Supply Chain Transparency Offers Reputational Opportunities

December 22, 2015

gr-bradbury-blogFocusing on supply chain sustainability has long been a no-brainer for corporations seeking to build reputational capital and protect brands from the vocal environmental activists who emerged in the ‘90s. Similarly today, public awareness of supply chain transparency issues is increasing, particularly when it comes to human rights (labor abuses, operations impacting geopolitically contested areas, controversial contracts, etc.). Unfortunately, corporate communications is still playing “catch-up” when it comes to supply chain consumer transparency, with a host of brands recently facing public scrutiny for supply chain practices that can have a lasting impact on the brand. What we can learn from these scenarios is that the circumstances of how the supply chain practices were revealed—usually by a source other than the company—were just as damaging to public perception as the substance of those revelations themselves.

The good news is that companies can mitigate, or even avoid, the reputational damage caused by supply chain transparency issues by taking a proactive approach. Here are three suggestions:

1. Create the narrative on your terms: Make information available to consumers through the channels, messages and positioning that the company creates and controls to tell a positive story, rather than reacting to a negative one. This might take the form of a branded consumer awareness or education campaign around a supply chain issue particularly relevant to your industry.

2. Build coalitions: Seek out and engage third party allies to help tell your supply chain story, validate your information and create a sense of accountability for consumer commitments. For example, partner with an NGO, research organization or advocacy group that is perceived as a credible expert in the space to investigate the supply chain issue and make recommendations for improvements.

3. Drive industry consensus: Identify and help solve a broader industry problem to create context around your supply chain story, position your company as an industry expert and build a thought leadership platform around the issue. Focusing on an issue that is systemic or relevant to more than one company implies that the solution is also a responsibility to be shared. Companies that are proactive in raising awareness about a cause, rallying industry peers around a “call to action” for improvement and encouraging collaboration to solve supply chain issues stand to gain substantial reputational equity with consumers.

Supplier compliance requirements and developing supply chain policies, etc. are all factors that suggest many companies know the importance of this issue and are actively working to increase visibility throughout the supply chain. With the right communications strategy, supply chain transparency can present a unique opportunity to create a brand-differentiating narrative around a cause and “own” the issue as a thought leadership platform (click to tweet).

As the Director of Ketchum’s Issues and Crisis Management Group, John Bradbury provides strategic issues management, litigation communications and crisis counsel to a wide array of clients for Ketchum around the world. He has worked on behalf of multi-national companies in the food, agriculture, telecommunications, technology and services, chemical, transportation, pharmaceutical, consumer products and packaged goods, restaurant and banking/financial services industries. John is also the co-leader of Ketchum Gameplan, a joint, sports issues & crisis, offering between the firm’s Sports & Entertainment and Crisis and Issues Management practices.

At Ketchum, Mr. Bradbury has developed and executed issues management programs to manage issues and negative perceptions that threaten clients’ brands and corporate reputations. He has counseled clients in crisis situations, including product recalls, workplace safety situations, data breaches, labor actions, activist and NGO campaigns, financial distress and bankruptcy proceedings, investigative media and regulatory inquiries. In addition, he has expertise in litigation communications, including national product liability and class action litigation, labor issues, intellectual property rights and other high-profile litigation assignments.