PR and Reputation Management: How to Build and Maintain your Brand Reputation with Public Relations
‘It takes 20 years to build a reputation and five minutes to ruin it. If you think about that, you’ll do things differently.’
That’s a famous quote by American entrepreneur, Warren Buffet. He knows a thing or two about reputation management, being one of the most successful investors of all time.
If you want proof that he’s right, just ask Gerald Ratner. He’s the ‘man who destroyed his multimillion dollar company in 10 seconds’ with a PR gaffe so bad that it had reputation management PR firms across the globe gasping in horror.
So in this post, we’re going to dig into the role of public relations in reputation management, looking at:
- What reputation management is and why it matters
- How reputation management and public relations are connected
- Good PR reputation management examples
- Examples of reputation management PR done badly.
Somebody should have given Mr Ratner some media training. Avoid your own PR meltdown by reading: Media Relations PR: How to Forge Positive Relationships.
What is reputation management?
It’s pretty self-explanatory. But in the interest of a complete and inclusive look at reputation management in PR, let’s look at a definition.
According to Hubspot:
‘Brand reputation management is the process of monitoring how consumers perceive your business and taking strategic action when necessary to improve your brand’s image.’
So, reputation management is about building a favourable narrative. Telling your brand’s story your way and influencing the way people think and talk about your business.
Public relations plays a big part in this.
Why does reputation management matter?
Your reputation is your currency in the business world. If you’re known for unethical practices and being untrustworthy, nobody will want to do business with you. Not consumers or suppliers. Not employees. Nor anybody else.
So what is the role of PR in reputation management
Public relations = reputation management. Reputation management = public relations.
They are one and the same. Public relations and reputation management go together like fish and chips.
To back up this claim, here’s the definition of public relations, as per CIPR:
‘Public Relations is the discipline which looks after reputation, with the aim of earning understanding and support and influencing opinion and behaviour. It is the planned and sustained effort to establish and maintain goodwill and mutual understanding between an organisation and its publics.’
Okay, but what is reputation management in public relations? In short, it’s everything.
So now let’s move on to how PR can help build, manage and maintain your brand’s reputation.
How to use PR for reputation management
Whether you’re starting out with building your brand’s public image, or in the middle of a crisis comms situation, PR is a crucial tool in your arsenal.
Let’s look at how using PR for reputation management can do wonders for your business.
Monitor your reputation
What are people saying about your brand? Are they heaping praise on you? If so, grow your customer relationships by building on these positives. If the feedback is less than glowing, use the feedback as an opportunity to learn, grow and improve your brand image.
With proactive PR, reputation management becomes much simpler. But how do you know what is being said about your brand online? By keeping an eye on blogs, social media channels, and review sites, like Trustpilot.
Here’s a couple of handy tools to help you stay on top of the conversations happening around your brand.
Google Alerts is easy to use and it’s FREE. Type in your company name (or relevant keywords) and receive notifications direct to your inbox with a roundup of relevant search results – including web pages, newspaper articles, blogs, and video.
Mention is a powerful (unfortunately, not free) monitoring tool that’ll enable you to monitor the web, listen to your audience and manage your social media.
Here’s something to try when you have a spare five minutes: Google your company name.
What shows up at the top of the SERP (Search Engine Results Page)? A glowing testimonial? A scathing press review? Whatever it is, that’s the first impression people will get of your business.
If it’s a damning review or some negative publicity, get your public relation bods to work some PR SEO magic and get that negativity replaced.
PR SEO? What’s that? Read: How PR and SEO Work Together to Build Your Brand to find out.
Own up to your mistakes
You’re never going to get everything right in business. No matter what industry you’re in or how high your standards are, one day there’ll be a slip up. It could be anything, from one of your staff inadvertently offending a stakeholder, to a full-blown financial scandal.
Either way, you need to be prepared to respond.
When things go awry, you may want to cover up your mistakes, or ignore them and hope they’ll go away. But neither option will do you any favours.
The most effective PR move is to own up and apologise.
Honesty is an admirable trait. And it’s important to your customers. Studies have shown that 94% of people will stay loyal to a transparent brand.
However, consult a PR pro before making a public apology. Because messing up your ‘I’m sorry’ can make things worse than they were before. More on this later.
Be prepared for the worst
It pays to be prepared because you never know when a public relations crisis will hit. Too many companies are reactive rather than proactive with their crisis comms. The results are rarely positive.
Now is the time to put pen to paper and identify potential risk factors in your business – both internal and external.
Of course, devising plans for every possible hypothetical disaster is impossible. But as most reputation management PR experts will tell you, it’s essential to have some sort of contingency plan in place for when things go wrong.
When disaster strikes, you need to be:
- Adaptable – the crisis could take any form, from financial to legal
- Quick to implement – every second counts when your reputation is on the line
- Proactive – don’t let others tell the story for you.
New to crisis comms? Here’s an insightful read: Crisis Management in Public Relations.
Employee reputation management
It’s not just your customer’s opinions that can lift or bury your public image. Your staff are just as important when it comes to reputation management.
They’re the backbone of your business. Treat them well, because if you don’t, you could end up in the media spotlight for all the wrong reasons – like Chinese multinational electronics contract manufacturer, Foxconn. More about them later.
Keep things personal
When it comes to reputation management, companies often think in broad, impersonal terms. Yes, carefully planned public relations campaigns are great, but not on their own. Often, your reputation relies on how you interact with individuals.
This is why a growing number of brands are being proactive about responding to negative reviews on sites like Trustpilot.
Tip: A personalised response is ideal, but even directing miffed reviewers to your dedicated customer service team is better than ignoring them. The online world moves quickly. A bad review can travel the world in seconds. So make sure your online PR team is on the ball and primed to respond.
Give back to the community
Let’s step away from social media for a moment. Here’s another example of how speaking to customers on a personal level can do wonders for your reputation.
Besides being the right thing to do, corporate social responsibility (CSR) is a great way for businesses to build and maintain good public relations. But there’s a fine line between effective and defective CSR.
Read The PR Benefits of Cause Related Marketing to learn how doing good is good for business.
PR reputation management examples: the good and the bad
DISNEY – Good reputation management
A juggernaut of the entertainment industry and a global PR champion, Disney has maintained a gleaming reputation for decades. And this is largely due to their commitment to social responsibility.
Their CSR activity is broken down into three areas:
- Community relations: In 2019, they teamed up with multiple disaster relief organisations to help out after Hurricane Dorian devastated much of the Bahamas.
- Environmental aid: Disney takes an interest in protecting the environment, donating proceeds from nature films to plant trees in rainforests and protect thousands of acres of the coral reef.
- Volunteerism: Disney staff volunteer at projects around the world, including distributing Disney-themed care packages for children in hospitals.
It’s these things that set Disney apart from the competition. Their philanthropic efforts paint the ‘House of Mouse’ as more than ‘just another business’. It shows them as a force for good in the world.
For more on Disney’s public relations history, read: Disney PR: How the House of Mouse Took over the World.
FOXCONN – Bad
Foxconn, the brand that manufacture Apple’s iPhones, came under intense scrutiny back in 2010 when eighteen employees attempted to commit suicide.
Suicide notes blamed stress, long workdays and managers who were prone to humiliating workers for mistakes. That’s not just bad PR, that’s bad human beings.
Unsurprisingly, the press coverage was scathing and, along with the pressure from Apple and other clients, Foxconn’s corporate reputation was left hanging by a thread. This forced the company to take steps to improve its working practices: raising wages, reducing overtime, and setting up a workers’ hotline.
Needless to say, this is not the kind of public attention any business wants. Which is why, as we mentioned earlier, treating your staff well is a good PR move.
GOOGLE – Good Reputation Management
On the other end of the employee satisfaction scale is Google. The tech brand provides staff with a great working environment. And they rule the roost when it comes to office perks: on-site doctors, gourmet cafeterias and round-the-clock massage rooms, to name a few.
As a result, Google enjoys one of the best corporate reputations globally, and attracts highly skilled applicants from all over the world. The company has cultivated an army of raving internal brand ambassadors and is ranked number 7 in CBS News’ 50 best places to work in 2022.
DOVE – Bad
Remember earlier when I said a bad apology can make a bad situation worse?
Here’s a shining example of that in action: Beauty brand Dove’s awful non-apology following the release of an ad that many considered racist.
In their ‘apology’, they mentioned regretting the offence they caused, rather than apologising for what they actually did.
The apology was an epic public relations misfire that added to the mess. Even their best-selling deodorant couldn’t clean up this stink.
A winning PR apology should include:
- A factual account of what happened
- An explanation for why it happened
- Sympathy for those affected
- Plans to stop it happening again.
Whole Foods – Good Reputation Management
The gold standard in public relations apologies: Whole Foods CEO says sorry after the company gets caught up in an overcharging controversy.
This was great as the apology was made via video, allowing for an emotional connection that can’t be achieved with a standard press release.
The video was released as soon as the error came to light. It was short, to the point, and empathetic. And it laid out exactly how the company was going to make up for their mistake (customers could get free food to cover any overcharges.)
Unlike Gerald Ratner, Mr Whole Foods clearly invested in professional media training.
Who you gonna call? A reputation management public relations expert
As you’ve gathered from this post, managing your reputation is crucial. However, it can be tricky. A lack of skills and knowledge can lead to an easily fixable situation getting out of hand. If you’re lacking in either, the advice is don’t DIY it.