John Mahony, ReputationInc: More than talking the talk

Reputation is so important that business leaders and employees must be committed to it.

Until recently, it was widely assumed that reputation was principally about talking the talk. If you said something loudly enough and often enough, stakeholders would ultimately accept it as true.

More enlightened communicators know the reality is rather different.

They understand that reputation is not just about what companies say but how they think and how they act. They recognise that reputation has become so important that business leaders and employees at every level need to be committed to it and engaged in its effective delivery.

The smartest comms directors are working hand-in-glove with business leaders and employees to help them become reputation managers in their own right.

At ReputationInc we have identified six steps that comms leaders and corporate affairs functions can follow to achieve this ambition:

  • The business and the leadership have to truly value the importance of reputation and understand the business benefits of a fully aligned business and reputation strategy.
  • The business must commit itself to investing in building reputation insights so it is clear about what its reputation is, what it stands for and how this will affect its reputation legacy.
  • The business must use reputation foresight as a key management tool to help map future opportunities and recognise the advantages conferred by effective reputation management.
  • Transformational change has to take place in the business approach to leadership skills and capability development. All business leaders and employees must be given the tools to think and act as a new generation of reputation managers.
  • Comms leaders and professionals must be willing to liberate the business so those working within it can engage directly with key stakeholders.
  • Robust reputation measurement and accountability should be in place to create a clear picture of reputation performance and set performance indicators for leaders and employees.

It is also critical for leaders who recognise the importance of reputation and its contribution to business success to explore the role of internal reputation and pride among employees and businesses.

Vast amounts of capital have been deployed on channel comms, listening surveys and leadership development programmes. But none of these approaches seems to work.

Why? Because employees are as influenced by external perceptions as they are by the way the business communicates with them and manages their particular role. Companies need to understand that external sources can really influence employee engagement and that earning the admiration and support of outsiders is a key driver of pride, engagement and well-being in the workforce. Building this into the internal reputation strategy can help employees become business ambassadors.

Recognising this, more and more businesses are analysing who is best placed to provide objective insight into the interplay between reputation, business strategy, engagement and comms. And they are beginning to work out who they should partner with on reputation strategy, narrative, skills and capability development, and reputation measurement, foresight and campaigning.

As this thinking develops, expect the reputation management, management consultancy and PR agency landscape to alter dramatically as clients recognise the one-stop shop is simply not enough to support their reputation-building needs and begin to seek a more tailored approach.


How would you deal with an assault from UK Uncut on your clients?

Avoid anything heavy-handed. Protect customers and staff. Both tone and messaging matter. Companies shoulder a significant tax obligation in National Insurance, corporation tax, duties and excise on top of capital investment. Deploy social media to make these arguments, merchandise the client's position and publicly debate it.

Which film title best sums up the spirit of your agency?

Transformers. With a look to the past, set in the present and an eye on protecting the future, this is a classic ReputationInc epic. The A-list cast of LaBeouf, McDormand, Malkovich, Duhamel and Dempsey compares well to our talented pool of reputation management professionals.

John Mahony is CEO at ReputationInc.

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