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[Herald Interview] ‘Firms need to get trust of global opinion leaders’

The Korean corporate sector, despite its rapid industrial success and latest attempts to become a trusted member of the global corporate society, has yet to gain the full trust of global opinion leaders, an executive of PR firm Edelman said.

In its annual survey for measuring trust in business, government, NGOs and media in over 20 nations, the company said that opinion leaders across the world least trusted companies headquartered here, following companies in the BRIC (Brazil, Russia, India, China) region.

The biggest reason for the widespread distrust seemed to be the perception of Korean companies in the eyes of the rest of the world, according to Alan VanderMolen, president and CEO of global practices and diversified insights businesses of Edelman.
Alan VanderMolen
Alan VanderMolen

“Korea has a terrific story to tell, but what’s happening is negative things around scandals, around corporate leaders being jailed, around monopoly practices. Those kinds are getting the ink and that’s where the light is being shown,” said VanderMolen in an interview with The Korea Herald.

“The issue is that you have been issues-rich in particular around governance. Those things combined with the perception that Korea is anti-global and anti-trade, those things paint an unfavorable picture of Korea abroad.”

Local firms ― with many now household names in industries across the globe such as Samsung and LG ― are known for their perseverance, with many noted for their strong global presence, especially in sectors such as IT.

Technology, for instance, was the most trusted industry globally and in Korea.

However, corporate reputations have often been soiled by scandals, usually involving graft or attempts from owner families to unlawfully strengthen their grasp over their firms.

Noting these problems, VanderMolen stressed that Korean companies must realize that it is now not just about performance, but how their performance is mutually beneficial society and the economy as a whole.

“We want companies to make money, but we want them to make money in ways that are aligned to the needs and expectations of society,” he said.

And a tight web of social networking and the watchful eyes of NGOs, are making it impossible for companies to believe they can get away with not aligning themselves to those expectations.

As VanderMolen put it, there are now stakeholders coming from all sides from outside the company who are demanding to be satisfied.

“It’s going to take sustained and concentrated efforts from a handful of businesses working with the government and a third party to tell the Korean business story,” the executive suggested as a solution for improving the nation’s image abroad.

Pointing to the number of iconic global brands Korea has nurtured so far, VanderMolen remained positive about future trust levels.

By Kim Ji-hyun (jemmie@heraldcorp.com)
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