• Hina Baloch, director - data analytics, sustainability, DEI and STEM Education, GM
• Tara Darrow, VP of executive brand and corporate comms, T-Mobile
• Russ Dyer, VP, chief of communications and government affairs, Mondelez
• Paul Gennaro, CCO, SVP of brand and corporate comms, Voya Financial
• Lori Gross, GM, brand, Microsoft
• Bea Perez, SVP and chief comms, public affairs, sustainability and marketing assets officer, Coca-Cola
• Trish Wexler, MD, corporate comms, JPMorgan Chase
• Ben Kessler, director, enterprise, Meltwater
Reputation management is not just about minimizing risks and navigating crises, it's also about capitalizing on opportunities.
“There’s been an evolution of brand reputation dynamics over the past few years,” observes Meltwater’s Ben Kessler. “While it's never been just about product experience or service, consumers today have a real expectation for brands.”
Having an agile team allows PR pros to quickly capitalize on reputation-building opportunities in the social media landscape. That takes preparation, however.
“Reputation has to start with brand,” notes Lori Gross of Microsoft. “The more we walk and talk our brand and our culture every single day, the more we can be agile and ready for those moments.”
“Our social media teams are ready to turn on a dime,” explains T-Mobile’s Tara Darrow. “It's really important to listen to your audiences and understand who they are.”
Employee buy-in pays off
For a brand to be as agile as it needs to be, employees must be empowered.
“We're in 200 countries and territories. If something takes place and we want to leverage the opportunity, we can't wait to get CEO approval on how we're going to respond,” says Coca-Cola’s Bea Perez. “People at all levels of the organization have to feel safe when they respond. Even if they mess up, that's okay. It’s another learning moment and opportunity.”
Coca-Cola emphasizes the role all employees have as ambassadors for the brand. Staffers at all levels are given coupons as part of the company’s internal “Get Caught Red Handed” program. Employees are encouraged to give away free coupons when they see shoppers with Coca-Cola products in their basket.
“Our reputation is made up of all of those people in those interactions every single day,” adds Perez.
Marriage of tech and talent
Real-time reputation management is a marriage of technology and talent, suggests JPMorgan Chase's Trish Wexler. “You need the technology and tools to generate the right real-time information. You also need the right people with a PR rather than marketing mindset on the front lines to identify those opportunities.”
For JPMorgan Chase, that could mean a real-time tweet on a kid named Chase having a birthday party in a branch vault or offering the woman who's saving up points to buy a wedding gown special experiences on her honeymoon.
As Mondelez’s Russ Dyer notes, a lot of what looks like real time has been well planned for in advance.
“A lot of the principles we try to bring to crisis communications apply to the real-time capture of these opportunities,” he says.
To accentuate Dyer’s point, Kessler cites Ocean Spray as a great example of preparation meeting opportunity.
“A brand new CEO set aside an hour to jump on a skateboard and drink cranberry juice,” he shares. “That requires an understanding of what we're trying to achieve and what organizations are trying to achieve.”
After the murder of George Floyd, Voya Financial repurposed an internal video that featured three black senior-level executives talking about examples of racial injustice.
“It was the highest-performing organic content we've ever had,” recalls Paul Gennaro, the company’s head of brand and corporate comms. “All stakeholders are looking to corporations to lead the way on these key issues. Empathy is the new priority.”
Mindful that 87% of consumers want to see more underrepresented communities in TV advertising, Voya created the “Growing Up” ad about a family with special needs.
“It was the highest-performing TV commercial we've done,” notes Gennaro. “It drove interest in doing business with the brand.”
Roundtable participants were (clockwise from top left) Baloch, Darrow, Dyer, Gennaro, Wexler, Perez, Kessler and Gross
Rising above the noise
Staying on top of the external information universe is a crucial part of the communications function. With so much chatter out there, a key function of PR is determining what's truly important and what is just noise.
Perez says her team uses data science to really listen – to the investor community, the consumer, other stakeholders – and then prioritize what can drive scale and make an impact against the purpose of the brand or the business.
“Those things can change over time,” she counsels. “Sometimes things really do matter to the brand, but there are times when not coming out with a point of view can be more impactful. Don’t always feel like you have to jump in.”
“The ability to have a tool that gives you the right real-time information is critical to what we do as communicators. And these tools get better and better,” observes Wexler. For example, seeing what reporters and analysts are saying during earnings calls can help her help the CFO adapt his comments in real time.
“It’s not just about releasing a statement or putting your voice into the conversation,” says GM’s Hina Baloch. “Sometimes going out externally and making a strong statement can create a stronger advocacy opportunity internally to bring real change.”
And as brand reputation takes center stage on leadership's radar, data surrounding reputation is becoming more relevant than ever.
At GM, Baloch’s team works closely with marketing to look at aggregate reputation scores that combine different reputation drivers for the company.
“We've made reputation part of the enterprise risk,” she shares.
And contextualization is key.
“We connect that to the other data we have to ultimately make the right brand and reputation decisions,” concludes Microsoft’s Gross. “You want to be at a place where a reputation score is part of the impact assessment.”