Reputation risk has always been a part of doing business, but that risk has increased. In a world where bad news now spreads instantly with immediate consequences, preventing reputation damage is undoubtedly wiser, more prudent and more cost effective than trying to control the damage after it occurs. Reputation-minded CEOs and executive management take internal, pre-emptive measures before their companies become objects of devastating headlines that yield, potentially, irreversible negative reputations.
In this eTip, we interviewed Susan Morrow, APR on the topic of reputation management.
BMC: What is your experience in PR and communications and how did you get started?
Morrow: I have been in the public relations and communications profession for almost 30 years and am accredited (APR) with the Public Relations Society of America. My majors in college were English, Communications and Education and I then obtained a graduate degree in Developmental Psychology. I taught school and worked with students who had behavioral/learning difficulties in Minneapolis and St. Paul. With a sudden shift in life and work plans, I went to Mexico to work for an import and export company, and, ultimately, an advertising and promotional agency in Mexico City. While at this agency, I engaged in community event and publicity activities that led me to the practice of public relations.
Upon returning to the U.S., I worked in several communications capacities that included nine years helping with the launch of a software company. Since going “out on my own” in 1994, I have developed and implemented reputation-building and management programs for diversified industry organizations from large companies to start-ups.
BMC: In these volatile economic times, why is it even more important to manage reputations?
Morrow: The importance and necessity for companies to preserve and protect their reputations has never been greater. The focus for any organization is to be a continual asset to all of its stakeholders. A company’s management daily challenge is to keep the overall business infrastructure intact and thrive in the midst of uncertainty at all levels of the global marketplace. If a company falters in any aspect, there are definitely one or more competitors who all too prepared to “step in”.
BMC: How may a PR/communications professional become more of an asset in helping a respective company’s reputation?
Morrow: In today’s volatile marketplace, internal and external communications professionals can become increasingly vital assets in helping their companies’/clients’ reputations. For example, the communications professional may:
1) Identify specific community outreach passions that employees have at the company and explore opportunities in which these may be leveraged in terms of the company’s participation, for example, children’s health, women’s issues, heart wellness, art appreciation for seniors. Uncovering such interests and engaging in related activities in the community will create and nurture a company’s positive image. While many companies tout specific, ongoing community service initiatives for which they are known, there may be “hidden gems” that will magnify the company’s presence and ultimately, elevate its reputation.
2) Help the company become an educational “steward” in its respective industry by expanding communications channel distribution, particularly online outlets, in which to submit a variety of insightful written content that is timely and beneficial to the organization’s targeted audiences. As opposed to writing about a company’s product/service and similar “sales-oriented” articles, educational content showcases the company’s expertise and value and helps to distinguish itself in a highly “noisy” marketplace.
3) Become the company’s reputation “monitor” and measure all communications activities to ensure that the quality of the organization’s brand remains intact. In today’s environment, especially, it is paramount to be at the forefront of information being conveyed about a company, most notably online, and the potential effects on its stakeholders. In addition, it is equally important to maintain up-to-date awareness of competitive activities and how they may influence the company. Such monitoring allows the communications professional to waylay possible image negativity that would affect the company’s bottom-line.
BMC: What are the three most common mistakes you have seen when it comes to managing reputations?
Morrow: Managing and preserving a reputation requires dedication and commitment. An organization reflects its brand and image in every aspect of its activities. Individuals demonstrate their personal brands and reputations in the endeavors they engage. However, companies and individuals can make the following three mistakes in terms of their reputations:
1) Using online communication channels impulsively, e.g., social media outlets, without understanding the ramifications of a stated message – it is essential to understand what each channel does and does not do and as necessary, solicit the expertise of those who do understand a given technology.
2) Ignoring and/or responding slowly to possible dangers to the company or individual’s reputation, for example, customers’ negative online comments, national industry news stories that are damaging and might result in a local or regional reporter doing a similar story about “your” organization or “your” profession that would reflect negatively on a respective reputation.
3) In the case of organizations, the inability to communicate “from the top” the brand, the culture, and reputation messages for each employee to adhere. This creates confusion and the potential for misleading information to be conveyed to the public and, ultimately, all stakeholders.
BMC: Last words of wisdom when it comes to managing reputations.
Morrow: Communications professionals have both increased challenges and opportunities to manage reputations effectively in today’s world. By becoming “reputation brokers” for their companies or clients, they will ensure that strategy, behavior and communications are aligned and convey messages that are consistent and continually support the organization’s brand. Preserving a positive and credible reputation is inherently more manageable than doing “repair work” once damage has been done.
Susan Morrow, APR, is a strategic reputation management consultant in Dallas (firstname.lastname@example.org). In addition to developing and implementing communications programs for diversified industry organizations, she trains and counsels executives on working with the media and helps prepare them for speaking presentations. Ms. Morrow is also a crisis management specialist and helps companies in the areas of internal planning, communications with media, community, and industry audiences, and "hands-on" counseling during crisis situations.