Reputation Management: Reputation touch points

Smart companies use numerous resources to measure reputation.

Smart companies use numerous resources to measure reputation.

Corporate America knows that its customers - whether consumers, government agencies, or other businesses - want to know more about it now than they used to. Corporate scandals, a slow economy, and increasing global competition have seen to that. It's a phenomenon proven by countless surveys, which consistently show that people care about the reputations of those they do business with. As a result, "many more companies [today] are becoming interested in managing their reputation," says Leslie Gaines-Ross, chief knowledge and research officer with Burson-Marsteller. "Companies realize reputation is a very competitive asset." Indeed, with almost every product space overcrowded with new competition today, "there's more of a trend for companies to look for other ways they can build brand loyalty," says Peter Morrissey, president of Morrissey & Co. in Boston. "Typical branding programs aren't working; there's too much clutter out there." While branding and traditional PR have tried to build product awareness, reputation-building efforts today work to establish what companies stand for, Morrissey explains. The expectation is that a solid reputation will translate into sales and customer loyalty. As companies get more serious about reputation management, they want to know what they're getting for the dollars spent in that area. That's making measurement of reputation-building increasingly important. Those on the cutting edge are finding new ways to measure the effectiveness of their reputation-management efforts. The measurement tools being used extend beyond traditional media monitoring to media analysis, customer surveys, investor surveys, website feedback, the number of speaking opportunities offered to company senior executives, and a variety of other approaches, says Gaines-Ross. "It is not just custom research anymore," she says of reputation measurement. Focusing b-to-b efforts The approaches to measurement vary depending on the type of business involved. Companies that deal with consumers are emphasizing consumer surveys and better media-monitoring techniques. Corporations in the b-to-b space are not as concerned with media as they are with their distinct customer segments. Reputation-management measurement is much more focused in the b-to-b world, say those doing it. At ITT Industries, for example, measuring media exposure takes a back seat to more customer-centric efforts, says Tom Martin, SVP, corporate relations. The company competes in the water-treatment technology and aerospace industries, highly specialized fields with very clearly defined target audiences. It's found that reputation-building efforts work best when centered on events, such as trade shows where 20,000 to 30,000 customers gather. To measure how effective its efforts are, ITT conducts customer surveys before and after shows, asking questions about the quality of its products and whether it is viewed as a tech leader, Martin explains. It has found positive impressions of the company can climb 10% to 12% at such shows because of reputation- building efforts that include having key executives speak at such events. Sun Microsystems, in measuring its reputation-building efforts, has found a difference between what matters to the press and to customers, says Randy Burgess, Sun's brand intelligence manager. Using Biz360 to analyze media coverage and how key influencers perceive the company, Sun has found that favorable media stories about it often revolve around how innovative the company is being with new products. But customer surveys show that what matters most to customers is value, Burgess says. Sun has been working with Biz360 and Momentum Research Group to develop a reputation-measurement model, monitoring and measuring nine reputation categories, such as emotional brand attraction, product and service innovation, and vision and leadership. "For the past year and a half, we have put reputation at the top of our list of everything we do in communications," Burgess says. In the past six months, Sun has established an internal council of people from various departments who have contact with customers. It brings together all the reputation feedback the company gets from various sources into one customer database, Burgess explains, something Sun had never tried to do before. The consumer approach For firms in the consumer space, reputation measurement is a matter of getting almost-constant customer feedback. Electric utility Exelon early last year established a reputation-management council headed by its chief administrative officer. The council includes government affairs, operations, and communications and IR, says Don Kirchoffner, VP, corporate communications, with the Chicago-based company. Looking at reputation, the council found the company wasn't getting recognition for its various community relations efforts, he says. As a result, Exelon is now trying to get more of its mid-level management involved in community activities, such as charitable boards. The company had its share of reputation problems in the late 1990s and 2000 after a series of outages in the Chicago area called its reliability into question. It's been trying to rebuild its reputation since then, even as it expands into other markets around the country through acquisitions. "There's no silver bullet to reputation; it's everything you do," Kirchoffner says. While it uses Delahaye to measure and gauge media coverage, Exelon also relies on a survey of consumer utility satisfaction done every quarter by an outside agency to see how its reputation compares to others in its industry. FedEx doesn't consider reputation management a subset of its communications efforts. Rather, "it is our PR effort. Our primary reason for being is our corporate reputation," says Eric Jackson, VP, worldwide corporate communications. "People make buying decisions based on our reputation." FedEx measures the impact of the messages it pushes out to consumers, looks at media coverage, and does research on consumer and business customer opinion (see sidebar). "I want to know what the buying public is thinking of us before we go to market," Jackson explains. "We don't look at our measurements as a way to either pat ourselves on the back or slap our hands. They're diagnostic tools to help us stay ahead of the competition." Allstate Insurance has found that key components of its reputation, as far as policyholders are concerned, are how the company handles claims and how well it does in maintaining overall customer satisfaction with its products. "We know there is a definite correlation between both of those and all sorts of hard business decisions," such as the likelihood to renew a policy, explains Peter Debreceny, VP for corporate relations with Allstate. Roughly 40% of all Allstate communications efforts are what Debreceny considers proactive reputation-management undertakings. Measuring the impact of those is also a major undertaking. "Allstate does a huge amount of research on an ongoing basis" looking at its reputation, he says. The insurer maintains its own research center in California to continually measure its reputation. Results of the research, which talks to 15,000 consumers at a time, are produced quarterly. Debreceny has found it difficult to measure the business impact of a particular reputation-management effort unless the program is a large one. "Day-to-day reputation efforts are lost in the wash," he says. But he has been able to measure the impact of proactive efforts launched in anticipation of negative media coverage of such events as how the company operates during a natural disaster, like an earthquake or hurricane. Allstate does daily media monitoring using Biz360. Its 14 regional offices also have communications staffers, who monitor local media coverage, Debreceny notes. Every few years, he'll pay to use a PR agency's reputation-management measurement tool as a check on his internal surveys. Lack of spending While Allstate is willing to spend dollars for reputation measuring, many companies still are not, contends Glenn Karwoski, MD with Karwoski & Courage in Minneapolis. "I'm not aware of any companies in the upper Midwest that are doing it," he says of reputation measurement. "I really think that they are behind the curve." Even in larger markets, measurement still lags when it comes to spending. "Clients are spending more money on reputation management, but they're really not doing it to an extent anyone would like to see," says Nick Kalm, a founding partner with Reputation Partners in Chicago. Companies like Allstate and FedEx "are real pros when it comes to PR and measurement, but they're in the minority," Kalm says. Other companies that want to compete successfully in today's business climate need to catch up with these measurement leaders. Trying to man-age reputation without measurement makes no sense, says Jackson. "If you don't know your target, then why are you shooting?" he asks. "We'd never dream of saying anything unless we had some sense of the audience. We view it as probably the most important investment we make." ------- Delivering reputation results FedEx sees its reputation-management measurement efforts as part of a continuous loop that starts and ends with its customers, ensuring that the company meets customer needs and expectations. "Reputation management is the bottom line for us," says Eric Jackson, VP of worldwide corporate communications. FedEx has been working with Delahaye to not only record media coverage, but also to look at it in terms of key reputation drivers and attributes, such as social responsibility, emotional appeal, products and services, workplace environment, financial performance, and visions and leadership. It studies the amount of coverage for each of those areas and tailors messages in each of them to specific channels where they will reach targeted audiences, Jackson explains. The goal: "to say the right things in the right channels," Jackson explains. Coverage is analyzed in terms of quality and quantity, as well as by region, market, and media outlet. And FedEx coverage is compared to that of its competitors. The effectiveness of media relations efforts is gauged in terms of whether the media see the company as it wants to be seen by its consumer and business audiences. Another measurement category the company uses is third-party surveys, such as the Harris Interactive Poll, the Fortune magazine list of most admired companies, and the Financial Times list of most respected companies. "The results we get back are a very good diagram to understand what we do right," Jackson says.

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