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Corporate Reputation: Christian Mahne, Vetch Mahne - Tell your story your way

In today's diverse comms landscape, firms can interact directly with their chosen audience.

There have been quite a few 'blips' to corporate reputations in the past few years, none more so than in the financial services sector.

With Malcolm Tuckers in short supply out in the real world, we all have to be more creative with our response to reputational risks than simply bawling at the offending journalist.

When Tucker was a playground tyrant, reputations were made and lost in columns of dense ink in large newspapers. Key influencers were fewer in number and could be contacted and briefed personally.

In today's world of multi-channel comms, audiences are dispersed. TV and the newspapers still have their part to play, but they are just two of many reputational agents.

The challenge comes in viewing your comms 'in the round', crafting your message for the new formal and informal channels. Instinct tells us we should manage each channel separately, but in a world where Google collates and presents information in a single click, audiences are just as likely to see a press release intended for journalists as a tweet aimed at consumers.

Effective comms in today's environment needs thematic consistency. Those receiving your PR need to have trust in what they see and being consistent will go a long way to establishing that.

Reputations can now be made or broken in minutes, from an appearance in front of a select committee to a product defect filmed on YouTube. With this greater threat also comes greater opportunity. By using the new technology and channels we can now craft and deliver our own messaging to the end audience. Companies have a golden opportunity to tell their own story at a time when preserving reputation is more important than ever.

Nationwide is a good example. It has emphasised its status as a mutual to create standout from the wider financial services industry, while demonstrating that it offers many of the same products. When it has something to say, it tells the journalists via press release, interested consumers via Twitter and it creates its own content via YouTube or a self-penned article. It has created a true voice for its brand. Stick to this strategy and over time its in-house-generated collateral builds into a mass that dwarfs all third party coverage combined, leaving it with the last word on the stories it wanted to tell, in its own way. You too can write about your company every week. How many 'official' journalists would want to do that?

There are some rules. What you create has to be editorially rigorous, truthful and consistent with your other messaging. You are taking your marketing much further downstream than before. For it to have the weight of journalism, it needs to read like journalism.

We build this direct-to-stakeholder approach into all the work we do. This is PR as reputation management. Write a press release? Yes, but create a companion article to go with it. Got a piece of original research? Explain it in a three-minute video you can send to clients, contacts and the media. It's all about taking what you have and using it all the way through to the end user alongside the traditional PR media relations route. Then, if the worst happens, you've got a bank of positive collateral published already.

So, we're calling time on Malcolm Tucker's 'dark arts'. Go ahead and use all the comms channels available to tell your story and establish a positive corporate reputation, and never forget the power of your own voice.

VIEWS IN BRIEF

- Are there any businesses from corporate sectors you would not represent?

We believe in playing to our strengths and that means staying focused on our specialisms in the financial and professional services sectors. Off-sector work where we can't stand out from the crowd won't benefit us or our clients.

- The biggest improvements to a corporate reputation come in the wake of a crisis - true or false?

False. Crisis situations sharpen the mind, leading to practical improvements in the comms response plan and chain of command. However, it would be hard to argue all corporate reputations receive their biggest improvement after a crisis.

Christian Mahne is director of Vetch Mahne

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