Portland worked with ComRes to conduct extensive research across the public and MPs to gauge feeling about how people see the value of business today.
1. Regardless of their own views, people feel like the mood around them is worsening
Both MPs and the public express a range of nuanced views about different sectors or businesses, but they tend to report that, in their view, the general mood in the UK is getting more negative. 72% of MPs report their constituents are a little or a lot less trusting towards business than they used to be; 67% of the public say trust has declined in the last five years.
There is a sense that MPs feel less angry than they believe their constituents do, and the public feel that their friends and neighbours are more negative than they are themselves. Clearly such a statement cannot be true for everyone, but it demonstrates how the overall atmosphere makes it difficult for business to move opinion on a broad scale, even if individuals can be persuaded.
2. People feel they ought to think about a business’s work for the environment and charity more than they actually do
Classic CSR policies get a polite reception when people are confronted by them – from a list including charitable donations and environmental policies people will cite them as important. But very few people will say that these issues matter without being prompted.
This is important because so much corporate resource is put into CSR, an investment often if not always sold internally on the basis of external reputation (along with the commendable desire to support worthy causes). What the data suggests at the very least is that businesses need to think more about whether support for good causes on their own, outside a broader narrative, can bring them any reputational benefit.
3. Personal experiences of what a business is about matter more than anything
We already knew that people form a view of businesses based on the products they consume and the service they receive. What the new data suggests is that people are more likely to hold a high opinion of their own employer than of business in general, and more likely to hold a favourable opinion of the businesses that employ their friends or family.
There is an obvious explanation for why people feel better about the people that pay their wages, or those of people close to them. But there is almost certainly something more at play here. People inside an organisation tend to feel some sense of what that organisation is for and what it aims to achieve, beyond pursuit of profits. They also get to appreciate part of the sometimes unspoken value of a business, in that they experience personal investment and development that comes with work. And finally, this finding might be evidence of the power of advocacy – word of mouth between real people, and representation with a human face.