Crises prompt companies to increase focus on the brand

In the wake of the corporate crises of the past 18 months, including those at Goldman Sachs, BP, and Toyota, companies are increasingly looking to corporate branding and reputation management to go beyond focusing on product PR. To accomplish this, companies are leveraging employee engage- ment, CSR, thought leadership, executive visibility, and social media to engage stakeholders on a broader corporate level.

In the wake of the corporate crises of the past 18 months, including those at Goldman Sachs, BP, and Toyota, companies are increasingly looking to corporate branding and reputation management to go beyond focusing on product PR. To accomplish this, companies are leveraging employee engagement, CSR, thought leadership, executive visibility, and social media to engage stakeholders on a broader corporate level.

"We're seeing more of a focus on promoting the corporate brand, not just products and services," says Paul Jensen, head of the North American corporate practice for Weber Shandwick. "In an increasingly transparent environment, a corporation must explain the company behind the product; its values; and how it positively contributes to society."

MassMutual hired Weber in early 2010, and the agency works on issues such as executive visibility and expanding the company's presence in national media. Other companies, including OppenheimerFunds and Lincoln Financial, have recently conducted agency searches where branding and corporate positioning were key parts of the brief.

Consumer interest

Heather Dzielak, CMO of Lincoln Financial, says the recent financial crisis has made consumers more interested in the company's products in the life insurance and annuities space. Because of that, Lincoln hired Cohn & Wolfe as AOR as of May 1, and is looking to define its corporate brand story.

"Consumers are also very interested in understanding the companies they work with and buy from," she adds. "Strong brands and good reputations do matter, so that has led us to reinvigorate our efforts and build out and amplify our brand focus."

Michael Bayer, EVP, US corporate practice leader, and deputy MD for Cohn & Wolfe, is leading the Lincoln account and says, "Corporate America is at a point where there is a more sophisticated understanding of reputation as an asset and, frankly, as a contributor to valuation."

Bayer adds that companies no longer need a crisis or major news, such as a merger or acquisition, to start thinking about overall corporate branding and reputation.

Bryan Dumont, president of APCO Insight, the research arm for APCO Worldwide PR, agrees and says this trend has been growing for several years.

APCO recently released its Return on Reputation Indicator, a tool that helps companies understand the impact of reputation on business goals and what can help in the area of reputation.

"It often goes beyond traditional advertising and involves a whole suite of communications and PR tactics to enhance the reputation of a company," Dumont says.

Jensen agrees: "It's good business to keep the corporate brand in the public eye."

Building a reputation

PR firms can help clients build and maintain their reputations as well as enhance their corporate brands, particularly in social media. Dzielak admits Lincoln Financial is "at the infancy of how social media will play into it," but C&W will provide expertise in this area. Bayer goes as far as to say social media is the biggest player for reputation management and corporate branding.

Not only can it help identify issues facing a company, he says, but it is also "the best vehicle we have now for diffusing them."

Peter Harris, SVP in the North American corporate practice for MS&LGroup, says social media can highlight the importance of real-time reputation management. Additionally, as companies engage consumers and stake- holders online, they must be willing to relinquish some control over what is said about their brand in that space.

"We are seeing more openness to CEOs being involved with social media," he says. "CEOs arguably are now more convinced than ever that it is important for them to participate in the conversation and for them to have a voice - and for it to be authentic and real."

Major corporate brand campaigns

Procter & Gamble

At the 2010 Olympics, P&G unveiled ads paying tribute to moms. It also signed with several athletes for integrated post-Games campaigns

Hewlett-Packard

The company introduced a $40 million "Let's Do Amazing" campaign featuring rapper Dr. Dre and Rhys Darby from Flight of the Conchords

Certified Financial Planner Board of Standards

Looking to launch a campaign to build trust in the financial services industry, perhaps hiring a PR firm

AstraZeneca

The pharmaceutical company debuted a corporate blog and Facebook page discussing breaking news, CSR, and healthcare reform

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