Managing Director, US Corporate Practice
Ogilvy Public Relations Worldwide
I spent the latter half of last week in New Orleans for the Reputation Institute’s 15th annual conference, Navigating the Reputation Economy. It was a fascinating few days and I wanted to share the highlights of the insightful concepts discussed at the conference.
- Reputation has never mattered more. Research was presented that suggests 60% of purchase decisions are based on the perception of the enterprise rather than the features of the product. Cisco said that 25 years ago, Chief Reputation Officers did not exist – the stakeholder society and the internet has made reputation a paramount business concept.
- Brand and Reputation really are different. I liked what Sprint said: You can create and control your own brand; reputation is what you earn, it’s what you get from others. Cisco had another variation: You own your brand, you earn your reputation.
- Reputation is an inside-out process. A regular theme among the most impressive companies (FedEx, Pfizer among them) was that you have to win first with your employees before you can win with customers and external stakeholders. Managing your reputation starts with your most valued asset – your people.
- Reputation derives from the character of the company. Great stories from Honeywell, Xerox and Kodak on how they turned their reputations around – and they did so by going back to the heritage and values that had been important when their companies were being built. It’s also what Toyota is doing to rebuild its Reputation (‘The Toyota Way’). Honeywell said there are 5 principles of character-based communications: Integrity, Performance, Relevance, Accessibility and Clarity/Consistency.
- Management of reputation does not only happen within Corporate Communications. If management of reputation is seen purely as a PR function, then it is largely ineffective. The companies who treat it seriously have it as a core business mandate, with the CEO personally tracking it (Sprint CEO Dan Hesse told us it is one of his 3 priorities).
- Reputation should be a consideration in every business decision. Allstate admitted that it only took reputation seriously after it was hammered post-Hurricane Katrina for the way it handled policy claims. Now they have “Conscious Choice” meetings with all internal stakeholders to explore the ramifications of business decisions on consumers, regulators and other stakeholders.
- Sadly, you learn most about your reputation when it’s being attacked. Toyota’s Jim Wiseman gave a fascinating and candid “lessons learned” presentation about its troubles over the past 18 months – “We never considered reputation crucial until the bottom fell out,” he said. Before the problems, Toyota didn’t even have a way of communicating with all its employees – the many affiliates did their own thing. He had his own Top Ten list of lessons – I liked “Understand Politics and Fight Back” and “Swallow Your Pride and Communicate with Legal”.