Making employees your brand ambassadors in difficult times

Internal comms blog

Employees are your biggest brand ambassadors in difficult times. They are the front-line voice to your customers and stakeholders – and when things go wrong, they are often the source of external leaks and social media criticism.

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But it’s not an easy time to be an employee today. Global layoffs have seeped beyond the technology sector, advancement in AI technology is threatening people’s value and economic insecurity is becoming an increasingly important decision factor for career moves.

On top of external pressures, Australian workers report poorer physical and mental health since the pandemic, with workers between 25 and 55 years of age facing serious exhaustion at work and a lack of advancement opportunities.

When communicating during difficult times, it can be tempting to focus on rewording your ‘employee value proposition’ (EVP) statement in an effort to reignite engagement and attract talent. But the most effective tactic to improve your reputation, amongst current and prospective employees, is making a real operational or societal impact. This doesn’t mean changing the world, but changing the world of your employees.

While there is still a long way to go, no marketing campaign could have made the same impact on how the film industry is perceived than the Oscars awarding more than half of its categories to winners from outside the U.S. this year. Notably, Michelle Yeoh was amongst the winners, becoming the first Asian woman to be crowned Best Actress.

When it comes to delivering tough news, the negative consequences to a brand often outweigh the positive. Generally, people understand that businesses have to make business decisions. The criticism usually comes from how they go about it.

With clear messaging and empathetic communications, employees can be empowered to act as supporters mitigating reputational damage. However, we have seen countless recent examples where this has not been the case.

A lack of compassion, little to no tangible support and uninformed leaders were amongst the recurring criticisms towards Optus’ handling of its data breach as well as any of the U.S.-based tech companies currently in the midst of layoffs.

Pharmaceutical company Organon provided a breath of fresh air when its initiatives for International Women’s Day made a tangible impact on the women within the organisation.

For two years in a row, all Organon employees were given 8th March off to focus on their health or the health of a loved one. Significantly, it also launched new policies providing staff subsidies for reproductive treatment and additional leave for individual needs as well as Pregnancy Loss Leave and extended Compassionate Leave benefits.

Many other companies also tried to promote their culture during International Women’s Day, but were met with the wrath of the Gender Pay Gap Bot. The Twitter bot called out companies from McKinsey to World Vision for their lower median hourly pay rate amongst women.

There is no one-size-fits-all solution for engaging your employees, but the guiding light should be aligning your company’s actions with your brand’s values.

If you are looking to engage your employees to boost culture and productivity, here are a few places to start:

  • Be visible ‘on the ground’ – ensure leaders walk the factory floor and get real employee insights to craft your communications approach.
  • Empower internal influencers with tools and messaging – remember, these people may not always be senior leadership.
  • Take a holistic view of communications across a business – and watch your timing of external and internal announcements!
  • Audit your diversity, equity and inclusion (DE&I) status, policies and frameworks – then own up to the gaps and communicate the plan of action.

Find out more about Icon Reputation’s stakeholder communications services for Melbourne Polytechnic during the COVID-19 pandemic.

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