Warren Buffett has said, “It takes 20 years to build a reputation and five minutes to ruin it. If you think about that, you’ll do things differently.”
Reputation management -- the art and science of understanding and influencing one’s individual or business reputation -- offers the ingredients necessary to keep your brand polished and progressive.
For a quick metaphor for why reputation management matters, check out an episode of the Food Network reality competition show, Chopped.
The show pits four experienced chefs against each other -- each working completely and utterly alone -- in a chance to win $10,000.
Unaccompanied by their team of sous chefs and line cooks -- and under serious time constraints to make a slew of difficult decisions -- each chef becomes a human pressure cooker. Faces drip with sweat as poor decisions abound: In one recent challenge, a chef carried a flaming grill across the length of the kitchen, hands unprotected, thrusting it into the sink to quell the flames.
I’m not in the culinary arts nor does our agency service this demanding sector, but if I was representing these chefs, I would carefully weigh out the pros and cons with each one of them: When faced with all but impossible cooking requests, and without the help of your team, how will you react? Does the Chopped contract protect you from any unforeseen embarrassments being aired? Is it worth $10,000 to have your insecurities exposed and your professional weaknesses captured on film for a lifetime?
Despite the adage “all PR is good PR,” I beg to differ.
You can’t have too many cooks in your branding kitchen. Whether you are a celebrity chef, a member of the C-suite or an owner/founder of a business, you can not underestimate the importance of reputation management.
Reputation management has one foot in classic communications and the other in crisis. “Classic” communications span public relations and marketing initiatives helmed by a range of experts including:
- PR professionals who oversee your communications strategy and spend countless hours crafting and re-crafting talking points for interviews with reporters and broadcasters. They carefully rework messages for every media interaction based on your end viewer or reader.
- Writers, who range from marketing copywriters to former journalists, capture the essence of your brand in whatever format necessary, from 140-character snippets to 1,000-word op-eds.
- Media coaches prepare you to maximize every interview opportunity, communicating your key messages, no matter what the question, and help you leverage the art of storytelling.
- Media-relations experts synchronize the news of the day with your unique perspective, arranging meet-and-greets, phone calls, lunches, Skype sessions -- whatever it takes to drive awareness of your professional reputation.
- Visual artists, from graphic designers to a video production team, carry your brand message seamlessly into whatever you produce visually, from logos to videos to marketing collateral.
Expert reputation managers also spend as much time keeping their clients out of a story as getting their clients into them. Do you want to be a part of what may be merely a trend? Do you want to be placed in one particular brand “bucket”? Answering these types of questions requires strategy and foresight, not impulse-driven answers.
Related: How to Clean Up an Online Reputation
Putting out fires. A reputation management team also helps when it comes to negative publicity. While the word “crisis” seems extreme, persistent negativity, even on a small scale, can make or break a company’s reputation.
For chefs, it’s the rare occasion when someone finds a hair in the entrée they’ve just created. For entrepreneurs, it’s a failed product, negative online service reviews, low profit margins or high turnover.
A consistent, positive drumbeat of news that bolsters your reputation is one crucial way to neutralize negative backlash. Today, online citizen journalists -- from one-off TripAdvisor and Amazon reviewers to a cadre of “mommy bloggers”-- carry as much impact as a negative note in the Wall Street Journal or your industry’s trade publication.
You make hundreds of decisions every week. With every one of those decisions, your staff -- and the stakeholders you serve -- sit in judgment.
Keeping a watchful eye, assessing all sides, monitoring risk and reward -- reputation management delivers all this and more. Ultimately, however, it’s the peace of mind that’s the icing on the cake.