The best form of reputation management
Charting the future of public relations
Holmes Report

The best form of reputation management

Arun Sudhaman

In this era of Klout-inspired metrics that can, apparently, measure influence in the blink of a keystroke, it is seductive to imagine that an organisation's reputation is similarly malleable. Yet, it has always seemed counter-intuitive to assume that a reputation can be managed. A new column from the Economist makes this case with typical precision, and I would find it hard to disagree with its culminating conclusion - that reputation is a by-product rather than an end in itself. Where I would dissent, though, is in the article's insistence that reputation management equates to brand campaigns, or even spin (BP's 'Beyond Petroleum' programme comes in for particular attention.) A good public relations person, I would hope, understands that reputation cannot be manipulated. It rests upon trying to ensure that an organisation's actions - whether they apply to product, marketing or human resources - do not fall foul of public expectations. Dreaming up an external comms campaign that is trying to sell a harmful policy, therefore, hardly constitutes reputation management. You could make the case that if BP was really alert to the reputation fallout, it would not have taken so many risks with its Deepwater Horizon oil rig, and it would certainly not have put its weight behind an advertising campaign that was - to put it mildly - a little divorced from reality. The Economist highlights four companies - Amazon, Costco, Southwest Airlines and Zappos - that have built strong reputations by focusing on their core business, rather than fancy marketing. I'd argue that those companies showcase a better understanding of public relations than any "fancy marketing" scheme ever could. Improving public opinion begins with what you do - whether it is policy, products or service - rather than what you say.
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