06 Mar 2014

How businesses build winning reputations

Today is World Book Day. My son has gone to school dressed as a Dementor from Harry Potter and I’ve pledged some cash to help fund the publication of a new book that, the author promises, will “sound the death knell for PR.”

I’ve worked for international PR agencies, in-house at a FTSE 100 firm and now run a business PR consultancy and marketing services agency that embeds PR storytelling techniques at the heart of every campaign we create. On the face of things I should run a mile from a book that predicts the end of my industry.

But then Roaring Mouse was set up to reflect the profound changes brought about by the global financial crisis and social digital revolution that Robert Phillips, the author of Trust Me, PR is Dead, holds have profoundly and negatively impacted “big consultancy firms with cookie-cutter solutions, in endless sales mode, under-performing against expectations.”

We offer clients something compellingly different to world Phillips seems to damn.

There is also the sad reality that there have been relatively few really insightful books into the PR industry. And as our client PurpleBeach says, we can all benefit from exposing ourselves to the views of others, especially if they offer a radical departure to the status quo. I look forward to receiving my copy!

Book recommendation

One of my favourite PR-related books is Fame & Fortune by Charles Fombrun and Cees Van Riel.

It looks at how successful companies build winning reputations and has had a big influence on how Roaring Mouse approaches PR, communication and marketing campaigns.

The authors’ in-depth analysis of the world’s most successful brands identified six underlying factors that make up their corporate reputations:

  • Emotional appeal: people simply like, admire or trust the company
  • Products & services: people think the company sells things that are high quality, innovative, reliable or good value for money
  • Financial performance: people are happy with company profitability, future prospects and investment risk
  • Vision & leadership: people feel the company has strong leadership and a clear vision for the future
  • Workplace environment: people believe the company is well managed, has top notch employees and would be a great place to work
  • Social responsibility: you think the company is a good citizen and does right by its communities

They found that reputations of top firms act as a mirror to the public about a company’s managerial excellence, and advised those wanting to build a winning reputation that they should communicate about how they treat employees and contributes to society.

Perceptions of a company’s products and services, workplace environment and social responsibility are significant factors in driving emotional appeal and overall reputation. The public psychologically supports companies they perceive as behaving fairly and responsibly towards their people and the communities in which they operate.

The scrutiny businesses are under today means they can only emphasise and highlight the positive elements that actually exist. They can’t succeed by attempting to invent, promote or protect an inaccurate view of their world.

Communication implications

Fombrun and Van Riel also found that how they communicate around such areas is as important as what they communicate. They identified five key communication principles that tend to be shared by businesses with great corporate reputations:

  • Visibility: top rated firms tend to more readily disclose information about themselves and engage stakeholders in direct dialogue
  • Distinctiveness: reputations build when companies come to occupy a distinctive position in their minds of their audiences
  • Authenticity: to be well regarded you must be real, you can’t fake it for long. Authenticity creates emotional appeal, the primary driver of reputation
  • Transparency: strong corporate reputations develop when companies are transparent in the conduct of their affairs.
  • Consistency: top rated firms are consistent in their action and communication with everyone. They are more likely to integrate communication initiatives across different functions

The levers of corporate reputation can be pulled for significant business benefits. Fame & Fortune holds that a 10% improvement in corporate reputation can be worth up to 5% of a company’s market value and that improving perceptions around the areas identified above can dramatically improve business fortunes.

But this must be handled with care. Businesses must communicate convincingly, sincerely, authentically and credibly with their stakeholder communities, and with so many communication channels available, doing so in a well-integrated fashion to ensure consistency of message is vital.

The research and analysis contained in Fame & Fortune fundamentally changed my approach to developing PR strategy and communication campaigns and helps to focus the efforts of Roaring Mouse on delivering value to clients. Get the book, it is well worth a read.