What is corporate reputation?

How we define the concept of reputation is fundamentally linked to the ways we measure, control and potentially destroy it in a business context. Dr Nicky Garsten takes a brief tour through the history of the term.

by Nicky Garsten

“If it is a choice between reputational or financial gain, I would go for reputation,” reflected Alistair Campell, the former communications director to British prime minister Tony Blair, in a 2023 podcast. With this comment, Campbell signalled two things: that reputation can, at least to some extent, be managed and also that it is critical to leaders.

Reputation’s Greek derivation, kleos, can be translated as “glory”, “fame”, “praise”, “renown”, “report”, “news” or “rumour”, according to Daniel Diermeier, author of Reputation Analytics: Public Opinion for Companies. The latter explanation suggests the challenges of managing reputation: Diermeier also notes that the original Greek word meant words that were said at someone’s funeral. This implies it is something final, yet it is widely accepted that a reputation built up over years can be destroyed in five minutes.

Revisionism too is an important aspect of historiography. The Latin derivation of ‘reputation’ encompasses the meanings of repetition (re) and consideration (putare), says Diermeier. These roots suggest that reputation is built over time and is composite.

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