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Are PR pros right for corporate reputation management?
2015-10-29

There’s a big problem with reputation management in corporate America.


In most major corporations, no one person is responsible for managing a company’s reputation risk. Many corporate departments including public relations, marketing, brand management and risk management share some level of responsibility for reputation management.


PR typically takes the lead responsibility. Therein lies another problem. Often, no one person within PR has full responsibility for corporate reputation management. Responsibility and authority is spread across multiple people within PR.


The problem with shared responsibility


The view that everyone is responsible for corporate reputation management may in reality mean no one is. No one is accountable; no one has the authority to identify reputation risks and instigate change.


That may pose a dangerous situation, as a reputation developed carefully over the years may crumble overnight under the onslaught of social media attacks. Online criticism can undermine the reputations of even the largest organizations.


That’s why most larger corporations and nonprofit organizations would benefit by installing a chief reputation officer to oversee reputational risk throughout the organization—offline and online.


Different from crisis management


Reputation management is not the same as crisis management. Reputation management is a proactive strategy. Crisis management is reactive.


Reputation management isn’t the same as traditional marketing or public relations, either.


“It’s a more holistic view of your reputation– from how people answer the phones at your call center, to how visitors are greeted by receptionists, to what people say about you on Twitter and Facebook, to what the media are saying about you,” Jennifer Janson, managing director of Six Degrees Ltd, told The Globe and Mail.


It’s also about how the company treats employees, markets its products or services, interacts with customers and the community, implements its corporate social responsibility and many other factors.


Companies could assign the responsibility to the chief risk officer or a high-level communications expert, rather than creating a new position. Either way,


the position must have broad powers, which communications and risk personnel typically lack, Janson said. She suggests a chief reputation officer who can be a “sparring partner” with the chief risk officer.


The head of corporate PR can function as chief corporate reputation manager. To be effective, that person needs the CEO’s attention and respect, as well as the authority to identify risks. That person also must have the authority to compel fixes of processes that negatively impact corporate reputation. The person in charge of corporate reputation management must be empowered to speak truth to the emperor who has no clothes – and to arrange the necessary wardrobe fixes. Not all corporate heads of PR enjoy that level of access, trust, responsibility or authority.


Some might argue that the CEO or the Board of Directors has ultimate responsibility for reputation management. That’s true, but no CEO has the time and few have the inclination to take charge of day-to-day operational responsibilities of corporate reputation management. That goes double for board members or committees.


Reputation management responsibilities


Michael Volkov, CEO and owner of the Volkov Law Group LLC, urges assigning the responsibility for corporate reputation management to a senior executive who reports regularly to senior management and the board about the company’s reputation and risks.


“Managing reputational risks requires attention and authority,” Volkov said. “In most cases, reputational risks are managed piecemeal in different parts of a company.”


The senior corporate reputation manager would:


• Assess the company’s reputation


• Evaluate the reality of the company’s reputation


• Identify and close gaps between reputation and reality


• Monitor stakeholder beliefs and expectations


• Monitor and benchmark peer performance in the industry


• Continually measure and monitor the company’s reputation


Personnel in a company’s marketing, investor relations, advertising, human resources and PR departments monitor different aspects of corporate reputation.


“A senior risk manager has to bring together these disparate functions by organizing information and data from these sources and using technology to monitor these operations,” Volkov said. “A dashboard for reputational risks would not be hard to create or difficult to maintain.”


The bottom line


Assigning reputation risk management to a single person creates accountability. A single high-level risk manager can better ascertain, protect and improve a corporation’s reputation than disparate personnel responsible for other unrelated tasks. Companies typically spread reputational risk management across different departments, which dilutes the importance of the vital function and discourages organization.

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Vivian Li

PR Manager

Tel: +86 010 8390 7451

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