“It is the role of public relations to make sure that the organisation is getting credit for the good it does. Great reputations are built on doing this consistently over a period of time in which a track record delivering on promises and engendering trust is evident to everyone. All members of an organisation have a contribution to make in order to build and sustain reputation”. (Murray and White, 2004, p10)
By ELIZABETH GONDO
Reputation can be described as a collective representation of images and perceptions, not a self-promoted message. It involves relationships with all stakeholders and it is gained, maintained and enhanced over time. Development of a good reputation takes considerable time and depends on a firm making stable and consistent investments over time.
Good corporate reputation is crucial in all business sectors whether commercial, government or non-profit organisations to reach goals, stay competitive and prosper. The drivers of corporate reputation include excellence of products and services, socially responsible conduct, great financial performance, working environments, emotional appeal and management leadership and expertise.
For an organisation to have a positive reputation, it must possess these four attributes, credibility, trustworthiness, reliability and responsibility.
Reputation is public relations with a twist. A study found out that eight times out of 10, responsibility for reputation management is vested in the board of directors and management, elsewhere it is assigned to offices or departments serving corporate communications and marketing functions.
The primary objective of reputation management is to develop a positive image. This ultimately leads to heightening of customer satisfaction, loyalty, improvement of customer relationships, acquiring new customers, increase in employee motivation and satisfaction.
A mix of measures can be used to achieve reputation both internally and externally. The most important external measures are the use of internet for communication directed outwards. With the growth of internet and social media, online reputation management (ORM), focuses on the management of product and service search website results. Ethical grey areas include mug shot removal sites, astroturfing review sites, censoring negative complaints and using search engine optimisation tactics to influence results.
Performance of audits and issuing of certificates of quality, press releases and company brochures are also other ways used to create good corporate reputation.For example, a detailed press analysis can help companies to understand the positions of columnists and editors on key issues. Interviews with regulators can clarify their concern, while focus groups and market research are also important for understanding consumers and the wider public.
Crucial internal measures is the use of intranet for internal communication and information transmission and encouragement of suggestions for improvement by employees and advanced training and seminars to employees.
According to Andrew Griffin, an organisation’s reputation is the result of how it manages issues, crises and corporate social responsibility. Good reputations are built on a foundation not only of communications but of deeds. Stakeholders can see through public relations that is not supported by real and consistent business activity.
Formal marketing and PR do play an important role in managing the reputation of a company, but when it responds to serious threats it must find many other means of spreading positive messages about its activities quickly.
In general, credible third parties speaking for the company can boost its reputation more effectively than its own PR or marketing department. Leveraging existing grassroots support-through blogs, bumper stickers and interactive websites for example is one method. Another is to have people with high standing reinforce key strategic messages.
Positive reputations have been linked with positive financial returns with their value tied to the inability of competitors to imitate the reputation. Reputation is arguably the most valuable asset of any firm and thus worth protecting.
Negative associations such as celebrity endorsements with celebrities with questionable behaviours may not be suitable for good organisational corporate reputation.
Good reputations are built on perceptions, hence organisations should know if they are meeting the expectations of key stakeholders — those in the position to influence sales and growth. In order to identify the centres of influence companies should cast a wide net, scrutinising not just the traditional stakeholders (consumers, employees, shareholders and regulators), but also the indirect ones such as ngos and the media that shape people’s attitudes. Even for organisations that do not deal directly with consumers, it is vital to understand public opinion.
Corporate social responsibility also has a great impact on corporate reputation. Customers consider socially responsible firms to have a good reputation. CSR creates a reputation that a firm is reliable and honest. It builds a reservoir of goodwill that firms can draw upon in times of crisis. For a non-profit organisation, CSR leads to loyalty, interest and emotional attachment to an organisation.
The following practices can be put in use by an organisation in a bid to create a good corporate reputation:
l Adopt a common model for reputation management across organisational functions
l Understand what the seven reputation dimensions and attributes mean to different stakeholders
l Align corporate messaging and reporting activities with key drivers for their stakeholders
l Create employee alignment with their reputation platform
l Create a cross functional reputation committee to ensure coherent actions
l Monitor reputation with different stakeholders against relevant competitors.
l Integrate reputation management into business processes
It is therefore of paramount importance for an organisation to create and maintain a good corporate reputation in order to position itself favourably in the minds of all its stakeholders. This will lead to customer loyalty which ultimately impacts positively the financial position of the company.
l Elizabeth Gondo is a marketer who holds a BBA in Marketing with IMM. She is also studying to become a chartered marketer. She can be reached on firstname.lastname@example.org
*This article was contributed on behalf the Marketers Association of Zimbabwe, a leading body of marketing professionals promoting professionalism to the highest standards for the benefit of the industry and the economy at large. For any further visit the website on www.maz.co.zw or contact email@example.com