Reputation battle needs to be fought on all fronts

Brand identity is driven as much by consumer perception as by marketing messages and corporations' efforts to create icons.

Brand identity is driven as much by consumer perception as by marketing messages and corporations' efforts to create icons.

In consumers' engagement in specifically designed Web sites, blogs, or chat rooms, praise can dramatically boost sales while complaints can start a chain of events leading to negative coverage. In extreme cases, this can force a reactive PR approach by a company with a campaign to combat the bad press.

For these reasons, companies need to have their heads and corporate communications departments on a proverbial swivel to keep track of everything being said about them at all times. They must be organized to fight 1,000 verbal skirmishes.

Tom Mattia, SVP and director of worldwide public affairs and communications at Coca-Cola, recently told PRWeek he was realigning certain parts of the communications staff and adding a number of new positions not only to deal with these everyday challenges, but to better educate the employees who interact with consumers on an daily basis in real and virtual conversations. Coke's steps evince a serious effort to become more nimble on all fronts and better anticipate the changing communications landscape.

For companies like Coke dealing with obesity, labor, and other hot-button issues, ninja-like reflexes are all the more important. Gone are the days when reputational battles were fought solely on Op-Ed pages and via such high-powered corporate salvos as goodwill campaigns.

Coke and other companies, whether they make cars or aspirin, need to have just as much ability to fight skirmishes on blogs as they do to put out corporate reputation campaigns costing tens of millions of dollars.

If Mattia says Coke will take an aggressive approach to both its internal and external communications efforts, his assertion may reflect the special challenges of fighting for reputation in a micro, not macro, media world.

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