Not all business leaders get reputation management

Corporations are under more scrutiny than ever and despite business leaders being more reputation savvy they still need our help

We're only two months into 2016 and there are already a crop of reputational crises to learn from, writes Alison Clarke
We're only two months into 2016 and there are already a crop of reputational crises to learn from, writes Alison Clarke

While we may think of building and maintaining reputation as comms 101, it is worth reflecting on just how many organisations really need our skills today as much as ever before.

We already have a bumper crop of reputation case studies before us. Google and the tax debate, the IAFF losing Adidas as sponsor, Tesco’s historic payment terms to suppliers exposed and the committee of MPs’ report on the failings at Kids Company. There may be more by the time you read this.

Now, whether these examples fall in to the ‘how to’ or ‘how not to’ camp has already been debated in detail.

What this does is remind us all that a robust reputation has never been more important and that what takes a long-term strategy to build can be destroyed in very short order. As comms professionals, whether in consultancy or in-house, we have to keep the organisations we work with on top of this agenda.

Reputation is earned through the right behaviours and authentic engagement. That has long been understood and yet we still see countless examples that suggest otherwise.

Building and nurturing trust requires a journey of commitment, not a quick-fix project that can be accelerated with a bigger budget. A corporation’s every move and decision is under public scrutiny at all times and social media present both challenges and opportunities, if handled smartly.

The leaders of the commercial organisations above seem determined to stamp out historic poor practices where they have existed and to reinforce a commitment to operating in a fair and transparent way. This will help them draw a line under these reputational issues and help them move forward.

What they and others like them must do is also seize opportunities for good storytelling as they make progress on their path to reputational rehabilitation.

Too often corporations that have been in the media spotlight shy away from public engagement, believing silence to be the appropriate strategy.  While it is essential that good behaviours and change are truly embedded before making them part of the message, it is important to find the moment to tell those stories.

This is where the trusted comms director or consultancy adviser can really help. Through sound strategic counsel on when the time is right to share as part of the long process of rebuilding trust, they can help to give the confidence that an organisation needs to help itself in the process.

In his book Good To Great, Jim Collins speaks of the clear, determined and sustained effort that drives change. Showcasing evidence that a plan makes sense and will bring about change is how it really happens, rather than a mega moment or event.

So if for one moment you were thinking that reputation is so obviously important that every business leader gets it and they don’t really need people like us to help them – think again. 

The smart CEO leads the right behaviour from the top – but also works with a comms adviser who can help them have the confidence in their journey towards rebuilding trust.

Alison Clarke is principal of Alison Clarke Communications


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