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When economic impact reports don’t land

The FT’s economics editor, Chris Giles, took Radio 4’s Today programme to task on Twitter over its coverage of Huawei’s economic impact report, authored by Oxford Economics earlier this month.

Giles — without too much effort for the layman to follow, it has to be said — shows that Huawei’s hero stat of a £1.7bn annual contribution to UK GDP doesn’t stand up to much scrutiny.

He goes further, labelling it as no more than ‘marketing’, and colleagues from elsewhere in the press join the thread to lambast a ‘cottage industry’ of consultants ‘churning out’ similar studies.

But one bad apple shouldn’t necessarily spoil the bunch.

Expect interrogation

Oxford Economics has a pedigree of producing some excellent and thorough research, even if this is considered a blot on its copybook.

It is also increasingly important, at a time when democratic capitalism faces an ongoing reputational crisis, for business to demonstrate social value. (Although, I think we can all connect the dots as to why Huwaei felt it necessary to try to underline its importance to the UK plc in the current climate.)

The first and most obvious point to address is making sure the data and claims are robust.

It’s rare for Today to not to delve deeper and there are plenty more Chris Giles out there.

From a media perspective, businesses should be careful with the presentation of the findings and resist the urge to sanitise or aggrandise the findings.

Open and honest

Letting the numbers speak for themselves, being crystal clear on the methodology used and acknowledging where further improvements can be made to contribute positively to social or economic prosperity shows a company that’s honest in both its motives and intentions.

Similarly, giving greater prominence to metrics other than a big GDP contribution figure — such as investment in research and development, progress in tackling gender and race inequality and efforts to improve the UK’s skills base — are more relevant, and reveal a deeper, more meaningful relationship with the economy.

And smack less of an exercise in self-promotion or reputation deflection.

Where such reports have considerable value is in arming businesses with evidence to support their claims to be a responsible corporate citizen, to defend records and to provide proof points that support key messages — all valuable tools in longer-term strategies to shift perceptions.

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