We’ve cried a collective “Oh no!” at the negative, scathing headlines about sweepstakes, or heard countless stories about various companies committing online privacy gaffes and database management and usage bloopers. We’ve read the news of companies that appear to be direct marketers, but actually are perpetrating fraud and eroding consumer trust.
Over the past few years all of this has put direct marketers in the line of fire, made them front-page news and the subject of sensationalized television reporting. Companies, perhaps, got “caught up in fulfilling targets, achieving objectives and meeting deadlines, and forgot to examine the wider consequences of what they were doing,” as Glen Peters suggests in “Waltzing With the Raptors: A Practical Roadmap to Protecting Your Company’s Reputation.”
How do direct marketers and online companies establish or build their reputations in the midst of this intense scrutiny? The easy answer has often been to throw money into a tactical public relations campaign – “Get out a press release on our new product. Let’s get some publicity about all the good things we’re doing.” These concepts have some merit but, at best, are short-term and cannot be the primary way an organization builds its reputation.
Polishing a reputation with a quick-fix, tactical public relations campaign is a good way to spend a lot of money and do little to nothing to change the overall perception about the company or the issue at hand. “Let’s call in the public relations people,” as President Richard Nixon said on one of his infamous tapes.
“His expectation, presumably, was that they would know how to make damaging facts disappear,” explains David Finn, chairman of Ruder Finn, an independent public relations firm.
“Too many people still believe that terms such as `image making’ and `spin control’ sum up what the public relations business is all about. This language undermines the real value that good PR counsel can add to an organization,” Finn says.
The traditional public relations role of putting a pretty face on a crisis is old-fashioned and out of sync with the information age. It’s time to learn the strategic lesson that the new media is teaching. The most successful traditional and online companies give information generously, clearly and methodically – and they do so through their marketing, human resources, and corporate and financial communications.
Integrated communications that present the core values of an organization, values that are worked through systematically and holistically, are the building blocks of that organization’s standing.
Reputations are built day by day. They are built by policies that are communicated to and embraced by employees. They are built by customer service and behavior that is exhibited in 100 small things done by employees who believe in your positioning and are ambassadors to all of your stakeholders. Financial performance and long-term investment value add to them. Reputations are enhanced by how willing and prepared you are to communicate honestly, sharing good news and bad.
Today’s public relations professionals get a seat at the company’s strategy table along with the CEO, marketing executives, lobbying professionals, customer service leaders and human resource management staff to make sure the best possible decisions are made.
When reputation management is viewed as an integrated process, public relations and communications tactics can be used effectively to support the other communication messages that enhance an organization’s reputation. Check out www.ogilvypr.com to review branding case studies on IBM, New York State Electric and Gas, and Quaker Oats.
Both BSMG Worldwide Services (www.bsmg.com/hot/reput.htm) and Shandwick International (www.shandwick.com/rm.html) describe similar steps to take in reputation management:
– Research is done to discover, audience by audience, what the current perceptions and attitudes are regarding a business.
– Consensus is established between management and employees on core values and corporate purpose.
– The unique selling proposition and the messages that reinforce it are identified.
– Advocacy for the company is developed internally and externally.
– Advertising, media relations, investor materials, news releases and corporate philanthropy programs work together to deliver a consistent and comprehensive message.
A strong reputation strengthened by these actions can create a strategic advantage for a company or industry in an increasingly competitive marketplace.
The challenge direct marketers face is to use every communication with every stakeholder as an opportunity to heighten a company’s stature. Hill and Knowlton has devised a formula to show how to evaluate the worth of a company’s reputation (www.promptrps.com/reput.htm).
Golin/Harris discloses success stories for Bayer, Digital and Nintendo at its Web site (www.golinharris.com/sstory.html).
Actually, a chief executive officer has to go no further than to look in the mirror to see who really is the custodian of his or her company’s reputation. Research conducted by Chief Executive magazine and Yankelovich Partners confirms that today’s CEOs see reputation management as a vital role – essential to their personal success and the success of their organizations.