PR, Media Strategies And Reputation - What CEOs Need To Know What is Reputation Management? From a public relations perspective, reputation is an executive's most powerful asset. Understanding the elements of reputation will guide you in business crisis management, developing media strategies for your business and strengthening public trust in you and your company. "Reputation management" has become a buzzword in PR circles. The idea that reputations need to be controlled also means that reputations are to be contained. Your goal as a CEO should be to build your reputation, not to "manage" or contain it. In the world of PR, a whole industry has grown up trying to convince executives they need "reputation management." Reputation has become overanalyzed and overintellectualized. In fact, reputation is based on the time-tested business principle of sticking to your company's core values. Building Your Reputation Every press release, media interview, speaking engagement, product launch, employees' forum--even every hand shaken--all contribute to building reputation. Public relations is a corporation's primary reputation-building tool. PR makes sure the name of your company is a known entity, gets your expert opinion and comments out into the public arena and puts your face front and center when your industry or your company is featured in the media. The two most important elements that impact your reputation as a CEO are the quality of your relationships--with your clients, employees, shareholders and the media--and the quality of your communications. Start with the basics: it's critical that a CEO becomes intimately familiar with the company's mission statement. Having the ability to readily relate your mission statement to every action or communication-- be it yours or your company's--forms the foundation in establishing and maintaining a well-regarded reputation. Talk the talk of your mission statement and then walk that walk. If your company is committed to the green movement, for example, you might illustrate this by cutting down on the air conditioning, ramping up recycling efforts and driving a hybrid car. But if your product is shipped cross-country via noncompliant tractor-trailers, you betray the public's trust in your company by sending mixed messages. Consider Warren Buffet, who, by the way, has been quoted as saying, "It takes 20 years to build a reputation and five minutes to ruin it." No matter the circumstance, the year or the place, he always says the same thing: "I am a value investor; I look for long-term value." His message never waivers and in this way he is prepared to answer any question at any time. No one can ever say Buffet sends mixed messages, has a hidden agenda or talks a good game. What he says is always the same, communicated clearly and consistently over and over again. Doing this effortlessly and consistently will ensure that there will never be a need to "manage" your reputation. Why? In a word: Authenticity. If your company doesn't have a mission statement that clearly communicates its vision and core values, then, as a friend of mine says, "It's time for a three-day retreat." Executive Accessibility and Visibility Being accessible to the media leads to public trust in you and your company. Savvy CEOs do not hide behind closed doors, corporate "spokespersons" or impersonal "statements to the press." Savvy CEOs show their faces in the office and to the public. They speak at press conferences, listen and take questions in the open, before the cameras, before the public, and thus generate public trust. You are not afraid to take hard questions, either, and the public respects that stance. Executive Communications Sometimes, as leaders, we forgot that communication includes both speaking and listening. Dialogue is crucial in PR because it enhances customer and brand loyalty and adds longevity to your message through the forum it provides. Making your in-house PR campaign a priority is one of the most cost- effective efforts you can take to support and enhance your company's reputation. If you are visible and accessible and encourage conversations easily, your staff and your Board of Directors become your biggest proponent and mouthpiece. Corporate policies should be in synch with what you say to your employees as well. If you advocate cancer awareness as part of your mission statement, make sure you allow and encourage employees time away from their desks for cancer screenings. Consistent messages--in words and actions--bolster your reputation. Projecting the Right Message How do you tailor the right message for the public? Ask yourself what you want to accomplish. Are you sharing good news about productivity within the company? Do you have some high-profile resignations to address? Have you just signed new contracts with China? Have you completed cleaning up the asbestos found at one of your factories? Remember that if communication is not direct and consistent, messages get filtered down, and just like in that old game of "Whisper Down the Lane," what is said initially is never what is heard if it isn't communicated directly. Keep it simple. Remember your company mission statement. If you live the principles of that mission statement and closely guide your company from that philosophy consistently, no one can ever ask you a question you can't answer; no outside force will ever prompt you into an action that is in opposition to it. If you ever find yourself or your company off track, go back to your mission statement. Your mission statement is the message you give to your communications department and that becomes the basis of their PR and Marketing Plan. It's the same conversation you have with your employees and that becomes how they speak about the company for which they work. The company's vision and core values are always at the forefront of each level of communications. It's the position you take with your clients and that position becomes your promise to them. Taking Responsibility There's nothing more distasteful and inauthentic than a CEO whose first response to a media crisis is making excuses. Always remember, when it comes to PR and reputation, the first line of defense is to live up to the leadership role with which you've been entrusted. Today's Media Landscape The biggest change we've seen in today's media landscape in the last couple of years is the speed and ease at which everything becomes public these days. Today, there's no downtime between what we say or do, and when and how it goes public. Blogging Bloggers exposed Southwest Airlines when the company allegedly refused to let an overweight man with hepatitis C board a flight unless he bought two seats-even though he'd gained weight because of the disease and was traveling to a lifesaving operation. Bloggers also exposed fake blogs that a prominent PR firm had created to boost the reputation of its client Wal-Mart. The blog was supposed to be written by real-life fans of Wal-Mart. YouTube The video showing Taco Bell's rat-infested New York City locale was posted on YouTube within minutes of the story breaking. MySpace All the political candidates have MySpace pages. Search engines Search engines such as Google also make it impossible to hide anything because their crawlers are constantly at work, crawling through news stories, blogs and YouTube postings. Bloggers and online writers are also diligent about linking to other relevant sites. Crisis Management - 8 Tips for Handling a Crisis Everybody always thinks of reputation when it comes managing a crisis. Let's review a few basics. The speed in which news happens and our immediate access to it increases the chances of a CEO having a media crisis on her or his hands. Here are eight tips for handling these, based on the simple actions. Mantra's mantra for crisis management is to tell it all, tell it fast, tell the truth. Otherwise, the crisis and all of its repercussions will continue to damage you and your company's reputation over and over again. As mentioned above, information is distributed these days with the speed of light, but some of it is based on hearsay. At times it's almost like the water cooler has exploded onto the Internet, and now people gossip in a more public forum. Your crisis response must address and correct any rumors and hearsay. It doesn't matter what created the company crisis or whether the accusations are true or false, you've got to get front and center ASAP. Address the issue immediately and support your position with visible actions. Make sure your verbal communications and the corresponding actions are positioned in accordance with the company's core values. Remember that mission statement? When you are front and center, remember to tell the good news first, followed by the bad news. In PR, a distinction is made between "opinion" and "belief." Opinions are easy to change but rarely is there a chance to alter a belief. Approach crisis situations with that in mind. Change public perception while it's still at the opinion level. Consider a public forum on your Web site, or hang a bulletin board where customers and/or employees can ask questions and submit comments. Starbucks has a section on their Web site where they actually address rumors about the company. By offering a public forum, two positive impressions about your company are made: You aren't afraid to draw attention to the fact that rumors are a part of business; and you identify which pieces of information are incorrect and thereby nip rumors in the bud. Hidden Agendas. If you've got one, sooner or later you or it will be revealed. The fear that comes from hiding something makes you do everything wrong and sets into motion a series of actions that are very hard to recover from. Remember the 55/38/7 Rule developed by Albert Mehrabian: 55% of communication is based on your physical demeanor, 38% is how you sound and only 7% is what you say. Summary The overriding principle upon which I guide my own business and our client campaigns is that all public relations efforts fall into the category of reputation "management." Every relationship and communication impacts public perception. Strive for clarity, authenticity and consistency. If you lose your way anywhere along the line, go back to the basics. Gaye Carleton is the president of Mantra, Empowered Public Relations. For more information on the benefits of public relations, see Mantra Public Relations.