Reputation Management, Millennials and Corporate Purpose – Part 1

This article, by Tony Langham, CEO of Lansons, for PRWeek, conflates reputation management, millennials and corporate purpose – three hot topics, each deserving commentary of its own. Let’s start with reputation management.

Reputation Management – What Does It Actually Mean?

Reputation management is seen as a synonym for crisis and issues management and risk mitigation. There are at least two obvious reasons for this. The first is that ‘reputation management’ -as descriptor for what we, as communications professionals, do – simply isn’t very clear.

That’s not to say that ‘public relations’, or ‘corporate communication’, are much better, but one cannot help but thinking that the industry came up with ‘reputation management’ to make itself sound more weighty, more serious and more deserving of a seat at the top table.

‘Public relations’ has the merit of doing what it says on the tin, and being easily explained in one or two sentences. Likewise ‘corporate communication’. The downside, stating the obvious, is that ‘public relations’ suffers from a longstanding image problem. That image problem is not going be solved by changing the discipline’s name, however – particularly if the new name is ambiguous.

‘Public relations’ and ‘corporate communication’, as labels, still work well. High quality, effective, measurable work should address the image problem.

Institutionalised Communication

Reputation management does take in crisis management and risk mitigation, of course, but they are not prime directives. The prime directive is, as it always has been, getting out there and making opportunities to tell your story in ways that will connect with your target audiences, so as to build a positive, beneficial and measurable relationship with them.

Another reason, then, why reputation management is becoming aligned with the lawyers and the accountants, is that the prime directive is being suppressed. Communication has been institutionalised. Reactive communication has become the best communication. (Arguably, in some areas, ’twas always thus and it should not be forgotten that the reputation managers of today were often the corporate affairs advisers and capital markets communicators of yesterday.)

I have two examples of this, one first, and one second, hand. In both companies – no names, no pack drill, but both recent – communication (corporate affairs, reputation management – what you will) was almost wholly reactive. In both cases, I took this to be a function of the industry sector (finance, since you ask), naturally conservative and risk-averse. I now think I was wrong – it’s a general malaise.

The core function of the communicator is to champion active communication strategies, that use all the tools available, to communicate the corporate personality and proposition. And that means creativity and persuasion – having the ideas and getting the approvals necessary to make them happen.

Is There Value in Purpose?

Which brings us neatly to this video which dates from January 2018. A good example of corporate creativity, of personality and proposition and – one can but imagine – a certain amount of persuasion to get it over the line.

Obviously, it’s fraught with risk – it’s an overt statement of what the company stands for, which it now has to stand by, forever, and, let’s face it, someone’s going to be offended by it. But it appears to be authentic, a real statement of what Sodastream is.

Refreshingly, it’s not a ‘purpose’, requested by the board, designed by committee and handed off to the communicators with a brief to ensure everyone knows what it is. But more of that anon.

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