Does ‘purpose’ in business increase corporate reputation?

Over 130 communication professionals attended the conference Purpose and corporate reputation – are they linked? organised by the Corporate Communication Centre at Rotterdam School of Management, Erasmus University (RSM) on 19 October. During the conference, the current trends on purpose in corporate communications were explored from different angles and a plea for communicating the proof behind the purpose was expressed.

Prof. Joep Cornelissen, Professor of Corporate Communication and Management at RSM, opened the conference with these two triggers: why do many companies have (suddenly) purposes, like Unilever, Philips & FrieslandCampina? And are organisations with a purpose more valuable to stakeholders and society; do they have stronger reputations?

Leader re-framing

Professor Cornelissen showed his research findings based on the business case Fairphone, which makes ethical modular smartphones. The study Between a Rock and a Hard Place: Struggles in Framing the Hybrid Identity and Social Purpose of Fairphone shows leader re-framing is essential towards defining a hybrid organisational identity and crucial to embedding the social purpose and keeping it consistent all the way through.

Proof behind the purpose

Corporate communicators have an important role as ’conscience’, as facilitators of paradoxical thinking (across stakeholder interests), and as architects of (hybrid) organisational identity. Prof. Cornelissen stressed that at all times it was essential to communicate the proof behind the purpose. These findings were further developed during the interview of prof. Cornelissen with Tessa Wernink, Former Director Corporate Communication at Fairphone. She argued that this is all about creating a bottom-up feeling and an ongoing conversation in order to build trust and keep people on board.

Museum reputation

In the second part, Prof. Cees van Riel, Professor of Corporate Communication at RSM, shared the lessons learned from the first international museums study. “Museums had already applied purpose-driven strategies before the word was even discovered in the business world,” said Professor Van Riel. “The authentic way in which museums express their role in society in combination with taking their role of educator and protector of national heritage seriously should be a source of inspiration for the business world.”

Strategic narratives

Floor Schmeitz, Director Communications at Océ, closed the conference with the inspiring story of Océ, and their search for purpose in printing future and the role of communications in particular. She said: “We’re implementing strategic narratives and encouraging engagement to express our story better, but our story is far from over.”

The conference ended with ample networking opportunities for all communication professionals.

More information

Rotterdam School of Management, Erasmus University (RSM) is one of Europe’s top 10 research-based business schools. RSM provides ground-breaking research and education furthering excellence in all aspects of management and is based in the international port city of Rotterdam – a vital nexus of business, logistics and trade. RSM’s primary focus is on developing business leaders with international careers who carry their innovative mindset into a sustainable future thanks to a first-class range of bachelor, master, MBA, PhD and executive programmes. Study information and activities for future students, executives and alumni are also organised from the RSM office in Chengdu, China.

For more information about RSM or this release, please contact Marianne Schouten, Media & Public Relations Manager for RSM, on +31 10 408 2877 or by email at

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