Latest industry views and advice

February 8

Corporate reputation management for businesses?

It sounds great doesn’t it and is certainly something you’d like a piece of. But where, exactly, do you buy it?

Unlike the topics in this week’s four previous blog posts – in which there are practical tools you can use immediately, or purchase the skills externally, corporate reputation isn’t something you can acquire off –the-shelf tomorrow.

In fact, corporate reputation management as a term is inherently contradictory: reputation is not a public relations activity or a marketing strategy. Your company’s reputation is the net result, or sum total, of the countless actions and endeavours your business and its people undertake within itself and with the outside world. And that doesn’t mean just customers!

It is variable, fragile and requires what may seem like superhuman effort to establish and maintain. Hard won and easily lost, it happens to the best organisations – just ask Toyota, BP, Barclays and Starbucks to name a few. For some, reputation loss is a terminal blow to the business (exit stage left, The News of the World), but for most organisations, it need only be a temporary blip, though recovery may take longer than executives expect or want.

Effective communications are important, but tend to be sought and deployed when underlying reputation problems have caused a fissure in the business and the heat escapes as if from a volcano, devastating reputation and trust in its wake. Crisis communications are essential to cap the “lava flow” of bad news and attempt to show that “things are going to change round here – for the better”.

But crisis communications, while vital, are dealing with the symptoms of a reputational ill, not the causes.

Operational management can be – in the midst of the day-to-day pressures of running a commercial enterprise – blinkered to those underlying issues that could, ultimately, tarnish the company’s reputation. My contention is that whoever is given responsibility – Operations, PR, Marketing, Sales, Finance – someone within the business needs to be listening, watching and acting upon the signs that something is amiss.

A recent report by US-based communications business, APCO, into people’s attitude towards business showed that:

“…corporations have a bigger impact on their lives today than they did 10 years ago. Nearly half of all respondents say that global companies have a bigger impact on their lives than the government, and 60% think that companies now serve some functions in society that were previously reserved only for government. The firm also asked people if they agreed that it is as important to know how a company operates as it is to know what it sells; 25% “strongly agreed” and 42% “somewhat agreed.”

In that context, businesses have a bigger responsibility than ever to themselves and to their various “publics” – customers, suppliers, shareholders, investors, legislators, neighbours…the list goes on – to care passionately about their reputation and to demonstrate that they care.

As a starting point to examine the state of your own company’s reputation, refer to page 33 of the Edelman Trust Barometer 2013 (embedded below), and decide which of the “trust attributes” you are meeting.

As Rob Flaherty, senior partner and chief executive officer of Ketchum, commented recently in PR Week: “[some CEOs] are still trying to take shortcuts. They approach issues of responsibility with a mindset that says, ‘wash me, but don’t get me wet’. In other words, let me feel good about addressing these issues, but don’t expect me to do anything that intrudes on my real priorities…For [these] leaders… time is running out.”

[slideshare id=16086761&doc=2013edelmantrustbarometerglobaldeckfinal-130120160838-phpapp02]


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