To realize financial success, gain public support and build credibility and trust with stakeholders, business leaders must invest in effective reputation management. The Reputation Institute cites numerous studies that show companies with positive or high reputations are worth as much as 150 per cent more than those with low reputations. A solid reputation is a corporate asset; managing it strategically drives competitive advantage.
A key aspect of reputation management is effective communications. Whether speaking to a group of concerned citizens, debating environmental issues with activists, presenting to investors or addressing the media, business leaders carry the weight of their company and their industry’s reputation and the ability to protect and enhance these reputations through communication. Regardless of company size or the scope of operations, there are some fundamental principles that guide all communication efforts.
Be available and accessible. When crisis or controversy hits, it is essential for corporate leaders to be visibly present and willing to answer the tough questions. The risk of not weighing in, especially in a hostile situation, suggests your company has something to hide or the accusations are true. Within a developing scenario, you may not be able to answer specific questions due to legal issues or privacy considerations. In these instances, admit limitations and promise to share more as you are able to demonstrate your commitment to truth and transparency.
Be aware of the conversations taking place, online and in the real world. The speed, power and ubiquity of social media and the 24/7 news media cycle cannot be underestimated. Building a solid corporate reputation means proactively using social media to disseminate strategically timed and well-crafted messages about the ongoing good work your company is doing. Having established this communications groundwork, you are naturally positioned and ready to use social media to accurately put your corporate position forward when problems arise. Studies conducted by the Reputation Institute show companies who strive for transparency and good citizenry are extended greater latitude and the benefit of doubt when the inevitable mistakes are made.
Don’t be defensive – be fearless. It takes strength and character to lead effectively in any high-profile industry. Regulatory challenges, geopolitical pressures, operational issues, environmental concerns – all will challenge the savviest executive charged with managing the ever-shifting dialogue in the public domain. As a leader, you must be able to speak with authority and knowledge to build credibility with your stakeholders in all types of forums. To do so requires a solid understanding of the relevant issues at play for any one business-related topic. Succinct, accurate briefings are critical to effective communications.
The art of managing difficult conversations is an acquired, highly nuanced skill set. Whatever BP CEO Tony Hayward might have said during his 2010 interview regarding the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, his remark, “I would like my life back,” left all else forgotten and made sensational headlines around the world.
Improving your abilities to identify specific audience concerns, acquiring the skills and techniques to effectively counter them, and persuasively take command of any sensitive situation is critical to managing your company’s reputation. Leaders must be properly prepared and willing to step in, deliver the difficult messages and map out solutions and directions. As the public representative of your corporate brand and reputation, staying true to your company values is key.
The commitment to reputation management should be a priority for all business leaders. Executive coaching and professional development to achieve a balance between establishing an authoritive voice and being a caring, approachable personality is well worth the investment.