Corporate Reputation: Kelly Pepworth, Bray Leino - A case for constant nurturing

A firm's corporate reputation needs constant care and attention if it is to flourish.

Corporate reputations that engender trust and loyalty, as well as being robust enough to withstand the myriad potential reputational challenges of our age, are not built overnight or created by one individual.

They are generally the result of years of energy, investment and input by a range of stakeholders, spanning consumers, shareholders, employees, suppliers, media and even competitors.

Much like a spider's web, building a sound reputation that has the strength to endure and truly reflects an organisation's culture and values can be an energetically costly process.

The thousands of strands that impact on how a business is perceived, be it the latest piece of media coverage, share price performance, a tweet from an employee, the conduct of its wider industry or how the receptionist greets visitors, all test the fortitude of a corporate's reputation on a daily basis.

The challenge for companies in the face of this complex environment is threefold.

Firstly, they need to stay true to their corporate values and not be defined reactively. Secondly, it is important to ensure customer experience matches the promise and last, but not least, is being able to cut through the 'noise' to identify those influencers whose advocacy can be more valuable than any paid-for channel.

This is what makes the current world of corporate comms so massively exciting, as never before have we had this level of direct, immediate contact and engagement with such an unprecedented number of influencers.

It provides huge opportunities for businesses to determine a point of difference when distinguishing themselves by price or innovation is no longer an option.

For example, Nationwide's strategy to emphasise its role as the customer's friend, and not being drawn to take the moral high ground but focusing on what differentiates it from the banks, certainly seems to have paid dividends. Its openness with stakeholders, steadfastness in relation to its values and refusal to be drawn into judging its peers is to be commended.

As well as opportunities, the complexity of today's comms environment has created a new level of fragility, with reputations flourishing or falling in a moment.

Take Standard Chartered, a top-20 FTSE firm and one of the UK's largest banks with a 160-year heritage, which in June saw its CEO Peter Sands feature on the front cover of Management Today as 'a good man in banking'.

But search Google today and you see news of the bank's £217m settlement for suspect Iranian dollar trades. The aftermath of the claims saw £6bn wiped from its value, although shares recovered after it agreed the 'lower than anticipated' settlement figure.

The news saturation and online conversation have been intense, and it rolls on, but what will be interesting to see during coming months is how the company rebuilds the reputation it had spent so many years fostering.

The saying goes that all things - good or bad - will get worse if left unattended. As such, a firm's corporate reputation is not just something to be protected but an invaluable asset that needs constant attention and nurturing. Good corporate reputations are generally the result of good practices by companies selling good products and services.

As PR practitioners, we can be massively effective when it comes to raising awareness, managing reputation and engaging with stakeholders, but the fundamental truth is that good firms benefit from good corporate reputations.

VIEWS IN BRIEF

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

You have to be true to your own moral and ethical values and bring this to bear when considering who you represent. It will also help you to sleep at night.

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

False. Corporate reputation improvements are determined by the practices of the company itself on an ongoing basis and its ability to communicate its 'story' with the right influencers and stakeholders.

Kelly Pepworth is head of b2b and corporate PR at Bray Leino

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