Dealing with Reputation Management in an Angry World

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Managing reputation has never been more important. We live in the Age of Outrage, a time in which any company action (or inaction) can lead to immediate and forceful reaction, condemnation, and yes, cancellation. Look at the many companies with operations in Russia that have made decisions to leave or stay in the wake of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Or closer to home, the companies that are being judged on their level of involvement in the political process. Those decisions impact reputation, and increasingly that impacts the bottom line.

How important is reputation management? According to the latest Signal AI “State of Corporate Reputation and Business Performance” report, the majority of business leaders now believe that reputation will be a bigger driver of business performance than profit in the next five years.

I was talking with a client recently who asked about a causal link between public relations and sales. It’s a common conversation with clients and prospects alike, and the response is always similar – our job is rarely to make the sale; rather, it is to manage corporate reputation to foster an environment conducive to sales (or in the case of nonprofit organizations, donations and engagement).

What goes into a reputation management program? And how do you know it’s had an impact? 

As we re-envision our Taking Aim blog, we’re going to take a deep dive into those questions and explore this key public relations function that has become the foundation of our business. Throughout the year, we will provide input and resources to help companies manage their reputations and get ahead of issues that impact their success.

For us, reputation management is a consistent theme supported by eight pillars that guide our work for clients.

1. Operational Understanding

Managing reputation begins with understanding how a company operates, why it makes certain decisions, how it lives up to and demonstrates its values, how it onboards and engages employees, and how it engages with and builds relationships with customers and stakeholders.

Clients are often surprised (we hope pleasantly) when our team makes operational recommendations that fall far outside the typical understanding of public relations and communications. We believe strongly in the expression, “actions speak louder than words,” so we’re not shy about suggesting actions a company might take to improve its reputation with key audiences.

2. Media Relations

A sound media relations strategy is becoming more integral to reputation management as the media universe increasingly fragments. Everyone is now #TheMedia and nearly everyone, including “traditional” hard news media organizations, is choosing a side and publishing content through an ideological lens. This impacts strategic decisions on who to contact, how, when and with what message.

3. Public Affairs

We’re not lobbyists, but we work closely with government relations teams to craft messaging and strategy that impact governmental and regulatory decisions. Reputation and issue management play a huge role.

4. Crisis Communications Management and Prevention

Years ago, I was contacted by an executive with a national homebuilder, who after introducing himself told me he was in a meeting with senior leadership, put me on speaker, and shared that they had a major crisis and needed to hire a PR firm stat. 

I politely thanked him for the call, then told the group they needed a firefighter, not a firm whose job is fire prevention. We manage crisis communications for clients, but that starts with planning and preparation. The crises you’ve never heard about are the ones of which we’re most proud, because we and our clients know the reputational impact of that work.

5. Event Management

Event management is much more than just party planning. Every element of a successful event plan impacts reputation … who’s invited, where and when it is held, how the message is carried consistently through visuals and presentations, how event flow is managed, how questions are handled, which vendors are chosen, and much more.

6. Social Media

Do a search for “reputation management” and 90% or more of the results will talk about “online” reputation impacted by social posts. Any post or tweet can have a huge impact on reputation … or not. Knowing the difference is important.

Not long ago, a client called in a panic. A local “influencer” with thousands of followers had posted an online rant about their services. They had been counseled to respond immediately and forcefully, but wanted our take before proceeding. 

Five minutes of research showed that the post was made by a teenager throwing a tantrum about a parental decision, and that the vast majority of her followers were bots. We did nothing aside from monitoring. Engaging could have been much more damaging to the company’s reputation.

7. Thought Leadership

There are hundreds of ways for corporate leaders to express their thoughts and become the expert to whom others turn for insight and advice on a topic. It takes a strategy to identify the right opportunities that align with the company’s vision and establish them as true “thought leaders.” 

8. Community Relations

As noted in the Signal AI report, corporate engagement is no longer an option; it’s an expectation. Organizations should approach it from a standpoint of enlightened self-interest. Do the right thing even when no one is looking, but don’t shy away from doing the right thing in a way that captures attention with the right audiences. When managed as part of a comprehensive strategy leveraging each of the other pillars above, community relations can have an enormous impact on reputation.

In the months to come, members of our team will highlight and expand upon each of these pillars, discussing how each can play a critical role in reputation management. We hope you’ll join us for the journey, and as always, we look forward to hearing your feedback.

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