Why Operational Understanding is the First Step to Managing Reputation

Group of people in a meeting

If you have traveled to a foreign country, then you know how difficult it can be to navigate when you don’t know the language. Even in countries where English is widely spoken, conversations still seem richer when you can speak the native language. It’s just easier and faster to get around. 

The same is true in business. When you are fluent in the language of your leadership, they are more likely to listen. The team reaches consensus more easily and decisions are made more quickly. 

While many public relations professionals are successful as expert communicators, sought-after counselors have higher-level business acumen and always seem to know the right question to ask. As the Florida Public Relations Association shares, “PR counselors are recognized as seasoned practitioners who research and evaluate situations, and then advise organizational leaders on communications strategies that foster wise and ethical business decisions.”

Supporting ethical business decisions is a core focus of our reputation management work at Curley & Pynn, and we often make recommendations that fall outside the typically understood scope of a PR agency. If public relations is the conscience of an organization, then we must intimately know your organization and how it operates to bring sound recommendations to the table. 

What drives business decisions? 

The first of our Five Steps to Professional Success is to “Focus on what keeps the client awake at night.” The most important thing we need to understand is what motivates your business decisions. By reviewing your strategic plan, we get a sense for the priorities of your C-suite and its board of directors (if one exists), the goals they are trying to achieve and the performance metrics by which they’re held accountable. For corporate clients, we also review the latest 10-Q to understand the emerging issues or risk factors that may impact shareholder value. 

Often, communicators are involved in pulling these types of materials together. If not, we highly recommend leaders get them involved, or at least share the information proactively with the communications team to help them better help you. Communications strategies should help an organization reach its overall goals, not be developed in a vacuum.  

How are decisions made? 

Understanding how decisions about the business are made help us more seamlessly navigate interpersonal relationships and build the trust we need to influence those decisions. Although the topmost leader in an organization usually has the final say, some organizations are more democratic than others, relying heavily on consensus building and feedback from multiple team members. As outside partners, we bring an unbiased and fresh perspective to decision-making conversations. While we want to please our clients, we are also unafraid to tell them what they need to hear rather than what they might want to hear when it comes to making tough decisions. While that may sound cliché, we quite literally had a client ask us specifically for “what we need to hear” counsel at the start of our latest assignment. It’s what the C-suite wants and expects from a counselor.

Understanding the governance structure of an organization and what information might be required to justify decisions is also key. As partners to the C-suite and other leaders in marketing and communications, we are often called upon to support the development of storytelling tools that demonstrate the impact of past or potential decisions on our client organizations and their stakeholders. In many organizations, this takes the form of an annual or quarterly report, but can also be accomplished through op-eds, publicity and email campaigns, among other tactics. 

How does the organization make a profit? 

We want to know not only how our clients generate revenue through the acquisition and retention of their customers, but also about major expenses or costs of doing business and how they impact overall profitability. This is the “bottom line” metric leadership teams most often discuss and is a quick way to understand your organization’s overall financial health. 

PR counselors must not only understand how businesses profit, but also how public relations may contribute to profitability. Although PR teams are sometimes labeled as a “cost center,” we can help reduce the cost of doing business through tactics that generate new business leads, retain customers and reduce employee turnover. Simply through reputation management, PR helps boost intrinsic value of the brand. 

How does the organization recruit and retain talent? 

If there’s anything we have learned from partnering with economic development clients, it’s this: no matter what business you’re in, talent is your greatest asset. Understanding how a company recruits and engages with its employees is just as important as understanding how it acquires and retains its customers. Whether you like to call it the Great Resignation or Great Reevaluation, few businesses have avoided its impacts. However, the reasons why people leave and whether they become champions or detractors could reveal the need for new operational or communications strategies to change the company culture. 

Unfortunately, internal communications and employee engagement are often overlooked until businesses begin experiencing workforce-related challenges. It’s important to nurture employee relationships from the start. Employees are often the first to defend their employer and should be activated as brand champions if the organization does experience reputational issues.

What’s happening in the environment? 

We train our teams to “Focus on the big picture; not just the snapshot.” This requires us to remain abreast of major news and events at the regional, national and global levels. Especially in the age of cancel culture, an insensitive or untimely action can be the downfall of an otherwise respected organization. Aligning your operations and related marketing with what’s happening in the environment around you is key to avoid sounding tone deaf. 

Many clients request support becoming thoughts leaders in their industries. To truly be a leader of thought, you must also be a leader of action (as the saying goes, actions speak louder than words). Along with being aware of external news and events, we also study the broader industry environment to understand what our clients’ peers, competitors and role models are doing, and how industry trends may be impacting the business. 

Trusted Advisors

Far from just order takers, we are committed to being essential partners with the business acumen and experience to counsel our clients – even if it means veering outside the typical lane of public relations and marketing communications to tell them what they may not want to hear. 

This requires us to maintain a certain level of operational understanding, including the strategy and motivation behind business goals, how decisions are made, profitability drivers, workforce management and more. We leverage this information to understand what you believe and how you act as an organization, and whether those beliefs and actions align with public perception. This sets us up for success not only to recommend communications strategies and tactics that will shape your reputation, but also to recommend operational changes as needed. After all, managing reputation happens long before the first word of a news release is ever written.

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