Downturn spurs businesses to shed light on the positive

Given the damage that corporate reputations have suffered over the course of the past year, many companies have recognized the need to engage with consumers, establish competitive dominance, or simply shed some positive light on their organizations.

Given the damage that corporate reputations have suffered over the course of the past year, many companies have recognized the need to engage with consumers, establish competitive dominance, or simply shed some positive light on their organizations.

In September, Siemens introduced its largest US marketing initiative targeting top business executives and decision-makers to position itself as a leader in the healthcare, energy, and manufacturing sectors.

"In the past couple of years, Siemens has really restructured itself in a way that puts us at a competitive advantage to provide solutions to the nation's toughest problems," Jim Whaley, the company's VP of communications and marketing, told PRWeek. "Now is the perfect timing for Siemens to tell its story in an amplified manner."

Though Federal Reserve chairman Ben Bernanke declared in September that the recession is "very likely over," he did acknowledge that the employment situation would indicate otherwise for some time to come. And as the unemployment rate hovers close to 10%, that seems to be the reality.

Proper timing?
A pressing question is whether now is the right time for businesses to launch a corporate reputation campaign.

"Absolutely now is a good time," says Leslie Gaines-Ross, chief reputation strategist at Weber Shandwick, Siemens' AOR. "We're starting to see signs of an economic recovery, and I think companies have to remind stakeholders of the good things that have been happening at their companies."

Jennifer Risi, EVP of the global strategic media group at WS, says opportunities are presenting themselves for a number of reasons, including President Barack Obama's agenda and government stimulus money in areas such as infrastructure (an area that Siemens is involved in) and sustainability. Clients must determine how "they can inject themselves into these conversations," she says.

"We're also seeing more clients across various sectors come to us to get their brand out there," Risi adds.

In addition to being proactive, which Risi recommends, now is also the time to look ahead with optimism, according to Gaines-Ross.

"Siemens is focused on how the world will be when we get there," she points out. "Companies respect the fact that the present is still tough, but we need to be positive for the future."

Kiersten Zweibaum, MD of the global corporate practice at Ogilvy, says "the short answer is yes," that now is the time for a corporate reputation campaign. However, the pieces that make up a corporate reputation have changed to include, among other traits, brand authenticity.

"Organizations need to take a deep look at who they are as a company, examine their DNA, where they've come in this recession, what has and hasn't changed, fix the warts, and then start communicating," she advises.

While most every industry has been impacted by the economic downturn, some industries have been hit harder than others, which is also a determining factor in deciding whether to launch a corporate reputation effort.

RF Binder CEO Amy Binder says the answer ultimately depends on whether you have a corporate reputation issue. Companies that find themselves at the center of the Venn diagram comprised of Wall Street, Main Street, and the Beltway should be addressing the issues they're faced with, she notes.

Effective execution
Perhaps more than whether to launch a corporate reputation campaign now or later, the question of how to execute it is paramount. Binder says that going local instead of turning to opinion leaders alone can improve corporate reputation.

"If there's great mistrust between the institution and the consumer, you won't assuage that mistrust by going to the opinion level," she says. For example, she adds, a retailer needs to look at its locations and how they're engaged in those communities.

"We must think about how to rebuild reputation in a very different way than in the past," says Binder. "All of a sudden, the conversation is not being formed at the opinion-leader level, but at the grassroots level."

Why launch a reputation campaign?

Increase market share
Many companies cut back on PR and marketing in a downturn. Unveiling such an effort can help boost a business' market share

Establish leadership
Such initiatives position the company as a leader in the sector and marks its executives as leaders

Empower shareholders
Launching such an effort during a downturn can motivate staffers, build trust, and communicate that the company is still investing in innovation

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