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Who owns your brand reputation?

It’s on the tip of your tongue, I know… At least, I really hope it is. If Covid-19 hasn’t brought your brand reputation conversations to the fore, then I’m guessing reputation management is gloriously integral in everything you do and it’s clear and understood who owns brand reputation in your organisation. Isn’t it…?

Whether it is or it isn’t, perhaps isolation is giving you the time to consider ‘important not urgent’ things on your roadmap and the topic of reputation might just creep into its deserved ‘important’ spot on the matrix.

When brand and reputation come together

As Trevor Young succinctly states in Content Marketing for PR: “PR has fingertips on both brand and reputation.” You can develop one without the other, but just like marketing functions left to wallow in silos, you won’t enjoy the benefits of an integrated approach.

And, famously in the case of Nike, it can go horribly wrong. Remember when the company that people loved for its focus on ‘big tick’ visual and product branding was busted manufacturing its products in sweatshops overseas? Yeah, that didn’t do their brand (or rep) much good.

Or take a more current example, where Specsavers with its funny TV ads and billboard campaigns slumps to a new reputational low by allegedly asking staff to volunteer for unpaid leave or to use annual leave, with some staff already laid off (pre the Chancellor’s furloughing offer).

Brand strategy and communications strategy perform best when closely aligned and in tune with each other. Fewer surprises, the better.

What is brand?

Please don’t say ‘it’s my logo’! Your logo is a visual representation of your company that people will come to recognise over time. Your brand is a collation of:

  • Your organisation’s values
  • Your tone of voice
  • What you stand for and stand up for
  • Consistent delivery of your product/service over time
  • What is reputation?

Reputation is how you are perceived by your stakeholders (customers, staff, media, investors, etc.). When in business, what people think about you matters.

The factors at play in building perception include:

  • Your product/service (it’s buyability and reliability, performance and price, service and safety)
  • Your ethics (including your approach to corporate social responsibility, the environment and transparency of communication)
  • Your leadership and vision (the profile of your leaders, business innovation, growth strategy, commentary on your marketplace or position within it)
  • Financial performance (results as well as staff incentives)
  • Workplace environment (staff relations, training, health & safety)
  • Reputation is the basis for a strong and credible brand.

Reputation management is about thinking long

There’s no room for knee-jerk reactions in brand reputation management. If your organisation has brand values, that’s a starting point for what you stand for and how you operate, whomever the stakeholder you’re dealing with at the time.

Ensuring your entire organisation (whether there’s one of you or 10,000 of you) buys into your brand values starts at the recruitment stage. Then it runs through new recruit induction, staff training and incentives, customer service policies, to your product delivery and complaint procedure, and how you communicate internally.

Ensuring the effective external delivery of your brand values begins within. With staff all on the same wavelength, they’ll develop products aligned to your brand strategy, deliver marketing campaigns tied to your ethical position, help the organisation reach and exceed its operational targets because they recognise that you’re in this together and they want to retain a pride in the company they work for.

It’s always easy to spot a business that has its brand values at the heart of everything it does. They’re the ones who respond fastest and smartest to situations. They typically tend to be younger organisations and those based on agile technologies that enable them to adjust swiftly to an event. Airbnb is the recurrent example in the travel space, whether we reflect on its PR stunts to host sleepovers in bookshops and museums, or its response to homeowners and holidaymakers during Covid-19.

So who owns brand reputation?

Reputation management deserves a place at the board table because if it’s not on the strategic agenda now, you’ll soon be on the back foot if you have any plans for growth.

Reputation management is the primary responsibility of your public relations and communications function. So whoever owns that, takes the lead and has a seat at the table.

Why reputation management sits within PR & comms

It may be useful at this point to clearly differentiate between public relations (PR) and publicity.

Seth Godin does this most succinctly highlighting how PR crafts your story, strategically, over time, while publicity is about ‘getting you ink’, i.e. short term promo.

Yes, some of that ink is going to feed into the brand storytelling that PR is best at, but only if you’re genuinely telling stories to the media, or have interesting enough stories for the media to write about, alongside the publicity effort.

That’s where the key factors of reputation come in again:

  • outstanding product/service performance
  • industry or marketplace innovation
  • demonstrably stand-out ethics
  • consistently impressive financial performance (that you’re transparent about)
  • strong leadership
  • genuinely happy and well looked after staff

All of the above is part of your brand storytelling. Where some or all of the above sets you apart from others, it’s going to form part of your external media relations effort too.

Being comfortable with talking about what you’re doing also forms part of your communications and brand strategies. The channels you use to deliver this storytelling and the tactics you implement to get your message across come next.

But communication is key, because if you don’t communicate no-one will know what you stand for and they’ll generate stories about you that you can’t control.

Where does brand reputation sit in your organisation?

I work with organisations to help them establish just that and to help them get operationally shipshape on all elements of reputation management. From HR to PR, facilities to development, training to distribution, reputation touches every element of your business and how you communicate.

Are you ready for that? If in doubt, let’s have a no obligation chat to see if or how I can support your transition to a reputation ready organisation. Drop me a message here on LinkedIn; I look forward to hearing from you.