Four factors of top reputation

Businesses should use a four-point plan to build credible and sustainable corporate reputation.

I wrote in this section last year about the need for organisations to take a systematic approach to managing corporate reputation; that PR and comms directors were the people best placed to take a lead on corporate reputation within organisations; that success would be dependent on having the ear of the CEO and bringing together stakeholder relationship owners across functions.

Fast-forward one year and already we see many PR and comms directors breaking down silos and taking a strategic and systematic approach to managing corporate reputation. However, in Reputation Institute’s 2013 Reputation Leaders Study, 57 per cent of respondents said they still did not have a structured process for embedding reputational thinking into business planning.

In the survey, we asked 313 reputation leaders to pinpoint the top three challenges in implementing reputational thinking into their business. Overall, three main themes emerged:

  1. Process: there is no structured process to follow. No clear owner is driving this through the organisation, and some colleagues still have not made the link from reputation to business results.
  2. Data: this is not being used effectively. You do not need more data. You need intelligence that tells you what your stakeholders expect from you and what you need to do to win their trust.
  3. Management: managing reputation from a central corporate function is impossible. Companies need to find a way to implement reputational thinking across the business.

Through our own research and look-ing at best practice from leading firms around the world, we found that there were four elements of a world-class reputation system, which are:

1. Business rationale: building and protecting corporate reputation has direct business impact. We know that when organisations work to improve reputation, they improve sales, secure licence to operate, drive recommendation and gain support across stakeholders.

Reputation leaders know which stakeholders influence the business, what specific business outcome they want from each, and how their firm’s vision and strategy are relevant to them. This powerful rationale, seamlessly linked to business objectives, needs to be articulated to the board in order to secure its support.

2. Strategy informed by intelligence: you need to fully understand both perceptions and expectations of your firm by all stakeholders. Most firms do not need more data; they need better intelligence from the data they get.

A strong strategy relies on relevant intelligence from all stakeholders. This requires a solid framework for intelligence gathering that is used across stakeholders so that the insights can be gathered, viewed and used holistically.

3. Management and accountability: you can’t manage reputation from a corporate silo. Reputation and support are driven on a day-to-day basis by the actions and comms from people across the organisation. So you need to implement reputation thinking into the way the firm does business. This involves setting key performance indicators across functions that ensure both behaviours and comms are aligned with both business strategy and the expectations of stakeholders.

Reputation leaders are making reputation strategy come to life for their functions and teams through tools and training so that they bring everyone together in managing reputation.

4 Activation: building trust and support is not done through comms alone. It is done across three influencer channels: what people experience directly with your company, what you say through your marcoms and what other people say about you. Reputation leaders are activating their corporate narrative across all these touchpoints and they are enabling stakeholders to participate in the storytelling.  

If you have these four elements of a world class reputation system, you are well on your way to building a credible and sustainable corporate reputation.

Spencer Fox is managing director at Reputation Institute UK

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