Keeping your reputation ship shape

Crucial in any industry – but why especially so for fishing?

The fishing industry has come in for a lot of undue criticism over the last few years, with NGOs, politicians, journalists and campaigners all lining up to take a swipe. Many of these attacks can be characterised as sweeping statements backed by precious little factual evidence. Yet, attacks like these, even when founded on incorrect allegations, can cause serious damage to a company’s, or an entire industry’s, reputation. Therefore it is crucial that reputation management is seen as a necessary element of running your business and keeping it shipshape.

Recent research from BDO LLP and the Quoted Companies Alliance has shown small and medium sized companies attach 28 per cent of their value directly to reputation. With the UK fishing industry valued at more than £860m[1], that’s clearly quite a significant amount. As the fishing industry comes in for constant and heavy scrutiny, far more so than many other industries, one misstep can have severe consequences.

So just how serious an impact can a badly managed crisis have? When thinking about reputation meltdown and its impact on business value, a recent example that comes to mind is that of Volkswagen. The company lost over a third of its value (35 per cent) in just two days following the ‘dieselgate’ crisis where the company was found to be using cheat devices during emissions tests. That’s a hit of approximately €25bn.

The emergence of a crisis is sometimes completely unavoidable. What we remain in control of, however, is the response. Thankfully this is by far the most important aspect of ensuring reputations remain untarnished. It’s not too much to say that a well-crafted response to a crisis can be the difference between a short term nuisance and a permanently damaged reputation.

Our advice would be to ensure you’re first, fast and frank in your response to the issue. By being proactive in taking control of your response to customers, employees, suppliers, wider stakeholders and the media, you can set the tone for how it’s perceived down the line. If you’re seen to be addressing the situation seriously with a joined up plan across all your communications channels you can actually improve rather than damage the perception of your business.

It sounds easy when you put it like that, but to swiftly and effectively manage a crisis you need to have a plan in place long before you can see a potential issue looming on the horizon. By having a procedure clearly laid out for dealing with any problems, you’ll ensure your response is professional and level-headed. This includes identifying all operational responsibilities to communicating your plan of action – with digital media now being at the forefront of any crisis strategy.

However, reputation management is not all about deflecting crises. Proactively promoting a consistent, positive message about a business and its operations can be a brilliant boost to a business’ reputation and pays dividends in ensuring any negative issues are placed in the context of a much wider, positive piece.

The Saucy Fish Company recently won plaudits and a prestigious award for its School of Fish campaign, which saw a team of children prepare, cook and serve Saucy Fish products to a packed central London restaurant. By planning such a creative event, along with the inevitable cuteness factor brought by kids, the company pulled off a great stunt which led to substantial positive feedback – and the approval and increased interest of potential customers.

At Acceleris, we recently ran a proactive campaign of our own to dispel some of the myths surrounding the European fishing industry, communicating a more positive, consumer-friendly face for the sector. Working with Europêche, the European trade body representing 80,000 fishermen and 45,000 vessels from nine EU countries, Acceleris developed the consumer information portal iFish, designed to address the growing consumer appetite for information on the industry. The site provides facts and figures on the industry while boosting its favourability in the eyes of the public. The associated campaign secured almost 200 pieces of press coverage across Europe, reaching an audience of 140 million people. Every piece of coverage contained a positive message about the work of the industry and the campaign beat global brands including BP, BASF and Unilever to the European Excellence Award in Communications in Stockholm last December.

Clearly, the fishing industry has made good headway in recent years on improving its reputation and it’s great to see sympathetic programmes like The Catch and Trawlermen Tales hitting the mainstream. On the back of this, it’s brilliant to see the Fishing News Awards return after an eight year break. The awards, set to be held in Aberdeen on 26 May 2016, will celebrate the best commercial fishermen from across the UK and Ireland. With a fantastic buzz already surrounding the awards, this kind of event is exactly what the industry needs to capitalise, and improve even further, on its recent reputation boost.

Of course, everyday activity is crucial too – managing reputation is a continuing job. Most businesses don’t have the resources to put on a constant stream of events of this scale – likewise, it’s not simply enough to start trying to garner good favour once a crisis is already on your plate. Regularly share good news stories and CSR initiatives so people know the good work your business does. Not only is this good practice generally, it may determine how people react if a crisis does hit your company. It will also help you to develop strong relationships within the media which are useful to promote good news, but could also become handy when you have not-so good news to share.

The UK fishing industry provides over 31,000 jobs[2], almost £1bn to the economy and food security to the nation and abroad. Yet, these positive messages are in danger of becoming drowned out by well financed and well-resourced detractors. It’s time the industry took back the narrative and restored fishermen’s position as the heroes of the seas.

[1] The value of the 756,000 tonnes of sea fish landed by UK vessels into the UK and abroad.

[2] There are 11,800 active fishermen and 19,511 fish processors in the UK as of 2014

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *