"... losing reputation is a far greater sin for an organization than losing money." Warren Buffet

Reputation Management

Reputation - the opinion that people in general have about someone or something, or how much respect or admiration someone or something receives, based on past behaviour or character.[1]

Reputation management is gaining as one of the driving philosophies behind corporate public relations. This is having a significant impact on the way public relations and communications are being practiced within many organizations. The rise of reputation management has been an area of concern for many public relations professionals as reputation management has often been misused and misunderstood. [2] The use of terms like “image” and “perception” are often seen as superficial and without substance. Public relations practitioners have spent a great deal of time and energy trying to demonstrate that the industry has a sense of duty and ethical obligation to its publics. However, the rise of reputation management has created a host of new situations in which public relations professionals are forced to make difficult ethical choices.

Reputation Management 101 -

Reputation is important to all organizations; it helps to allow for acceptance and approval from the organization’s publics and stakeholders. A positive reputation can help an organization gain a competitive advantage by setting itself apart from other similar organizations.[3]

Reputation does not occur by chance, it requires management. It is affected by the operations of the organization, quality of products and services and relationships with stakeholders and publics. There is a strong link between reputation and communication activities and feedback mechanisms.[4]

Some do not considered reputation management possible by some, they believe reputation cannot be managed, that it is the outcome of interactions between the organization and its stakeholders. The other side of this debate believes that reputation can be developed and planned, that an organization needs to be aware of their environment and respond to it in a positive and ethical manner.[5]

A good reputation can provide protection to an organization during a difficult time or crisis . A poor reputation can lead to an organization’s downfall or failure.

Case Studies -

In August 2008, Maple Leaf Foods confirmed one of the worst cases of food contamination in Canadian history. Twenty people died, many more became very ill and Maple Leaf suffered an economic loss of more than $50 million. The company was in the midst of a very serious crisis; it was their decision to opt for a communication strategy of high visibility. Maple Leaf assumed full responsibility for the situation and made a very public apology to those impacted by the outbreak.[6] The actions taken by Maple Leaf Foods were part of a broader strategy that focused on the past and future reputation of the company and the goal of regaining consumer trust. When faced with a crisis of this magnitude many organizations would have chosen to deny their involvement or assign blame elsewhere. Maple Leaf made the choice to apologize and to speak open and honestly to their customers and to all Canadians. The results – Maple Leaf received a great deal of praise for the way they handled the crisis and the public responded by choosing to support Maple Leaf and their products.[7] Maple Leaf’s dedication to an ethical and honest long-term reputation management strategy during this crisis is what helped the company survive and regain consumer trust.

Wal-Mart has long suffered attacks on its low wages, poor health insurance benefits and the aggressiveness of its political lobbying.[8] The solution to its poor reputation was the feel good story of a couple travelling across the country in their RV, staying at Wal-Marts along the way. The couple had created a blog to share stories from the road on their experiences and the people they met along the way. The trip and the blog were both short lived as it was very quickly revealed that the blog was the creation of a public relations firm, a firm whose president had previously championed the merit’s of online transparency. Wal-Mart’s efforts to improve their reputation were unsuccessful to say the least. The blog caused a great deal of questions about the ethics of ghost blogging and the use of unethical measures to improve the reputation of an organization. This example also demonstrates how the reputation of the public relations firm was also tarnished in this incident. Its use of unethical practices saw both the firm and their client’s reputation damaged.

  1. ^ Cambridge Dictionary. (2009).
  2. ^ Hutton, James, Goodman, Michael, Alexander, Jill & Genest, Christina. (2001). Reputation management: the new face of corporate public relations? Public Relations Review, 27(3), 247-261.
  3. ^ Melewar, T.C. ed. (2008). Facets of Corporate identity, communication and reputation. New York: Routledge.
  4. ^ Melewar. (2008).
  5. ^ Melewar. (2008).
  6. ^ Greenberg, Josh & Elliott, Charlene. (2009). A cold cut crisis: listeriosis, Maple Leaf Foods and the politics of apology. Canadian Journal of Communication, 34, 189-204.
  7. ^ Greenberg. (2009).
  8. ^ Pauly, John, J. (2007) We have all been here before. Journal of Mass Media Ethics. 22(2/3), 225-228.