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Reputation Management: Not Needed Until It's Needed

by Paul Barsch  |  
July 9, 2010

Poet Robert Burns is widely credited with the phrase, “The best laid plans of mice and men often go astray.” Relating this phrase in a business context, it stands to reason no matter how much a company orchestrates activities and executes its battle plans—high-impact mistakes happen. However, in an age of over-optimization, and marketing and communications cost-cutting, “soft stuff” such as brand management, press relations, crisis communications and the like are often shelved or discarded in favor of “just-in-time” strategies. Indeed, reputation management isn’t needed … until it’s needed.

In an article from “The Observer,” John Naughton wonders in amazement at how society ever managed without the Internet. Naughton ponders a world without Google, Skype, instant messaging, and online bank accounts. And while the Internet has created boom for most of us, the rise of social media hasn’t been sweet ambrosia for all companies. In fact, with social media and Internet technologies, now company decisions and actions are mostly public, including those of front-line employees. Now, actions that happened last week, last night, or 10 minutes ago can be broadcast across the globe in seconds, creating very dangerous challenges for company branding and reputation efforts.

In the Financial Times article “Perils of a Tarnished Brand,” authors Morgen Witzel and Ravi Mattu notice that even the most scripted and orchestrated product launches can go haywire. And even when “best-intented” marketing plans are well-executed, companies can be exposed to the ramifications of their daily operational and strategic decisions (e.g., Google in China and BP). “What affects reputations, in turn affects brands,” the authors point out.

Every employee is a brand ambassador, and brand management is no longer simply the purview of marketing managers. Even the best branding intentions can go awry when actions don’t back up corporate speak, say Witzel and Mattu.

Of larger concern however, is marketing cost-cutting trends in the name of efficiency that potentially leave brands and reputations exposed.

Robert Mabro, Honorary President of Oxford’s Institute for Energy, describes this problem in a letter to the Financial Times. He writes, “(Companies) no longer want to employ specialists in soft matters, such as political issues and the like. When an accident occurs, they find themselves hopelessly unprepared. This of course (ends up) destroying shareholder value!” Moreover, economist John Kay sums up the problem quite succinctly, “Yesterday’s cost-savings are so often today’s corporate crisis.”

One potential solution is for companies to invest more in “softer matters” like brand, reputation, crisis and risk management. Undoubtedly, some of these considerations are tough to justify in an age of narrow return on investment marketing calculations such as cost per lead.

However, Internet and social media technologies that transmit events, news and crisis accounts—at the speed of light—aren’t going away. To succeed in such an environment, companies must invest in the softer functions mentioned above even when “payback” doesn’t appear imminent.

It’s difficult to forecast all types of crises that could occur. A much better plan is preparedness. Is your company up for the challenge?

Related: Financial Times “It Pays to Expect the Unexpected"

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Paul Barsch directs services marketing programs for Teradata, the world's largest data warehousing and analytics company. Previously, Paul was marketing director for HP Enterprise Services $1.3 billion healthcare industry and a senior marketing manager at global consultancy, BearingPoint. Paul is a senior contributor to MarketingProfs, a frequent columnist for MarketingProfs DailyFix, and has published over fifteen articles in marketing, management, technology and healthcare publications. Paul earned his Bachelors of Science in Business Administration from California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo. He and his family reside in San Diego, CA.

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  • by @ReputationMaven Fri Jul 9, 2010 via blog


    I woke up with "reputation on the brain" for many of the reasons you sited in your post.

    One of the most empowering things an organization/individual/business can do is to monitor their reputation (online). To do otherwise in the digital age, is asking for trouble.

    Using (online) reputation management tools minimizes risk by monitoring events & opinions related to an organization/brand/name. It simply keeps them current, even nimble.

    Many Thanks!!
    Coretta Jackson, MBA

  • by Paul Barsch Mon Jul 12, 2010 via blog

    Coretta, I appreciate your comments. While online reputation management via monitoring and responding tools is of utmost importance, I think you’ll agree there’s much more to a comprehensive perspective on reputation management. In addition to the sense and respond tools and processes, I would advocate that prevention should play an even bigger role. And for what you can’t predict, you should at least hedge your bets via risk management strategies.

    The challenge however, is too few companies want to invest in these softer items because they lack an immediate and tangible return on investment. Reputation management is akin to insurance, isn’t it? You never need it until you need it. And when the big event hits (and don’t have it), it’s often too late.

    Thanks for adding to the discussion!

  • by Dusan Vrban Wed Jul 21, 2010 via blog

    Hey Paul,

    just got time on coffee to have a peak here. And you couldn't have summarised some parts of my thinking during past months better. Actually, in one way it's nice that marketing partially went away from the traditional "image" thing that made some stuff just nice. Also, I find the modern fast and open communication made by internet very useful since many companies can no longer hide behind mistakes for a long time.

    On the other hand, as pointed out, adjusting everything to fast success is a mistake to come behind you any day. Not investing into brand and product itself makes you a minor player on long-term. Makes you just one of zillions that play around. One day you're a megahit, the next day you're out.

    I try to compare it to music talents. With all the modern talent shows that produce one-day stars on one hand and the legends like Bruce Springsteen on the other hand. While Bruce can't be out of social media and fast things of today, he never would have become a legend without investing into the heart of his work.

    So if the company wants to be a one-day hit, it can take the quick way. The tools are there and how to use them you can find over Google. But if the company wants to be a long-term legend, it must invest in the heart and soul of it. The product, the brand.

    Now I'm going for a meeting to invest in the heart and soul of our business. :-)

  • by Mark Tinger Sun Sep 26, 2010 via blog

    There are lots of good online reputation companies about. The key is value for money. I found ClydeStan most helpful in their approach and costing structure. They specialize mainly in celebrity reputation but I am sure they take on other clients, too. It seems they have connections behind the scenes where actual links and posts are being deleted and not only pushed down in search engines. I have used them twice now and the results are just fine. No problems, would recommend anytime.

  • by Matthew Sanders Tue Aug 30, 2011 via blog

    Yes, reputation management is becoming a huge issue for my company lately. The way we are fighting it online is actually investing in the SEO services. Very well optimized sites with few high quality links can really push those negative results down, and therefore improve the reputation of the company directly.

    I also agree with Dusan Vrban on the following statement: "The tools are there and how to use them you can find over Google. But if the company wants to be a long-term legend, it must invest in the heart and soul of it." This is a great way to put it, branding is so important today, and with internet involved it became even more important then ever!

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