In an era where consumer perceptions can swing wildly from one news cycle to the next, the stakes have never been higher for Fast-Moving Consumer Goods (FMCG) companies like Unilever, P&G, and L’Oréal. Managing media reputation is no longer a luxury—it’s a business imperative.

To help you understand the intricacies of this complex landscape, we sat down with Matt Couchman, a Senior Consultant at Commetric with extensive media analytics experience in the FMCG sector. In this illuminating conversation, Matt delves into our recent media analytics report on Unilever, P&G, and L’Oréal, and shares actionable advice and key takeaways to help PR and communications professionals leverage media analytics to its fullest potential.

Download Commetric’s advanced media analytics report on Unilever, P&G, and L’Oréal

Thank you for joining us today, Matt. Let’s dive right into it. How critical is media reputation for FMCG companies like Unilever, P&G, and L’Oréal in today’s media landscape?

Matt Couchman: Absolutely essential. For FMCG companies, media reputation not only shapes consumer perception but also influences investor confidence. It can make or break new product launches and sustainability initiatives. Media reputation is a powerful tool for competitive advantage.

Your report on Unilever is quite comprehensive. Could you explain your methodology for tracking the media reputation of FMCG companies like Unilever, P&G, and L’Oréal?

Matt Couchman: Of course. Our methodology combines advanced data analytics delivered through our AI/ML platform ComVix with human expertise. We start by monitoring a wide range of media sources, both traditional and social. For the recent Q1 2023 Unilever report, for example, we focused on 50 top publications in the UK, Germany, France, Spain, and Italy based on their reach and also tapped into our AI platform Comvix, which analysed over 8,000 English-language articles. Our team of experienced analysts then evaluated and categorised the data based on specific reputational drivers—such as Vision & Leadership, Products and Services, ESG, and Workplace Environment—to understand the narratives and sentiment driving the media coverage. We also analysed discussions on Twitter and compared it with L’Oréal and P&G to provide a broader market context.

So why have Comvix analyse coverage outside of the top 50 media lists?

A wider sector analysis delivers a much greater context to such research, although a typical client issue here is how to balance the additonal cost of this against the depth of analysis required. What we wanted to do is use the data within our ComVix platform, which uses AI/NLP to analyse large volumes of media content and extract almost 500 business events discussed in the coverage together with an accurate sentiment of the editorial. This can be done on a brand level, or even we can even compare how specific business sectors compare and where lie the areas of reputational risk for all to deliver a more comprehensive media landscaping for a client.

Can you tell us about the key trends and challenges you’re currently seeing in measuring the media reputation of FMCG companies like Unilever, P&G, and L’Oréal?

Matt Couchman: Sure! One of the most prominent trends we’re seeing is the strong emphasis on ESG (Environmental, Social, Governance) metrics, which shows no signs of receding.

Another trend is the integration of multiple data sources for a more holistic view. We’re talking about blending traditional media, social media, and even customer reviews and internal KPIs to get a more nuanced picture of reputation. For many of our FMCG clients, for example, we increasingly use metrics such as share of search and  web traffic to complement the standard set of media-related KPIs.

As for challenges, FMCG companies often struggle with measuring the real impact of their communications activities. In such a crowded and competitive space, it’s difficult to attribute any changes in business metrics directly to comms efforts. A second challenge is the multi-faceted nature of these global companies. They operate in numerous markets, and each can have unique media landscapes and consumer sentiments, requiring localised measurement approaches.

That’s fascinating, especially the focus on ESG metrics. Yet, FMCG companies often rank quite low in ESG ratings. How can these companies effectively use media analytics to improve their ESG reputational standing?

Matt Couchman: Great question. While FMCG companies have been pioneers in some aspects of ESG, especially around sustainable packaging and sourcing, they’ve often lagged in areas like carbon neutrality and social governance. Our latest analysis for Unilever, for example, revealed that although they are making strides in sustainable business practices, these key messages only broke through in 6% of their total media coverage. Meanwhile, L’Oréal seems to dominate the positive ESG conversation. This suggests a gap Unilever could potentially fill to enhance their ESG reputation.

To improve their ESG reputational standing, these companies can leverage media analytics to understand the media discourse surrounding their brand and the sector. This helps them to identify gaps between their own key messages and the broader public narrative. Once they’ve identified these gaps, they can refine their communication strategies to align more closely with stakeholder expectations.

They should also engage with key opinion leaders who have strong ESG credentials to amplify their messages. Moreover, monitoring metrics such as sentiment analysis around ESG topics can provide them with real-time insights to adapt their strategies.

Your report highlights that the new CEO appointment was a significant driver for Unilever’s media coverage. Is this common for FMCG companies?

Matt Couchman: Yes, changes in leadership usually attract substantial media attention because they signal potential shifts in company strategy and focus. These shifts can have long-term implications for investors, employees, and consumers.

Negative media sentiment appears to have impacted Unilever more than its competitors. Why is that?

Matt Couchman: Unilever’s decision to continue operations in Russia has been a primary driver of negative sentiment. This highlights the need for companies to be vigilant about geopolitical implications and to communicate clearly their stance on contentious issues.

Your analysis report mentions the role of spokespeople in managing media reputation. How important is this for FMCG brands?

Matt Couchman: It’s crucial. A well-spoken, credible spokesperson can effectively articulate the brand’s messages and balance negative reporting. Alan Jope, Unilever’s outgoing CEO, for instance, helped manage the narrative around price increases effectively.

Can you talk about the influence of third-party commentators, like Fundsmith CEO Terry Smith, on a brand’s media reputation?

Matt Couchman: Influential external voices can significantly shape media sentiment. Terry Smith’s criticism of Unilever’s “virtue signaling” indicates how third-party perspectives can create a counter-narrative that companies need to address proactively.

Why is net sentiment so vital in understanding media reputation?

Matt Couchman: Net sentiment provides a balanced snapshot of positive and negative media coverage, allowing us to assess the overall health of a brand’s reputation. It’s not just about volume; it’s about how the media narrative aligns with the brand’s values and objectives.

How do different markets impact the media reputation for a global brand like Unilever?

Matt Couchman: Cultural nuances, economic factors, and public sentiment towards certain issues can vary greatly by market. For instance, Unilever’s support for refugees resonated positively in Spain, whereas the brand faced backlash in France over local labour issues.

Finally, could you give some advice to senior PR and communications professionals in the FMCG sector?

Matt Couchman: Certainly. It’s crucial to have a well-integrated media analytics strategy that tracks not just volume but the quality and sentiment of coverage. Moreover, always be prepared to respond quickly and transparently to negative media to manage your reputation proactively. And don’t forget, consistency in messaging, especially around controversial topics like geopolitical issues, is crucial to build and maintain a strong media reputation

Consumers today are looking to invest in brands that align with their values. So if a consumer ‘buys you’ as a brand and what you stand for, they will be more likely to buy your product. Embed your brand purpose in all your PR and communication strategies, and make sure this is reflected in the media narratives around your brand. Media analytics can provide crucial insights into whether your brand purpose is resonating or if it needs adjustment.

Thank you for your time and insights.

Matt Couchman: My pleasure. Thank you for having me.

Download our comprehensive media analysis report on Unilever, P&G, and L’Oréal to get an unparalleled view into how media analytics uncover insights that can help you mitigate risks, seize untapped market opportunities, and carve out a decisive competitive advantage.