Reputations matter. Our reputation matters in the home, in the workplace, among our friends and with our colleagues, our competitors, our customers and – in politics – our supporters. Our reputation might be ephemeral. It’s intangible and often invisible. But we all agree that it is, above all, invaluable. Reputations can take a lifetime to build but can be destroyed in a matter of seconds. Our reputation is a precious commodity that we will go to great lengths to preserve and protect.
I am delighted, therefore, to join you this morning for the 2011 annual Reptrak awards and I would like to thank Niamh Boyle for the kind invitation to this morning’s ceremony.
The size of the public relations industry and the number of defamation actions initiated in the courts are two measures of the importance of reputation in our lives and I doubt if you would be here in such numbers, if reputation was not important to you and to the companies you represent.
This year’s winners deserve the respect and admiration of everyone here and their friends and colleagues in the industries they represent. The companies in question are proof that there is a definite link between reputation and success. They are leaders in their respective industries and Reptrak is, therefore, to be commended in drawing attention to the link between reputation and commercial success.
We live in a competitive world and in a globalised society companies must compete in terms of price, quality and value. The strength of our current export performance would suggest that Irish firms are well able to compete in global markets. The role of Government is to foster an environment where those companies have the critical infrastructure they need and where costs are kept to a minimum.
But, if developing new markets is one thing, keeping them is another and this is where reputation matters. Reputation is key to maintaining customer loyalty. A company which listens to its customer base and is known to respect their preferences can expect to be rewarded in the marketplace. But the rewards do not stop there. Reputation is also a great motivator. Reputation matters in the workplace too. Workers will respond positively and enthusiastically to companies and organisations that put a value on corporate social responsibility.
Yes, indeed, the bottom line matters. Companies need to turn in a profit, if they are to survive. But real success in business is not about making a quick buck. Employees at all levels will respond with enhanced performance, if their work is meaningful and if the organisation they are working for is recognised for the value of the contribution it makes to the wider community.
There is no doubt that Ireland’s reputation has been damaged during the economic downturn and we are conscious of how the damage done to our reputation at a national level can have a negative impact across many sectors. The new Programme for Government recognises the need to restore our reputation in Europe and further afield and we are working on a strategy to that end.
When we entered office we gave a commitment that we would get the economy moving, create jobs and fix the banks. We will be announcing a jobs initiative shortly but we have already moved swiftly to re-capitalise and restructure the banks following the announcement of the stress tests at the end of March. Fixing the banks is a very important element in restoring our national reputation.
When the previous Government concluded a financial assistance package in November, the European Union and IMF bought into their plans, literally and figuratively. But it was clear to us that the markets had not and that the plan needed adjustment. We continue to make the case for adjustments and it is reassuring that the initial reaction from the markets to our changes to the banking sector has been so positive. The fall in the cost of our 10 year Government bonds since the banking announcements is a measure of the confidence the markets are beginning to show in the new Government’s plans and this renewed sense of confidence is a sign that slowly but surely our reputation is being restored.
These are early days and we have a long, hard road ahead of us. But we are convinced that the measures we are taking and the tough new governance arrangements which will apply to directors and senior executives in the banking sector will help lift a cloud over our financial industry which has impacted unfairly on the reputations of numerous businesses working hard in other sectors and, indeed, on our broader society.
On Friday, I will be meeting the Ambassadors of the other 26 member States of the European Union as part of a diplomatic initiative to explain our concerns, set out our policies and help restore our reputation. Dialogue is essential and I am convinced that progress can only be made by engaging with our friends and partners.
Our own Ambassadors and diplomatic service are already working hard on reputational matters. I was able to witness at first hand in New York and Washington how they target key opinion formers in governments, business and the international media over the Saint Patrick’s Day period. This work, of course, is ongoing. Our Embassy network works all year round with agencies such as Tourism Ireland, Enterprise Ireland, Culture Ireland, Science Foundation Ireland, Bord Bia and the IDA to get the message out that Ireland is open for business. Indeed, in the short time since the Government has taken office, key Embassies have helped ensure that that message is heard and seen on the airwaves and by millions of readers of prestigious business newspapers in Europe, Asia and beyond.
I am looking forward to meeting all of our Ambassadors here in Dublin shortly to discuss how we can best take this good work forward and briefing them on the importance the Government attaches to promoting and marketing Ireland abroad.
I want to conclude this morning by reiterating my thanks to Reptrak for the work they do in ensuring reputation is at the centre of corporate social responsibility and for highlighting the connection between reputation and success. I would also like to reassure you that reputation is not just a corporate concern, but a collective one, and that this Government puts a premium on pride in our national reputation. We are working hard to restore our national reputation because it matters to each of us no matter what walk of life we are involved in.
It is a truism to say that, if you are reduced to rebuttal, it is already too late. I firmly believe, therefore, that the best way to restore fully our reputation is to put in place strong policies on issues of national concern and to sell them vigorously to the community and to the wider world. The decisions we have taken on the banking sector demonstrate that strong, decisive moves can have a positive impact and I am confident that if we can make similar courageous moves in other domains we will over time win back the respect and esteem which were lost in recent years.
This morning’s winners are a reminder to us of the many benefits that can flow from an enhanced and carefully nurtured reputation. They have not taken reputational issues for granted and they deserve our congratulations for the care and attention they have paid to the concerns and expectations of their stakeholders. But they should also be an inspiration to the business community, to the country as a whole and to everyone who believes that, if we go about our business with a sense of integrity and probity, we can emerge from the current crisis with our self-esteem and national self-confidence restored.