How to sell corporate reputation to a client - By now, most CEOs understand the importance of reputation management. But as Chris Clark discovers, not all know what their PR people can do to help

'Your reputation is all you have' is a truism that today's companies have to bear in mind more than ever. And many of today's businesses, big and small, are placing management of their corporate reputations squarely on the shoulders of their chief executives, right up there with stock price, revenue growth, employee retention and the font used for headlines on the company's home page.

'Your reputation is all you have' is a truism that today's companies have to bear in mind more than ever. And many of today's businesses, big and small, are placing management of their corporate reputations squarely on the shoulders of their chief executives, right up there with stock price, revenue growth, employee retention and the font used for headlines on the company's home page.

'Your reputation is all you have' is a truism that today's companies have to bear in mind more than ever. And many of today's businesses, big and small, are placing management of their corporate reputations squarely on the shoulders of their chief executives, right up there with stock price, revenue growth, employee retention and the font used for headlines on the company's home page.

'Corporate reputation isn't something the CEO can delegate,' agrees Gary Grates, president, GCI BoxenbaumGrates. 'He or she has to be the chief strategist, because ultimately, corporate reputation is what the board of directors uses to measure his or her performance.'

Kenneth Trantowski, EVP/GM of reputation management for Edelman Worldwide, argues that the CEO isn't just authorizing or implementing the program, he or she is the physical embodiment of a company's corporate reputation.

'I trust, I respect, I admire ... now, insert a CEO's name. When the name isn't here, that CEO's company doesn't have the same kind of reputation.'

In the old days (say, 1995), corporate reputation essentially meant community relations and a healthy collection for the United Way. But in a world where a lower price is a mouse click away and teenagers run pump-and-dump stock scams online, corporate reputation can be the overriding reason customers choose to do business with a company. And that should scare most of the Fortune 500 into something more than buying a table at the next Kiwanis Club formal.

The list is endless: from its peak in August 1995 when it launched Windows 95, Microsoft has devolved from a Horatio Alger bootstrap fable to a competitive bully, a technology laggard and an antitrust pariah (just one year ago, the company was placed first in the Harris-Fombrun Reputation Quotient for technology companies). It took Audi five years to recover from ultimately false claims of accidental acceleration. Nike is still waiting for its comeback after its Asian sweatshop debacle. Coca-Cola and McDonald's have become symbols of corporate arrogance in Europe. Anybody want to work for (insert funny word).com anymore? Not after reading all the nasty postings about them in online muckrakers





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