Corporate Reputation: Charlie O'Rourke, AIMediaComms - Reputation, reputation

The value of a firm can be best gauged by its reputation - if only Team GB were a firm.

Overpaid, arrogant, cheats - footballers, bankers, or both? Team GB, certainly not. The closing ceremony of the Olympic Games brought the curtain down on a spectacle that will live long in the memory.

In its place came the return of the national game, with some footballers and football pundits rushing to deny that Great Britain's Olympic heroes have set a standard for them to match.

They argue they are just as unbelievably dedicated, hard-working and sacrifice a lot to be the best. I'm sorry, but the role models in my house are Jess, Bradley and Mo, certainly not Terry, Rooney and Barton.

But athletes beware: reputations can be lost easily. Remember how quickly Tiger Woods was stripped of his sponsorship mojo, Lehman Brothers of its very existence and Ireland of its credit rating. As Warren Buffett, the legendary US investor, once famously said: 'It takes 20 years to build a reputation and five minutes to destroy it.' Small wonder that he told his employees: 'If you lose dollars for the firm by bad decisions, I will be understanding. If you lose reputation for the firm, I will be ruthless.'

It would appear the British banking sector did not take heed of Buffett's words, as it has been hit by a series of reputational scandals in 2012.

After Barclays' Libor rigging and HSBC's Mexican money-laundering scandal, we have had the squeaky-clean reputation of Standard Chartered being shredded. It was branded by US regulators as a facilitator for 'terrorists, weapons dealers, drug kingpins and corrupt regimes'. Yet CEO Peter Sands might just keep his job, as there is enough goodwill and trust among investors and he has previously enjoyed a good reputation.

To build trust requires managing relationships with many different stakeholders (for example, the media, legislators, regulators, customers) and in particular managing the interactions and comms with them. Organisations must ensure there is transparency, consistency and accuracy in all their comms.

Anne Campbell, who was director of comms at Suffolk and Norfolk Constabularies when giving evidence at the Leveson Inquiry, stated that 'it is important to foster relationships with journalists and editors that are based on trust, openness and honesty'.

Trust, openness and honesty are all terms associated with a reputable organisation. They are not now normally associated with bankers, nor footballers.

Simon Ash, chief constable at Suffolk Constabulary, in his evidence to the inquiry, referred to the constabulary's use of media relations management systems that 'keep records of contacts with journalists and other individuals of note, for example local politicians and MPs, to enable the professional management of corporate comms ... (and) enable us to bring more rigour to this area of our business'.

Generally, the use of software within the corporate comms function ensures that key spokespeople have access to the appropriate lines to take and briefing statements on any issue affecting their organisation, and that they are ready to react consistently to enquiries from any stakeholder group. This ensures they remain the trusted source of information and will help to leverage opportunities, mitigate risks and protect reputational value.

The stakes are high: a positive reputation will directly increase a firm's market cap. On average, a five per cent improvement in the strength of a reputation will lead to an increase of 1.8 per cent in the market cap of a FTSE 100 company. People are more likely to buy the products of firms they trust, work for the organisations they respect and recommend companies they admire.

If Team GB was a plc, based on reputation, it would be a 'strong buy'.


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

I would avoid the football sector in general. If the authorities fail to clamp down on diving and the verbal and physical abuse of officials, the sport will have a reputational issue forever. Eventually it will lose touch with families.

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

In 2008, Toyota was the 'World's Most Reputable Company', but its poor response to safety recalls in 2009 proved costly, while Domino's Pizza's reaction to a drop in stock price after an employee prank enabled it to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat.

Charlie O'Rourke is managing director of AIMediaComms

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