Greg Dawson, Virgin Atlantic: Build reputations every day

Why do many comms directors confine corporate reputation management to results time?

Greg Dawson, Virgin Atlantic: Build reputations every day

It interests me when I see established communications directors dismiss the volume game when trying to influence corporate reputation. It seems that the default position remains positioning the company well at results time.

But every day there is an opportunity - and an urgent need - to push the agenda.

With the proliferation of media channels, driven by the runaway growth of social media, reputation equity is always changing, and that demands a proactive approach to keep brand reputation on track.

During my time at private equity-backed Travelodge, we looked at the key value drivers of the business to ensure our corporate reputation achieved the highest possible value. These 'value creators' - prescribed by banks and other private investors of course - centred not only on the business model, strategy and financial track record, but also on quality of leadership, brand credentials, industry regulatory environment, innovation and reputation as a 'good employer'.

Already you can see that the corporate narrative required to shape that set of values needs to be much broader than the last quarter's numbers. In fact, these needs create opportunities for the comms teams to be talking to many different sections of the media on a weekly basis.

Having increased awareness of the Travelodge brand from 70 to 99 per cent in three years - and moved its corporate reputation in some of these keys areas - I know it takes a consistently intense media relations effort to create relationships and seek opportunities for regular stories, comment or profile interviews.

To reach a range of media you must spread your comms teams' reach inside the business. They must become news hounds who understand every corner of the organisation and can build relationships with internal stakeholders so they impart their knowledge and expertise.

When this is achieved, the comms team carries the core intelligence of the business and can attack and defend its corporate reputation depending on the media, consumer and political agendas. I have always found that a significant news flow is the best way to defend a reputation. If you have bad news or reputation sensitivities hanging over your organisation, the worst thing you can do is cross your fingers and hope.

The next stage is when your set of widely dispersed communicators become sensitive to opportunities in the divisions that they are mining for information. This is where my business, Virgin Atlantic, comes into play.

If your communicators can coach your organisation's directors to become confident spokespeople, they are then talking indirectly to their customers. The next step is to relay consumers' responses back to the company through the increasing number of channels that are provided by social media.

If a business is to become truly progressive, it will act on the feedback delivered by social media and embark on a wonderful conversation with its consumers. This will help shape its business offering.

This approach takes all of the elements I have described above, but also that sometimes elusive quality, leadership. Virgin Atlantic's brand enjoys its status because the company has been built on strong communicators and brave leadership.

The willingness to challenge convention on behalf of the consumer is a powerful part of a company's DNA, galvanising the workforce and sealing a bond with customers.

Views in brief

Which historical figure would have been a great reputation manager?

Lionel Logue - voice coach to King George VI. His sensitivity to his subject, the courage of his convictions and the ability to provide leadership to the King helped to galvanise the British Empire throughout the Second World War.

Which organisation has turned around its reputation in the past year?

ITV has taken greater steps than most. The link-up between Adam Crozier and Archie Norman is exciting because they have been leaders in the consumer industries for so long. Chief executive Adam Crozier has a record of lighting fires under brands and helping people rediscover their sense of purpose.

Greg Dawson is director of corporate communications at Virgin Atlantic.

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