PR News Q&A: For Aflac’s Kane, Reputation Is Everything

Driven by a lovable duck and an image of inscrutable corporate transparency, health insurance company Aflac’s reputation seems in good shape. But to Laura Kane, Aflac’s VP of external communications, good is not good enough. Kane specializes in enhancing and protecting Aflac’s corporate reputation, and she’s hard at work on new research and measurement techniques that just might propel Aflac’s rep to the stratosphere. Kane will reveal those techniques as a panelist at the PR News Measurement Conference, to be held March 23 at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C. We recently caught up with Kane for a quick preview of her presentation at the conference.

PR News: What have you been doing lately to drive and measure Aflac’s corporate reputation?

Laura Kane: We’ve been working with the Reputation Institute to measure the intangibles that drive our reputation, and how they move the needle. Reputation is important to us, and we had been on and off Fortune’s Most Admired Companies list for a while. Then the Reputation Institute added us to their survey—which was new to us—and we came out as the No. 1 global insurer in the world. I talked to them, we obtained the full survey data, and it was fascinating.

PR News: What have you found from that data that can help Aflac improve its reputation?

Laura Kane: That in certain key areas we don’t have a reputation, and we should. The scores may be in the middle, when they should be near the top. For example, philanthropic causes: As a company we hadn’t been doing PR around our philanthropy. It didn’t feel right to us to toot our own horn. But our reputation scores were very low in that area. So we’re starting to change our strategy and tell our philanthropy stories. It’s a huge opportunity for us. I will say that our scores have gotten higher since we made the change.

PR News: What about more traditional measurement methods—can they be applied to reputation?

Laura Kane: Look, everyone has to justify their existence. And one of the ways of doing that is by old-fashioned “media by the pound” measurements. The clips, number of Web site hits—all of that is nice, but you can be in a whole host of publications and still not have meaningful dialogue around your company. I’m in the process of convincing people of this.

PR News: How is Aflac doing with measuring social media efforts?

Laura Kane: Much like everybody, we’re still struggling with that. We started down the same path as other companies in terms of counting the number of tweets we get. It’s hard to measure social media engagement, but we do know that sincere, heartfelt comments by the Aflac duck on Facebook get more people engaged than any corporate message.

PR News: What is your coolest PR metric?

Laura Kane: I like surveys. The whole purpose of PR is to influence opinions and behaviors. Surveys are the best way to measure that.

Attend PR News' Measurement Conference on March 23 and learn more from measurement experts like Aflac's Laura Kane.