Reputation management: What are they saying about you?

It is not rocket science, but reputation management can send some into orbit and leave others burnt and bloodied, explains Stephen Fleming.

The reputation of a business and its principles have never been more important. In an age where detrimental information, possibly unwarranted, can be broadcast instantly, a reputation built up over years can be destroyed in seconds.

Scan the press every day and you will see many examples of catastrophic reputational damage. Recent high-profile cases include Sam Allardyce, the ex-England football manager, Sir Philip Green, the former BHS boss, and any number of banks. This damage amounts to millions in costs and potential lost revenue.

But it’s not just the big corporations that suffer. Any business with a profile faces reputational risk and if that’s damaged the company or individual will suffer a substantial loss. The directors of SMEs owe a legally enforceable duty of care towards shareholders to protect a company’s brand and assets.

Reputation is driven by the opinions and experiences of the complex web of individuals that make up what we call stakeholders – that means the people or bodies who are interested in what you do and the way you behave. That list might include customers, employees, suppliers, partners, investors, journalists, pressure groups, regulators and competitors. There may be more too for you or your business, each list is different.

Essentially it’s all about communication, trust and long-term relationships. For companies a good reputation inspires loyalty, attracts new consumers, strengthens your supplier relationships, keeps the regulators from your door, protects you during a crisis, and ultimately works to drive value and profitability.

For individuals in any business a good reputation is one of your most valuable assets but it’s difficult to acquire and manage, yet all too easy to damage or destroy. And once it’s dented, it can take years to recover – and sometimes it never does. It’s exactly the same for a business.

Reputation managers are experts in relationship management and two-way communications. It’s more than public relations, more nuanced and targeted. We help organisations and individuals understand perceptions and expectations of others around them, and we can identify, inform and build reputations. We can also manage emerging issues and crises.

A proven provider will have the experience, ability and networks to advise on profile-building and deal with a crisis when it occurs with proactive strategies to keep you communicating – remember, if you’re not talking about the crisis, someone else is. If you leave a communications vacuum others will fill it.

The best way to cope with reputational damage is to have a great reputation in the first place.

At Acuity Reputation, we have worked with a huge variety of clients over the years including governments, government agencies, multi-national companies, financial institutions, legal firms, academic bodies and private individuals.

We work by establishing a client’s communications objectives. Where do they want to get to? Do they want more customers? A higher profile? To be viewed in a different way?
This calibration of aims is key to what follows. After the initial discovery session we put together a detailed document showing what we will do to achieve the objectives. This strategic communications plan drives the project(s) and is constantly refined in response to changing circumstances.

If you know where you’re going it’s a lot easier to reach your destination.

We prefer to operate before a crisis occurs but sometimes we get called in when a problem has arisen. A crisis, when it happens, does not have to damage your reputation. When properly managed, it can provide an effective opportunity for communicating and demonstrating your values and integrity on a very public stage.

But in order to properly manage a crisis situation you should plan and prepare for it long in advance. Looking after your reputation and investing in professional reputation management now will pay dividends during any crisis.

For us it’s hugely satisfying to see a business thrive as a direct result of our work. We’ve worked with many high-calibre individuals over the years and that helps to drive our reputation too. It’s not rocket science but it can send some into orbit and leave others burnt and bloodied.