A 6-Step Foundational Approach to Reputation Management Strategy

Eugene J. Berardi, MAnaging Director, Windward catalyst
Eugene J. Berardi, Managing Director, Windward Catalyst

With last week’s focus on public relations at Subway and Amazon, attention turned to crisis and issue management. Most professionals in this sector focus on activities occurring from the moment a reputation-management scenario begins. I’ve found success with a more holistic strategy, which begins long before a brand’s legitimacy and/or bottom line are at risk. This is a foundational approach to reputation management—one that establishes fundamental stability and then layers on more advanced PR tactics over time.

Following are six foundational benchmarking tactics you can use as cornerstones for your reputation-management strategy:

  1. Regularly assess your façade profile vis-à-vis the competition. In an era when brand storytelling has dominated, the ways that consumers engage with an organization have never been more complex or important to managing image. Compile a list of communications assets and public-facing interface points—call centers, retail locations, social media assets and websites. Then simulate the journey stakeholders take when they interact with your brand. Odds are you’ll find unnoticed faults: Poor language choices on websites, incomplete executive profile pages on LinkedIn and inactivity on social media pages usually top the list. Correct these issues and benchmark your finished products against your competition. Such façade housekeeping should be done anyway, but pursuing it with a reputation management mindset will produce sharper messaging and additional returns for everyday business needs.
  2. Have a robust digital presence, even if you lack immediate needs or objectives. Some companies prefer a minimalist digital footprint. This can be costly. Dilution is the solution to pollution, and in the case of reputation management that simple premise has never been truer. The more you foster an abundance of positive information, the easier it will be to bury your critics on page 15 of online search results and prevent them from gaining critical mass.
  3. Develop an all-hazards crisis-response plan. Most threats to an organization’s credibility originate outside its immediate sphere of influence. As a member of the communications team, your first step is triaging the damage and ensuring that your actions (and those of other corporate leaders) are performed with mission-oriented focus and precision. This requires a hard look at priorities.

    Briefing the press and addressing investors usually can wait. Ensuring that a reporter won’t catch your CEO off guard at home cannot. At minimum draft a notification protocol and rally plan (a predetermined conference bridge will suffice during off-business hours). Follow up by issuing quarterly reminders about what to do and avoid during the first minute, hour and day of a crisis. Relying on common sense to prevail during dynamic events is never a reliable backup plan. Identify a single spokesperson to lead a professional and organization-wide response.

  4. Cultivate a range of surrogates for your brand and key organizational leaders. Explore networking opportunities within and even beyond your core industry and marketplace to showcase your organization’s strengths—and those of key team members—to as many people as possible. This kind of broadly based approach to raise brand awareness and visibility will ensure a virtual 360-degree wall of influencers whose baseline impression of your brand is positive at the outset of a reputation management scenario. The invisible buffer zone of neutrality they create will be hard to quantify in real terms but will often lessen collateral damage during extended events such as labor disruptions, litigation and product recalls.
  5. Establish a baseline working relationship with the industry and media outlets that are most likely to pick up and report on a reputation management event. We are routinely asked to work with companies that lack a communication or press shop. While this isn’t surprising to find with startups and small businesses, it’s enlightening to see how many mid-size organizations—some decades old, generating tens of millions of dollars in revenue—exist in this fashion.

    Media members may one day be an important conduit for information to your customers, investors, industry and governmental partners and the public. Identifying and then developing relationships with reporters who cover your field is equally important. If a full-blown media courtship is onerous, start with low-impact outreach on everyday issues: drafting press releases on major hiring decisions and operational changes that will have a positive economic impact on communities you serve. You can cultivate relationships further through personal contact.

  6. Increase transparency. A company that communicates openly with stakeholders during good times is better positioned to avoid the pitfalls of a communications spiral during a crisis. Weaknesses you’ve communicated about openly in the past make less attractive copy for reporters and lowers your risk profile. It’s not surprising the most trusted brands have some of the strongest corporate communications platforms and that reputation management is considered in nearly all major C-suite decisions. Integrating brand and issue management in your everyday communications and PR is a form of preventive maintenance, which will infuse resiliency into your organization during a crisis.

SOURCE : This article was adapted from PR News’ forthcoming Measurement Guidebook, Vol. 9. For more visit: prnewsonline.com/prpress/. Eugene J. Berardi is managing director of Windward Catalyst, ejberardi3@windwardcatalyst.com

This article originally appeared in the August 24, 2015 issue of PR News. Read more subscriber-only content by becoming a PR News subscriber today.