Case Study 4: Communication for Reputation

Bachelor of Communication

Course: Reputation Management (COMM 7536)

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Who was involved? 

Communication experts have become an integral part of most businesses, their ability to create, target and deliver messages both internally and externally provides a vital role in developing and maintaining brand value. An essential element of this is reputation. In the third year of Unitec’s Communication  degree  students in the Public Relations major complete a course in Reputation Management (COMM7536) which focuses on developing awareness of the content of  internal and external information networks that contribute to the public image or reputation of an organisation – an important aspect of which is critiquing the online evidence of  their  stated  commitment to environmental and social responsibility.

This course is taught by Deborah Rolland, a senior lecturer in the Department of Communication Studies who delivers postgraduate and undergraduate courses in Strategic Communication, Persuasion and Communication Ethics and is a long-time member of Unitec’s Sustainability Committee.  Deborah’s research focuses on the influence of and motivation for corporate social responsibility within organisational communication. Students completing this degree go onto roles as communication assistants or managers, media researchers, public affairs managers, and government relations managers.

What Happened?

In Reputation Management students examine how global issues can impact on reputation by critiquing corporate websites looking closely for evidence of messages enabling organisational identity and values to be communicated. Sustainability has become a core issue for maintaining effective stakeholder relationships (both internal and external ones) and thus, their licence to operate in local and global societies. Students examine whether organisations address and communicate sustainability, social and environmental issues, in a way which matches growing stakeholder expectation for improved transparency, accountability and organisational commitment to sustainability. Students then go on to complete a project (30% of course marks) where they:

  • compare, contrast and evaluate two organisations within the same sector (eg Energy) for evidence of stakeholder engagement/ initiatives aligning with their online stated sustainability values
  • evaluate the international benchmarks utilised for reporting (eg IIR or GRI 4 annual reporting).

Examining sustainability reports, and global reporting indicators, is an important element of this course as they can add credibility to organisational identity and reputation. The assignment reinforces the importance of communication advisors in assisting organisations to become “listening organisations” where all  stakeholders’ values and societal concerns are honestly and transparently reflected in how the  organisation  operates and communicates about this.

A similar course is also offered within the Bachelor of Business Studies,  Sustainability in Business (BSNS7730) which is an elective available for students completing any of the majors offered. In this course students conduct a critical evaluation of businesses strategies from a sustainability perspective.  Students examine what corporate social responsibility is and the aspects of this reflected within  business. Groups complete in-depth reports on the organisation’s managerial functions and activities in relation to corporate social responsibility and examine the role of stakeholders in sustainability.

What was the Outcome?

At an industry consultation event held in 2015, where feedback was given from communications professionals already working in the sector on what they were looking for in graduates, a strong theme emerged. That is the need for students to have not just the right attitude to work, but also for them to be well rounded in terms of a good general knowledge about society, politics, current events, environmental and social issues and how they relate to the differing industries they work within. Through completion of both these courses, Unitec’s communication and business students learn how to identify and evaluate these issues in relation to different organisations, honing the skills and broader knowledge that will make them valuable in the workforce. It also enables them to identify sustainability issues, risks and opportunities (both internal and external) and to  meaningfully meet the communication and information management requirements for those stakeholders  in a variety of stable, change or crisis situations.

Links to related Sustainability Approaches and Resources:

The Story of Stuff

Sustainable Business Network

New Zealand Sustainable Business Council

Fair Trading Act – Consumer Protection