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Reputation Matters

Cover of  by Jennifer Janson

Words Richard Dunnett

It?s the number one risk to a business, so we asked Jennifer Janson, author of The Reputation Playbook, for tips on how to help you devise a strategy that?s right for your company

According to the 2013 Deloitte report Exploring Strategic Risk, reputation was cited as the biggest risk to business. While the core principles of reputation-building haven?t changed for decades, the advent of social media means transparency has, according to Jennifer Janson, author of The Reputation Playbook. It is imperative, she argues, for businesses to have a reputation strategy in place.

?Put simply, it?s a strategy that you put in place to make sure that you are going to be known for the things you want to be known for,? says Janson, managing director of Six Degrees, a PR company specialising in the science, technology and engineering sectors. ?It?s way beyond what you say to people. It starts with how the company behaves and will often have an operational element first.?

She wrote the book after meeting communications experts inside large, traditional B2B companies that ?got? social media but received zero buy-in from the upper-echelons.

?I wanted to find a way to help them to communicate why the CEO and senior directors needed to care,? she says. On the opposite side of the coin she has met chief executives who passionately champion social media ? only to discover they?d devolved responsibility for the Twitter feed to an intern. ?They really haven?t clicked that [social media] is your voice ? and that really worried me,? admits Janson.

Last year?s World Economic Forum flagged digital misinformation as a potential risk to global economic and political stability. The Digital Wildfires in a Hyperconnected World report stated that social media can rapidly spread information that is either intentionally or unintentionally misleading or provocative.

?Today, your reputation can be damaged with a single tweet,? warns Janson. ?Given the depth and speed by which information can spread, it?s critical for everyone to have thought about it.?

And with journalists using Twitter as a first port of call to identify news, ?it tends to be bad news that spreads quickest on social media. That?s appealing to journalists looking for headlines. It really isn?t negotiable right now.?

Janson refers to the announcement last month by Tesco that it had overstated its half-year profit guidance by £263m as the difference between a communications issue and an operations problem. ?Why weren?t systems in place to prevent that? Not just communicating about it, but not knowing those numbers were wrong? People are expecting companies of any type to be more human. How they respond to an issue is going to have as much as an impact on their reputation as what they?ve actually done.?
Here, Janson offers 10 top tips to think about when putting your reputation strategy in place?

1 Make someone responsible
I don?t think it?s clear yet where reputation strategy stands within an organisation. In some companies it sits within the PR team, in others it might be in a brand team. But someone has to be made responsible for reputation because otherwise it risks falling between the cracks.

For example, while you might have a chief risk officer responsible for mitigating financial risks, if a reputation expert is brought into that conversation they can?t comment until it?s too late. Someone needs to be accountable for reputation and I?d suggest that person has to have operational clout. They have to be able to say ?the system is broken, we have to fix the system? and be able to fix it.

2 Think of the bottom line
You need to identify the impact that a reputation strategy potentially could have on the bottom line. It?s not easy to do [because] it?s the impact of not doing something. It?s not like sales or marketing where you say ?I?m going to do this ad campaign and it will give us this return on investment of X? because what you?re doing is trying to mitigate the risk. You are talking about the thing that hasn?t happened yet and saving you from it.

3 Get employee buy-in
The culture has to be led from the top but then everything your business does has to be about encouraging the behaviour you want to see. I interviewed the chief executive of a large shipping company who told me that when he boards a ship people around him say not to bother wearing a hard hat as there will be press taking photos. He disagrees ? safety comes first, he needs to lead by example and wear what everyone else onboard wears. A lot of people don?t get how important that is.

4 HR is your biggest ally
HR could be your biggest ally in a reputation strategy, as they?ll be the ones saying ?we?re not doing things to encourage innovation?. If you say innovation?s important to your business but everybody?s sitting in cubes, not allowed to put anything on their wall, and have to be in the office from nine-to-five, then you?re not living your values.

5 Reward the frontline
You have to be more open to thinking about things in a slightly different way, especially in big businesses. Identify those at the frontline who are behaving in a way that you applaud. Recognise them and turn them into ambassadors. Something I?ve seen that really works is when you take 10 employees who are really active on social media and saying great things about the company that they work for, or the receptionist who presents your company beautifully every time they greet somebody, and you invite them in for a breakfast or lunch with the chief executive. You make sure they?re hearing the messages from as high up as possible.

6 Support the business plan
Your reputation strategy needs to support the business plan. While the plan should be talking about the purpose and the values of the business, the reputation strategy needs to ensure the behaviour is aligned with those things. Almost any time you see a crisis emerge in the media, if you go back and look at the values of the company involved (or their stated values because it?s a very stated thing now to have your values online), there?s usually a gap between what they?ve said is important and how they?ve behaved. That tends to be where the spark starts. That?s why the reputation strategy is critical.

7 It starts with recruitment
I believe you should only be hiring in line with your values. Someone coming out of the interview stage should be able to say what the company stands for and what they want to be known for. It needs to be completely ingrained in everything everybody does. Metro Bank is a great example of this. The culture is extraordinary ? every single person in that organisation is geared to help customers. You can walk into any branch and they all want to say ?yes? to customers. And there are processes in place that completely support those values.

8 Empower your staff
I?m not sure if all businesses are at the stage of Pret a Manger, which empowers its staff to reward customers with free coffee, but I think that is critical to reputation. In the social media world, if you?ve given someone the responsibility of being the voice of your brand on Twitter they have to be empowered to act. It?s no good saying ?how can we help you?? [to a customer] and then not being able to help them. Some brands really get it but for others it?s more of a mouthpiece. They?re seeing it as a marketing tool rather than a genuine customer service role.

9 Think crisis
You can never be 100 per cent sure that it?s going to work on the day but you need to have a plan in place for how you?re going to react to a crisis. The reputation management should have started long before a crisis hits and ideally the people who love your brand are also going to come to your rescue. The most important thing is monitoring, because often a crisis will surface online before a company even knows about it. Make sure you?re aware those conversations are happening, and that there are red flags in place and triggers for you to know about certain events that are happening online. And then it?s about remaining human.

10 Review your strategy
The board needs to be reviewing the strategy quarterly. Whoever is responsible for the strategy needs to be reviewing it and flagging areas that are falling short or not yet being addressed. Whoever?s working as part of the reputation team ? and it?s an evolving thing ? needs to be looking at it weekly, monthly. That doesn?t mean rewriting it, but it does mean making sure you do more of what?s working, and changing what isn?t.

November 2014: Director Magazine

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