Your reputation is a key asset

What are the most important assets in your organisation? Your people? Your premises? Your intellectual property?

What about your reputation?

Particularly in a challenging market place, reputation has to be right up there at the top of your agenda. After all, this is the main reason why many people do business with you.

Reputation is all about trust and belief in your organisation. It is the result of a huge investment in terms of time and effort and it has been carefully nurtured, often over a period of many years. Yet, businesses that invest in the best possible financial and legal advice, often fail to give similar priority to professional support for their reputation.

This, despite the fact that corporate reputations are notoriously fragile.

Shooting yourself

A reputation can be destroyed in an instant. Remember Gerald Ratner’s infamous speech at an IoD event in April 1991? Referring to the low price of a silver-plated tray he explained it was “total crap” and added that Ratners also sold earrings that were “cheaper than an M&S prawn sandwich, but probably wouldn’t last as long”.

Almost overnight, £500 million was wiped off the value of the business.

Then there are the reputation risks involved in handling crises. Following the Lockerbie disaster, Pan Am, by all accounts, put up the corporate shutters. Three years later, the world-famous airline was history.

Tragically, just weeks after Lockerbie, a British Midland flight crashed next to the M1. Immediately, chairman Michael Bishop headed to the crash location and conducted media interviews.

Amazingly, British Midland’s share price increased.

It may be difficult to imagine your business facing a dramatic crisis of this type. But, crises come in many forms.

It could be a negative campaign by a competitor, a disgruntled employee or a pressure group. It could be a failure in your regulatory systems, or a pollution incident. It could be a financial crisis, or a business continuity issue, such as a fire or data loss.

What makes these particularly risky times for corporate issues and crises is the shift of communications power. These days your reputation is often in the hands of an increasingly intrusive and often campaigning media, pressure groups and empowered members of the public.


These groups and individuals have direct access to hugely powerful mass communication through websites, blogs and online services such as ‘YouTube’, ‘Facebook’ and ‘Twitter’. All can be used to enormous and, sometimes, devastating effect.

For example, in 2006 Oxfam’s ‘YouTube’ video targeting Starbucks, because of its stance against Ethiopia’s plans to trade mark coffee beans, attracted 50,000 viewers.

More recently, armed with nothing more than a mobile phone, two citizen reporters broke the news of the US Airways crash on the Hudson River in New York. The first text report on Twitter was 15 minutes before news broke on the conventional media and the first photo came from one of the passengers on a ferry, before the news helicopters even reached the scene.

With communication power like that in so many hands, it is now more important than ever to develop and protect one of your most important assets through reputation management.

© Ken McEwen Public Relations, 2009.
No unauthorised reproduction without full acknowledgement of source. All rights reserved.
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