Reputation management is a vital but often misunderstood part of any business. Poor practice is fairly easy to highlight since this can easily become what a person or organisation is remembered for.
Harder to understand is to how to do things well. So let’s take a look at how an organisation should manage its reputation by considering both the good and the bad.
Not understanding your audience is the first big mistake commonly made. Try and look at what it is that you are building from the local community’s perspective, particularly if it’s something contentious like an industrial facility.
How can you help make the project understandable and its benefits clear to the worried locals? Think about involving them in some way, and I don’t mean just running a consultation exercise.
A great example of effective local involvement is the work that developers Urban Splash did on the New Islington housing project in Manchester. They encouraged local residents to take part in a competition to design aspects of their new estate.
Of course, selling the benefits of burying low-level nuclear waste may be a bit more difficult (Augean and their Northamptonshire facility). However, that shouldn’t detract from the fact that it makes good business sense to involve and understand your audience.
PR and reputation management must form part of the overall strategic planning for an organisation; after all, the effect of a PR disaster can seriously hit your financial health (just think of BP’s Deepwater Horizon and Toyota with faulty accelerators, as recent examples).
You should already know the biggest operational risks to your organisation. Ask yourself and your colleagues the question: “What if …?”
Using some recent situations as examples: What if our water source becomes contaminated with benzene (Perrier, 1990)? What if one of our wells explodes (BP, 2010)? What if our components fail (Toyota, 2010)? What if our shiny new building doesn’t work (Terminal 5 Heathrow, 2008)? What if we mess up the financial system and need to be bailed out by the public purse (plenty of banks, 2006-present)? The list goes on.
Prepare for how an interruption in your business will be viewed by customers and the wider public with a contingency plan. Share the contingency plan and key business risks with your marketing and PR team, and ask them to develop responses to limit potential reputational damage for each highlighted risk.
Some companies like to run a practice day where you implement a scenario for a particular risk. Your PR team may wish to consider whether any of your senior management team needs media training so that they are prepared in the best way to handle media interviews if necessary.
Get expert opinion. You don’t necessarily need to employ a PR agency full-time, but getting advice from time to time can be useful, then if you do have a situation to respond to urgently, you can easily pick up the phone and have professional support at hand quickly.
Other factors that can have a negative effect on a reputation include not reacting quickly enough to circumstances - Sony’s recent delay in announcing that its Playstation network had been hacked, for example. Also not showing empathy with a situation, particularly where people have been injured or killed.
For example, attending a yachting race (remember Tony Hayward of BP) may not be the best idea when you can’t plug a hole which is leaking 60,000 gallons per hour of oil, following an explosion which killed 11 of your workers.
It is worth considering the influence of your organisational culture when it comes to reputation management. Do you have an organisation which is sufficiently able to challenge the norm and highlight potential problems?
Reputation management should be tackled with an integrated approach from your PR and marketing team and is not simply about producing puff pieces for the press or press releases which state how well you are handling the situation.
When you consider PR and reputation management as part of your overall business strategy, then it becomes second nature.
After all, do you want to become the next Tony Hayward or Fred Goodwin? Thought not.
David Mycock is the head of marketing for Shepherd Gilmour, an international engineering consultancy based in Manchester, a national committee member of CIMCIG, the Chartered Institute of Marketing’s Construction Industry Group, and a committee member of TARGET, a construction marketing organisation based in Leeds. For further details visit www.cimcig.org and www.targetmarketinggroup.org