MT asked Rachel Woods, head of the corporate and brand reputation team at PR firm Fishburn Hedges, to give us her ten top tips on keeping a tight rein over your business’ image – so it can avoid befalling the same fate.
1. Don’t be afraid of losing control
The strongest reputations are fostered on genuine dialogue and listening. If you respect your audiences enough to let them help you on your mission, you may not always feel like you’re fully in control, but you will build a reputation based on real understanding and mutual respect.
2. Social media is for life, not just Christmas
Corporates increasingly understand that reputations can be made, broken and restored online (remember fake BP PR Twitter feed @BPGlobalPR?). Social media isn’t just a means of broadcasting special offers, but a way to engage with customers. So get online and use it to your advantage and, unlike BP, learn to turn a crisis into an opportunity.
3. Break down the barriers between communications and customer service
Consumers are more vocal then ever, airing their gripes in public as they use social media to rant, rage, eff and #fail. An increasingly savvy customer is beginning to understand that complaining on Twitter is ever more likely to garner a response. So PR teams are having to work more closely with their customer service colleagues, even directly handling complaints and queries online themselves.
4. Don’t rely on mass communications
Audiences are more sceptical, more critical and more distracted. Megaphone communications and mass advertising doesn’t cut it any more. To join the conversation, to engage audiences, you need to involve them.
5. Location, Location, Location
Location-based applications are starting to live up to years of unfulfilled promise, and businesses should start thinking about how mobile marketing can help them reach customers on the move. A number of emerging technologies (as well as the upcoming 2012 Olympics) mean the UK will be an ideal testing ground in 2011.
6. Beware of the socially responsible financial analyst
You may have previously dismissed them, now take them seriously… The downsides of focusing on short-term returns became starkly apparent this year. Following years of half-hearted attempts to encourage responsible investment, in 2011 the major pension funds will apply real pressure on corporates to prove they are focusing on sustainable growth, with risk analysis at its core.
7. Keep up with the sustainability debate
Next year is going to see even greater pressure on businesses to take a leading role in championing sustainability as the government looks to the private sector to take on greater responsibility. The debate is getting ever more complicated and NGOs are unafraid to target those organisations that don’t have their house in order, so don’t get left behind like BP was.
8. Find opportunities for working collaboratively
Collaboration between businesses is becoming more and more important. Organisations that choose to collaborate in this way will reap the benefits when it comes to efficiency and measuring impact. That said, it’s important to continue thinking about standing out and coming up with creative ways to incite media interest.
9. Protect your brand
Sports promotions and sponsorship have long been a mainstay of corporate branding. But, as endless stories around corruption, debt, and commercial exploitation continue to spill over into the main news and business pages, businesses should pause for thought before jumping on the gravy train. Even if you can’t afford to sponsor a Formula 1 team, beware the partners you choose – because, like BP and Halliburton, a mistake by one side could seriously blight the other’s reputation for a long time to come.
10. Don’t throw the baby out with the bath water
Smart use of social media or crowd-sourced campaigns inevitably grabs headlines, but the hard work behind the scenes is still vitally important. It may not feel very ‘new’, but old-fashioned tactics, such as sitting down and having a conversation with the people that matter, are often still the best way to safeguard your reputation.