Reputation management is the process of identifying what other people are saying or feeling about you or your business, and taking steps to ensure that the general consensus is in line with your goals. It is difficult to manage a reputation if you only address it when it has been damaged. An ongoing, disciplined practice of reputation management will position you to weather storms when they come, increase shareholder value and attract better employees when the seas are calm.
The United Airlines crisis that began on April 9, 2017 was not the result of poor crisis management or crisis communications. It was the result of poor issues management or crisis prevention, both subsets of reputation management. Seconds after a passenger was dragged off the plane, belly up, the only question was how extensive the reputational and financial damage would be as the result of a company policy that should have been flagged as a reputational liability which had to be changed (as it indeed was, but days after the incident). Similarly, the Wells Fargo crisis was the result of a failure over years to enlist all employees behind the bank’s legacy intrinsic “customer first” identity.
As the urgent pushes out the important, while it may be felt that there are more pressing things for companies to do, it would be hard to argue that there is a more important goal than reputation management to focus on now and over the long term. However, messaging (communication) is not enough to build, maintain or repair a reputation. The Comprehensive Reputation Management Model focuses on all four components of the asset: performance, behavior, communication and intrinsic identity.
The Comprehensive Reputation Management process will identify and monitor reputational strengths and weaknesses by stakeholder group, providing a framework and system for building and safeguarding the reputation asset. Specific reputational assets can then be exploited.
“Character is like a tree and reputation is like its shadow. The shadow is what we think of it the tree is the real thing.” Abraham Lincoln
Reputation drivers (attributes) can be managed with intent to optimize the company brand across its key stakeholders. Reputational vulnerabilities can be identified and dealt with before they turn into crises. The very planning process will bring to the fore vulnerabilities which, research and experience show, often lie hidden in organizations (e.g., GM’s ‘Switchgate’). Without a process for recognizing and managing an asset, the value of that asset is at best vulnerable, and at worst, certain to deteriorate over time. Even organizations with good reputations inevitably face serious reputation issues.
“ If you lose dollars for the firm by bad decisions I will be very understanding. If you lose reputation for the firm, I will be ruthless.” Warren Buffett
When they do, they spend fortunes on managing a crisis that, often, should have been identified as a vulnerability and prevented from becoming a crisis. It’s a waste of time, energy, money – all non-renewable resources in limited supply. Your company can be among the organizations that take what has been for centuries seen as a quixotic trait and turn it into a manageable asset.
“He who steals my purse steals trash … but he that filches from me my good name … makes me poor indeed.” Shakespeare
“Comprehensive Reputation Management: A long-term strategy for measuring auditing and managing an organization’s reputation as an asset.” Reputation Management, 3rd edition, by Doorley and Garcia.
Today, a dollar value of reputation can be closely estimated; for large, publicly traded companies it is approximately 20 % of market cap. A comprehensive reputation management plan will safeguard and enhance the value of the company reputation, by exploiting the pluses (including the peer-to-peer rankings) and preventing the reputational problems from becoming liabilities or crises.
There will always be storms, it's what you do in the calm before determines how well you will weather disruption. Be prepared. Plan now.
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A long-time Merck & Co. executive and New York University professor, he is the co-author, with Helio Fred Garcia, of Reputation Management: The Key To Successful Public Relations and Corporate Communication. In 2012, John and Fraser Seitel’s new book, Rethinking Reputation, was published in hardcover by St. Martin’s Press/Palgrave Macmillan
He holds a B.S. degree in biology from St. Vincent College and a M.A. in journalism from NYU.
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