved; damaging their reputation, followed by financial losses. Transparency with regard to the management of raw materials is an important prerequisite for ensuring that a country's natural resources benefit the population. Because publicly accessible information promotes an informed debate on the management and use of natural resources. This way, the citizens of a country may hold accountable those being responsible in politics and businesses. Local politicians may show how they deal responsibly with the environment, international companies show that they behave legally, economically and (hopefully) morally correct, and the home countries of the involved companies may check that international standards are being observed.

Many companies are pro-transparency...

When it comes to transparency, involved companies often have to balance interests, because many of them advocate disclosure of the money flows to promote their own credibility, especially in their countries of origin – mostly OPEC countries – where commodity traders often have to listen to a lot of criticism. Transparency helps to reduce prejudices, correct misinformation and fight fake news. The own employees stand behind the company, and the cooperation with NGO's becomes easier and more fruitful for both sides. At Exxon Mobil for instance, this is expressed as follows:

"We are committed to sincere and ethical behaviour and to fighting corruption by promoting transparency initiatives. In the countries where we do business, we are actively committed to signing transparency agreements to disclose government revenue. In detail, these are: Azerbaijan, Chad, the joint development zone of Nigeria/São Tomé and Príncipe, Kazakhstan and Nigeria." ExxonMobil, 2019

ExxonMobil proved that these are not just empty words when back in 1998 they led a consortium of Western oil companies asking the World Bank to jump on board for a planned pipeline project in Chad and Cameroon. The idea was that the Bank's involvement offset the reputational risk posed by investing in a conflict-prone, undemocratic country through a project drawing high levels of NGO attention. The bank agreed to draft a plan on how Chad should manage its future returns. In addition to protections of the environment and local communities, the resulting legislation required transparent and development-focused revenue expenditures monitored by oversight bodies which included civil society, legislative, and international members (Gillies, 2010).

... but are being slowed down by governments

Yet, implementing transparency does not always achieve its desired outcomes. Studies have found that despite the EITI auditing requirement (I’ll explain this later), member states (and companies) may not produce complete and reliable data (Van Alstine, 2014).Also, the lack of a strong and educated domestic civil society that can actually understand "transparency" may hinder the effectiveness of revenue transparency. In many countries, residents do not even know which rights they actually have. Thirdly, there is no scientific evidence that a transparent cash flow actually contributes to better and more resource-oriented growth. And finally, there are also quite trivial reasons why governments have little interest in transparency: corruption, money laundering and self-enrichment occur again and again. In order to counteract these unpleasant aspects, global initiatives have been in place since the late 1990s to achieve greater transparency – By the way: at the same time, the term CSR (Corporate Social Responsibility) became increasingly popular.

International initiatives

The Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI) is probably the best-known and largest global initiative for greater financial transparency and accountability in the collection and disclosure of revenues from natural resource extraction. The standard is implemented in some 50 countries around the world by governments in collaboration with business and civil society. Information on tax payments, licenses, production volumes and other important data relating to the extraction of energy and mineral resources must be disclosed. Many large corporations are active members of the initiative, including Swiss based Glencore for example:

"Glencore is committed to high standards of corporate governance and transparency and welcome increased transparency around the redistribution and reinvestment of such payments. We seek to maintain long-term, open, transparent and cooperative relationships with tax authorities in our host countries." Glencore, 2019

Of course, there are countless other organizations and social movements promoting more transparency. For example, Transparency International, which fights corruption worldwide. And “Publish what you pay” (PWYP), founded from an alliance of London-based NGOs, including Global Witness, Open Society Institute, Catholic Agency for Overseas Development (CAFOD), Oxfam GB, Save the Children UK, and Transparency International UK, now includes more than 650 civil society organisations in over 50 countries.

In summary: Transparency yes, but...

Ironically, some companies are afraid that too much transparency will make them vulnerable because their value chains are complicated. This can lead to public shaming, which in turn creates complex reputational dynamics. For instance, a company could perceive that bad press scares off consumers, attracts legal investigations, lowers employee morale, and threatens shareholder confidence. Nevertheless, the benefits of transparency clearly outweigh and will become even more important in the future. Because “not to inform” is much more likely to cause negative publicity. And in the age of the Internet, a multinational company can simply no longer afford this.

Learn more about how we can support your business.

 

Sources

Gillies, A. (2010) ‘Reputational Concerns and the Emergence of Oil Sector Transparency as an International Norm’, International Studies Quarterly. Oxford, UK: Blackwell Publishing Ltd, 54(1), pp. 103–126. doi: 10.1111/j.1468-2478.2009.00579.x.

Van Alstine, J. (2014) ‘Transparency in Resource Governance: The Pitfalls and Potential of “New Oil” in Sub-Saharan Africa’, Global Environmental Politics, 14(1), pp. 20–39.

Reliability issues and the consequences for scientists, policy makers and the media

 

Global Climate Models (GCM) play a crucial role in understanding climate change in general and anthropogenic climate change specifically. With growing importance, their reliance is key to predict manmade climate change and to deduce consequential actions. This is where a considerable debate over fidelity and utility starts. If GCM’s fail due to a lack of information, calculation errors or natural anomalies in the climate system, climate change deniers instantly use this momentum to criticize governments approaches towards a low or even zero carbon future. For international organizations such as the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), part of the UN and responsible for reports about climate change, but also for policy makers who have to deduce actions and finally the media who has to inform the public, there is a lot at stake, especially the potential of a reputational loss.

Reliability issues of global climate models

Constructing a climate model means selecting thousands of different parameters which need to be assessed and weighted individually. Understandably these highly sophisticated models are fragile towards errors since just one wrongly weighted variable will result in an unprecise outcome. And there are more difficulties: The models are only capable of taking into account 20th century observations and are therefore unable to calculate with a decadal-to-century timescale. Criticism is not new as Spencer and Christy (1990) argued almost 30 years ago that the tropical troposphere temperature, measured by a satellite, did not show a similar warming to that of the tropics surface temperature. They saw this as proof that no global warming took place and hence the so-called greenhouse effect was in fact non existing. Not surprisingly those findings were picked up immediately by a conservative radio show (Rush Limbaugh) and were used as proof against climate change. Today, various researchers also point out that there is evidence that climate models are exaggerating the effect of global warming due to increased atmospheric carbon dioxide – one of the measures for anthropogenic climate change. Despite the criticism, though, GCM’s are undoubtedly important for various actors and, by the way, GCM’s are backed up by a majority of researchers. So, who has to deal with GCM’s and what are the risks they deal with?

“I don’t believe it” Donald Trump on the Fourth National Climate Assessment

Impact for international organizations and policy makers

First and foremost: International organizations and policy makers. One of the most prominent examples are the reports produced by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), which are responsible for the knowledge used in the Paris Agreement in 2015. Needless to say, that the IPCC is therefore keen not to make any mistakes and relies on exact models. This is where the issues outlined in the previous paragraphs play a significant role, because the IPCC had to deal with a potentially negative finding: Some researchers noted that the IPCC’s Fifth Assessment Report (AR5) was formulated less precise than the Forth Assessment Report (AR4) which was published several years earlier. This basically means, that the IPCC had to admit that the real impact of humans on climate change is not as well-known as they had thought.

Putting the critics aside, the IPCC is by no mean casual when setting up new reports and is eager to work with a huge variety of scientists from all over the world in order to write the most precise assessments. When asked to write a new report, the IPCC usually starts with a scoping phase. This includes drafting an outline and developing the most suitable experts who are nominated by governments and observer organizations. Once the panel and the outline are approved, authors are nominated and at a later stage selected by the IPCC. The authors are then asked to prepare a first draft which is reviewed by an expert’s panel. The second draft is accompanied by an extended Summary for Policymakers (SPM) and both documents will be reviewed by governments and experts. From this point onwards, the draft papers go back and forth between the expert’s panel and the involved governments until a final draft is set up. This final draft will then be approved and accepted by all involved parties and is prepared to be published as an official IPCC report. (IPCC, 2017)

Challenge for the media

Once the reports (e.g. IPCC) are published, they do not only affect policy makers but also public perception about (anthropogenic) climate change. Hence, it is fair to say that the way the media construct scientific knowledge influences the public opinion strongly (Antilla, 2010). Google, for instance, lists more than half a million findings for the IPCC’s last assessment report, and newspapers all over the world covered those findings. Yet, for newspapers and other outlets climate change is still a bit of a hot potato due to several reasons. Writing about risks in the future, based on climate change models and reports, is not the same as an objective report about something that has already happened and for which there is proof. This results in a situation, where climate change friendly journalists may be accused as sensationalist, while climate change deniers are seen as non-scientific, too industry friendly or even conspiracy driven. Yet, many journalists realized the significance of media coverage on climate change issues, since coverage is of great importance to support politicians and NGO’s in their attempt to implement new rules, laws, and recommendations.

“There’s a risk that writing about risks in the future will end up being sensationalist or exaggerated. But frankly the public is better served by information about future risks that they can do something about than about those that have already played out” Nicholas Kristof, New York Times columnist

Symbiotic systems need trust, and trust is reputation

The danger that just one of the involved parties does a foul play – resulting in unforeseeable reputational damage for all actors – is not to be dismissed and should, for as good as possible, be eliminated. For the scientific part, this means that findings should be backed up as good as possible by regulations, frameworks and peer reviews. For governments and international organizations, the challenge is to make sure that the deduced action is in the best interest of everyone and not just for the own or associated countries. And last but not least, journalists must be careful that they speak as objectively as possible about climate change, so that their message is not categorised as either too sensational or too much of climate denying.

Scientists, international organizations, policy makers and the media. Those four involved parties are heavily dependent on each other and live, at least to some extent, in a symbiotic system, which means that trust amongst the partners is crucial. Trust, in this case, means having a clean reputational sheet – and an honest and transparent handling of the data amongst all players.

References and further reading

Antilla, L. (2010) ‘Self-censorship and science: A geographical review of media coverage of climate tipping points’, Public Understanding of Science, 19(2), pp. 240–256. doi: 10.1177/0963662508094099.

Curry, J. (2017) ‘Assignment 1 Curry-2017 Climate Models .pdf’, GWPF, GWPF Brief, pp. 1–12.

Douglass, D.H & Singer, S. F. (2005) ‘Climate Data Disagree with Climate Models Policy Dilemma: Should We Believe in Atmosphere or in Models?’, American Geophysical Union.

IPCC (2013a) ‘Appendix A to the Principles Governing IPCC Work’, (February 2003), pp. 15–18.

IPCC (2013b) Summary for Policymakers. In: Climate Change 2013: The Physical Science Basis. Contribution of Working Group 1 to the Fifth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Available at: https://www.ipcc.ch/pdf/assessment- report/ar5/wg1/WG1AR5_SPM_FINAL.pdf.

IPCC (2014) Climate Change 2014: Synthesis Report; Chapter Observed Changes and their Causes, Ipcc. Edited by F. Pachauri, Rajendra K Meyer, Leo Van Ypersele, Jean-Pascal Brinkman, Sander Van Kesteren, Line Leprince-Ringuet, Noëmie Van Boxmeer. doi: 10.1046/j.1365-2559.2002.1340a.x.

IPCC (2017) ‘The IPCC and the Sixth Assessment cycle’, IPCC Leaflets, p. 4. Available at: http://www.ipcc.ch/pdf/ar6_material/AC6_brochure_en.pdf.

Lloyd, E. A. (2012) ‘Confirmation and Robustness of Climate Models’, Philosophy of Science, 77(5), pp. 971–984. doi: 10.1086/657427.

Lynn, J. and Zabula, W. (2006) ‘outcomes-of-cop21-and-ipcc @ public.wmo.int’. IPCC. Available at: https://public.wmo.int/en/resources/bulletin/outcomes-of-cop21-and-ipcc.

Nisbet, M. and Mooney, C. (2006) ‘The Next Big Storm: Can Scientists and Journalists Work Together to Improve Coverage of the Hurricane-Global Warming Controvery?’, Commitee for Skeptical Inquiry. Available at: www.csicop.org/scienceandmedia/hurricanes.

Parry, M. L. et al. (2007) Climate Change 2007: Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability. Contribution of Working Group II to the Fourth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Available at: https://www.ipcc.ch/site/assets/uploads/2018/03/ar4_wg2_full_report.pdf.

Spencer, R. and Christy, J. (1990) ‘Precise monitoring of global temperature .pdf’, Science, 247, pp. 1558–1562.

Weatherhead, E. C. et al. (2017) ‘Designing the Climate Observing System of the Future’, pp. 80–102. doi: 10.1002/eft2.267.

Winsberg, E. (2012) ‘Values and Uncertainties in the Predictions of Global Climate Models’, Kennedy Institute of Ethics Journal, 22(2), pp. 111–137. doi: 10.1353/ken.2012.0008.

 

Deep reputability for economic longevity

“Money is the McMansion in Sarasota that looks good and starts falling apart after a few years. Power is the old stone building that stands for centuries.” - said the protagonist of House of Cards.1 Any leader, manager or executive that is able to think in the long-term knows that – economic cycles and a myriad of other factors aside - without deep reputability economic longevity is impossible to secure. 19 of the top 25 corporations that were in Fortune 500 list in 1961 don’t exist anymore.2 Three fourth of all the corporations that made to the top 500 corporations list of Fortune since the beginning in the 1950s have disappeared.2

What could be the handy frameworks to use when analyzing the long-standing organizations with deep reputability? Some of the frameworks that game-theorists use have useful applications for strategists managing reputation.

“Some of the frameworks that game-theorists use have useful applications for strategists managing reputation.”

As a science of strategy, game theory is so efficient that historically back when societies hadn’t overcome particular taboos yet, such clever figures with analytical abilities as, say, Dr. John Dee, advisor to the Queen, would at some point be arrested for crimes as ‘calculating’.3 For the same reason even today some societies where religious dogma is still present, the intellectual game of chess is declared as forbidden by the officials.

Analyzing social systems using mathematical methods is what some game theorists do. Since processes as strategic decision-making and human relations are integral parts of these social systems they are important for the reputation managers. Analyzing in this way reveals how corporations, brands and organizations are born, how their inner dynamics develop, how they evolve but most importantly why some die early while others have a longer lifespan.

After identifying the key categories of organizations that have both deep reputability and have achieved significant longevity, it is necessary to take into account the common denominator among them. It is clear that there are shared characteristics among the approaches of traditional institutions as the Vatican Church or the United Grand Lodge of England, academic institutions as the long-established universities and heritage-oriented luxury brands as Breguet or Hennessey.

Their sine qua non components for economic longevity are

Long-term commitment, evolutionary stability, the mentor-mentee tradition, being guided by timeless verities, taking slow but sure steps and internal cultures led by universal values resulted in their durable trusted reputation. The durable trusted reputation is not to be confused with the short-term or temporary reputation because the mechanism that creates durable trusted reputation incentivizes cooperation, commitment and contribution. This is why despite the various reputational crises throughout their past they were able to stay above the times and prolong their life.

Family values and inter-generational thinking is also a classic characteristic of deeply reputable brands that ensure economic longevity. They tend to apprehend the intricacies of long-termism better than others. Thus they can see what’s far ahead of them. For instance, the ex-CEO of Faber-Castell, a 260-year-old brand, Count Anton-Wolfgang von Faber-Castell, explained saying: “We family entrepreneurs naturally find it easier to think in terms of generations and to see through projects whose fruits will not be reaped for perhaps decades, and only after setbacks. In a listed company, this attitude would have got me fired at least three times by now, especially in the days when shareholder value was the be-all and end-all, and the goal of short-term profit eclipsed any long-term considerations.” 4

“The impact of experience and evidence on reputation does last. ‘I believe it when I see it.’”

History has shown to us how brands with deep reputability and strong value-systems pass the test of time, not only in the sense that they don’t die but also in the sense that they tend to stand above the economic ups and downs or political regimes.

It is important to acknowledge that these common characteristics function only when they are lived deeply. In other words, merely talking about them or putting them in the mission/vision section of a website isn’t the point. The impact of experience and evidence on reputation does last. ‘I believe it when I see it.’

References

  1. Netflix. “House of Cards | ‘Power’ | Netflix (:20 Post).” YouTube, YouTube, 4 Feb. 2013, www.youtube.com/watch?v=PDUh7geek4w.
  2. Masonlar, Masonluk ve. “Prof. Remzi Sanver | Hür Masonluk | PERYÖN 2012.” YouTube, YouTube, 17 Aug. 2017, www.youtube.com/watch?v=GsdvZ8QoruU.
  3. Winters, Riley. “John Dee: Scholar, Astrologer, and Occult Practitioner That Captivated the Royal Court of 16th Century England.” Ancient Origins, Ancient Origins, 6 Oct. 2018, www.ancient-origins.net/history-famous-people/john-dee-scholar-astrology-and-occult-practitioner-captivated-royal-court-020412.
  4. Count Anton-Wolfgang von Faber-Castell, https://familybusiness.ey-vx.com/pdfs/54-59.pdf

“It takes twenty years to build a reputation and five minutes to ruin it,” says Warren Buffet. A quote which, thanks to digitalization, is even more true today than it was ever before. But what happens after those critical five minutes when things just don’t go the way they should, or even worse, what if you are negatively portrayed in media without any wrongdoing on your part (think ‘Fake News’)? Will your reputation be tarnished forever, or do you have a right to be forgotten?

The right to be forgotten is a concept that involves the idea of every person having the right to have his or her personal information, which is somehow available on the internet, deleted. The most popular case occurred in Spain in 2014, when Mario Costeja González asked Google to delete links to an old newspaper articles about his bankruptcy. The piece, just 36 words long and dating back from 1998, had a prominent position among Googles’ search result. He argued that the information was outdated and had no legitimacy to still be found. The case was brought to the European Court of Justice. The court ruled that search engines as data controllers are obliged to consider deletion requests if they are justified. The result of this case was, that Google, as soon as facts about it were made public, was overrun with deletion requests. However, this did not solve Mr. Costeja Conzáles problem and in fact, the victory was pyrrhic: While he had concerns about 36 words prior to the court case, 850 articles in the world’s largest media outlets were published the day after the court ruled in favour of him. The famous Streisand effect caught up with him. That was not the only problem, though. In this specific case, only Google Spain was taken to court, which means that the link was still accessible on pages in other languages. Moreover, the right to be forgotten is in direct conflict with the notion of an open web and a free flow of information. Jimmy Wales, the founder of Wikipedia, describes the EU’s right to be forgotten as “deeply immoral”. The biggest critics argue that this so-called right represents a step towards media censorship.

The Basics

The General Data Protection Regulation or in short GDPR, which went into effect in all EU Member States on 25 May 2018, regulates the “right to erasure” in Art. 17. The title of this article contains the addition in brackets "Right to be forgotten". However, the provision mainly contains rights and obligations to delete certain data. Only Article 17.2 continues with the idea of the right to be forgotten, to prevent or reverse the (further) dissemination of personal data (in particular on the internet), at least to some extent. The regulation reads as follows:

Where the controller has made the personal data public and is obliged pursuant to paragraph 1 to erase the personal data, the controller, taking account of available technology and the cost of implementation, shall take reasonable steps, including technical measures, to inform controllers which are processing the personal data that the data subject has requested the erasure by such controllers of any links to, or copy or replication of, those personal data.

Long story short

To this day, the right to be forgotten is not specifically regulated by law. The data protection laws, which are country-specific, only contain provisions on the conditions under which personal data must be deleted.

From a technical point of view, solutions have not yet been found to guarantee the eradication of outdated or wrong content. X-pire, for example, is a software that allows users to give their pictures an expiration date after which the photo becomes unrecognizable. Yet neither this nor any other program on the market offers complete protection, as copies of the pictures could be made and reposted before the originals are encrypted.

So, what now?

Ultimately, your most promising choice is to reach out to the person who uploaded the content and to apply for deletion on the relevant websites and search engines. This is time-consuming but guarantees the fastest success if your request is justified. Therefore, you firstly try to get in touch and make your case. If you are an organization that is already exposed in media, you need to proceed with caution as an aggressive behaviour from your side can easily backfire. This also hinges on a positive and good reputation that you have already in place. Secondly, if you have credible grounds to be believe that content is defamatory on a personal or corporate level, you can request removal based on reputational damage. Let’s look at these options. For example, the most popular search engine, Google, offers its own pages for deletion requests.

Apply to delete outdated content on Google

This request can only be submitted for pages or images that have already been modified or removed from the Web. Simply enter the URL that you copied from Google search results and request removal. If the request is successful, the cached result and snippet will be removed from Google search results.

Apply to delete other content on Google

On this page, you will find instructions on where to report content that you wish to be removed from Google's services in accordance with applicable law. This procedure, however, is much more time-consuming than the deletion of outdated content, as Google asks for background information on why they should delete this content. One also needs to bear in mind that transparency is fundamental for Google: Without having legal evidence, deletion requests are often turned down. There are many points to consider for your request to be successful. Is there public interest behind the information? Is the information time-critical? Are public figures involved?

With that being said, even if there are doubts as to whether your application is justified or not, it may be worth making the claim. There are many examples where Google has granted the request for cancellation, although there was no right to do so. Should Google reject the request, a written justification must be provided. If you don't agree with the justification, you may file a lawsuit against it.

File a lawsuit

The final option, if all claims are rejected, is to go to court. The extent to which this is promising depends on the individual case: Are personal rights violated? Was there a violation of honor? Does the negative content perhaps even concern unfair competition? Is it a public person? Is the offender known or is it a complaint against an unknown person? There are many reasons for and against (not) going to court. But what is already clear in advance: a court case is time-consuming, expensive, and may have to be repeated in different countries until all links, photos and posts disappear.

It may only take five minutes to ruin your reputation – but what happens after these ominous 5 minutes is at least partly in your own hands. Repairing reputational damage can be done, but it is no easy feat. Your best bet is to make sure everything is in place not to provoke negative mentions to start with. Learn more on how Reputation Affairs can support you on that journey.

According to a survey by Deloitte, 87% of executives rate reputation risk as more important than other strategic risks.1 Despite the fact that the global business class has come a long way in its efforts to linearize reputation management, it still doesn’t change the reality that, inherently, much of its nature is non-linear. It is due to its complex nature that corporations come across numerous unexpected and inconsistent veracities in relation to reputation.

Manners Make the Brand Rep?

The internal brand culture and holistic performance make up the behavior of a company. As any insider would agree, a positive or a negative reputation strongly depends on the behavior of an organization. This then gives way to the reasonable conclusion that good behavior equals good reputation. Manners make the brand rep. However, as in the words of Albert Einstein: “Everything should be made as simple as possible, but not simpler.” This is especially true when it comes to such complex notions such as corporate reputation.

“So as much as reputation management, by today, can be called a science, it, unfortunately, still is not an exact one.”

So as much as reputation management, by today, can be called a science, it, unfortunately, still is not an exact one. Precedents in economic history have taught us thus far that it is a non-linear or complex component. A widely known situation of such complexity that is frequently evident in the corporate world today is when a corporation finds its reputation under threat, despite its model behavior. In other words, reputational crisis, in some cases, hits even those corporations that deserve it the least.

A Living Organism

With its complex processes a corporation is, in many ways, a living organism analogous to the human body. Even those who take care of their bodies, eat well, exercise and live a healthy lifestyle can still fall severely ill. How is it that people who have lived very healthily can actually die younger than those who smoked excessively, drank heavily and ate carelessly? The medical explanation for the suffering of those who don’t deserve to suffer lies in their predilection for certain diseases. The same applies to today’s corporations and the industries to which they belong. Some of them have a particular reputational predisposition that others don’t have.

If a corporation has a predisposition to reputational crisis, does it mean that whatever move it makes all investments in reputation building will fall short? No, it is not so. Regardless of how complex this issue appears to be at first sight there are still solutions for it because it is not the first time this has occurred in the world of commerce. There is a well-trodden road or a tried and tested way of overcoming this in order to improve business results. It’s a matter of knowing what measures to take before and after. It’s also about communications professionals being able to reduce complexity to the minimum.

“No matter how complex this issue appears to be there are still solutions for it because it is not the first time this has occurred.”

In some cases, the predisposition is not even of the corporation itself but in the industry the corporation belongs to. Take the banking industry as an example. How many industries do you know that are described with terms such as ‘cartel’, ‘led to the global economic recession’ or ‘shadow system’ in legitimate academic textbooks? Despite efforts to manage reputation during the post-recession period, banks began seeing their reputation again in 2018 after five years.2 In any case, the priority should be in being pro-active rather than reactive. Amateurs tend not to do their homework and in turbulent times tend to react, if not overreact to almost every little thing, while responsible professionals prepare and, when the time is right, respond.

“The returns on investment will increase if all communication that affects reputation is crafted in the way that it appeals not only to customers but also to the other stakeholders.” 

Returns on investment will increase if all communication that affects reputation is crafted in a way that appeals not only to customers, but also to company stakeholders  (i.e. employees, shareholders, partners etc.). It is important to remember that corporate reputation gains and retains strength only when cared for holistically. In other words, along with the corporate communications department, all other departments including HR, IT, the board of directors and the C-Suite need to take responsibility for all possible reputational realities. Examples of best practice are common within the cultures of many luxury brands. In fact, a study in the UK revealed that almost half of the top ten brands with high reputation were from the luxury industry.3

Return On Integrity

Overcoming reputational crisis may require taking risk to build trust. This indicates that decision-makers there to prevent or solve the problems need to adopt lateral thinking. If it is not a common reputational reality then it requires uncommon sense. Integrity in this context is about making the right decision to take the right step, which can be an unpopular one. ROI here stands for Return On Integrity.

References:

  1. [email protected] | Deloitte | Survey, Global, Reputation, Risk.” Deloitte, 30 Oct. 2018, www2.deloitte.com/global/en/pages/governance-risk-and-compliance/articles/reputation-at-risk.html.
  2. Garver, Rob. “Bank Reputations Fall for First Time in Five Years: 2018 Survey.” American Banker, 28 June 2018, www.americanbanker.com/news/bank-reputation-survey.
  3. “3 Surveys Summarised: Reputation Institute, Watson Helsby and Vuelio.” PR Measured, 18 Apr. 2016, prmeasured.com/3-surveys-summarised-reputation-institute/.
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