16/01/2012 10:53 GMT | Updated 16/03/2012 05:12 GMT

A Big Year for Big Co

It's going to be a tough year for the UK economy. A phrase so inherent it is almost clichéd, but yet so valid, and more so than perhaps many of us can comprehend. The next 12 months are going to be extremely tough.

Much has been written about the impact of the cuts on consumers. I do not intend to regurgitate the fact that it's going to be bleak for millions across the country in 2012 - but it is going to be an equally difficult year for big businesses in the engine room of the UK economy. Drastically reduced sales at some of the country's biggest retailers last week were an early warning of what to expect.

Squeezed personal incomes and the full force of government cuts in the year ahead will inevitably result in increased negativity towards the UK's big high street names. High levels of inflation only compound the misery, with eight of eleven City forecasters predicting the current Bank of England base rate still to be in place come 31 December 2012, a third of whom also believe it will be the same a full year later.

Add that to the soaring prices being faced by businesses themselves and we have a perfect storm for anti-corporatism, with the cost of consumer goods inevitably rising in a time when the man on the street has less in his pocket. So we can expect more UK Uncut style activity against the likes of Next, Boots, Vodafone and Tesco, four organisations who between them employ more than 450,000 people in the UK alone.

These large organisations are vital to the UK economy. It would be a crying shame if long-term corporate resentment set in in this country, as has been the case with the UK's financial services sector, which still faces a huge job in restoring its beleaguered reputation post-crisis.

More needs to be done to communicate the good these companies do for the UK as a whole, and not just in economic terms. The charitable giving they undertake, the CSR programmes they run, the communities they support right across the country, all in addition to the significant - and it really is significant - economic contribution they make.

The jobs they provide - and I'm not talking about the big money jobs, rather the bank cashiers and checkout assistants to parking attendants and cleaners; the wider spending they undertake - on infrastructure, SME suppliers, and logistics; and exports - so vital to the UK's economic recovery. These are just a few of the economic contributions these big companies make, though I probably underplay the true extent of their far-reaching impact.

The financial services sector is a test case in how reputations can be further damaged if acute attention is not paid to communicating effectively. The sector is gradually improving the way it communicates with customers but public trust is still at a record low. Communications need to be more effective, more focused, more agile and more positive than they have been in recent years.

Ultimately, however, it is by thy deeds thy shall be known - communications are only as effective as the underlying activity on which they are based. The UK's biggest companies across all sectors face a tough balancing act in 2012 between protecting their own fragile bottom lines and ensuring they come out of the other end of this long downturn with reputations intact.

A big (and tough) year for Big Co lies ahead. It is in all our interests that they rise to the challenge.

Mike Robb is Head of Media Relations at Cicero Group, a financial sector communications consultancy.