Who Really Controls Your Reputation?

April 8, 2016

Many are referring to today’s consumer sector as the “reputation economy,” with purchasing decisions becoming almost solely dependent on online critiques and Key Opinion Leaders (KOL) postings. But from our experience, the same is becoming more and more the case with corporations where opinions are being formed by a combination of online influencers, media coverage, pundits, activists and word of mouth. More than ever before, a company’s reputation is being controlled by its stakeholders.

When a company’s actions and reputation can be discussed, observed, celebrated and critiqued via the megaphone of social media by virtually anyone on the planet, from disgruntled employees and customers to YouTube stars, is reputation management really about control anymore?

Ketchum’s reputation management offering, Reputation by Permission, is a reflection of the fact that terms like control, protect, safeguard, and manage are all signs of a bygone era, and any organization still maintaining a commitment to those terms is doomed to failure in this new era of citizen journalism and instantaneous, non-stop news delivery. It reflects the new reality that businesses exist at the will of the people—and that a corporation’s reputation is now truly co-created by its key stakeholders.

Here are six critical questions companies should be asking themselves today:

  • How do your audiences view the world? What incites them to take action?
  • What are the positive and negative perceptions your stakeholders have of your company?
  • Do your actions as an organization track with your public statements, i.e. do you “walk your talk?”
  • Have you committed to real and proactive transparency with your key stakeholders, or are others constantly imposing it on you?
  • Do you publicly admit mistakes, right your wrongs and set a path forward?
  • And finally, as the primary ambassadors of your organization and its reputation, have you fully engaged the power of your employees as brand advocates?

The answers to all of the above will provide you with the information and insights you need to develop or enhance a corporate reputation strategy that will actively engage all stakeholders, fulfill their requirements of you, and gain the permission you need to succeed in today’s era of transparency and authenticity.

If you question this premise, we challenge you to simply look at recent issues within the global auto industry, fast food in the U.S. and China and the impact of data breaches on both public and private organizations.

So what now? How can a corporation best adapt its communications to this new reality? Today, a company must understand that if it wants its reputation to positively contribute to its business goals and (ultimately) its bottom line, the points of view and opinions of its many audiences must be fully understood, respected and addressed. Again, corporate reputations are now in the hands of a company’s many stakeholders, not the other way around.

Sean Fitzgerald serves as Partner/Managing Director, Corporate & Public Affairs Practice, North America.

Sean provides strategic counsel to Ketchum clients on a wide range of issues including corporate reputation, crisis management and media relations. In addition, he offers particular industry expertise in personal finance, automotive, medical equipment and consumer packaged goods.