Friday, January 23, 2009

5 Characteristics of Reputation

Like any tool, a reputation constantly needs sharpening to be effective. But it can be double-edged instrument that can cut you and severely damage you, if you’re not careful, or mishandle it.

Reputation can be a hard concept to wrap one’s head around. So, bolstered by wise words of wisdom, I’ve listed five characteristics of reputation of which businesses and individuals need to be cognizant when seeking to change or improve their reputations.

1. A Reputation can’t be built on false promises - "The way to gain a good reputation is to endeavor to be what you desire to appear,” said the Greek philosopher Socrates. Your advertising materials won’t fool anyone if your promises are’nt being kept. If your luggage is lost, you will not believe the ad calling the airline “competent”, will you? In the same way, your company’s reality-on-the-ground must match the rhetoric your Reputation Agency is putting out about you, in order for your believability to remain intact.

2. Reputation must reflect what you’re doing NOW - Automobile manufacturer Henry Ford said, ‘You can’t build a reputation on what you're going to do.” It’s all well and good that you PLAN to do something great. But if you’re not doing it yet, or (worse) if you don’t follow through, it will hurt you more than if you hadn’t promised to do it at all. In short, your reputation is a result of what you’ve done in the past.

3. A reputation pays off in the long run - “A reputation for good judgment, for fair dealing, for truth, and for rectitude is itself a fortune,” said social reformer Henry Ward Beecher. There’s not really a way to weigh the value of a good reputation, or that of a good one that’s been lost. Your customers, if they’re happy, reach out to dozens of people about your products and services, but also about your attitude and helpfulness, and that of your employees. A reputation pays off in many innumerable ways, most of which you will never know.

4. A reputation can’t be a con job - Author and artist Elbert Hubbard wrote, “Many a man’s reputation would not know his character if they met on the street.” A reputation must be true and reflective of the subject it purports to represent. APR cannot “create” a glowing reputation for someone who’s character is genuinely bad. Again, today’s consumers simply are too smart for such a cynical exercise in deception, and frankly, APR (along with every other ethical PR professional) will not participate in such a deception. As in other examples here, the perception must match the reality. A con job will simply further tarnish a damaged reputation, and it’s simply not worth it. Issues involving the character and practices of your company must be addressed BEFORE “re-launching” yourself and your name to the public.

5. Your reputation can be ruined by others - George Washington said, “Associate with men of good quality, if you esteem your own reputation; for it is better to be alone than in bad company.” If you’re associated in the mind of the public with a rouge company or an unscrupulous person - even if it’s not YOUR company or employee - your reputation could be hurt by it in the eyes of the public. That may not be fair, but it’s reality. People sometimes don’t distinguish between you and a bad act committed by someone close to you. As Washington said, in that case, it’s better to be seen alone and apart from them, and APR can help you distance yourself from trouble with a clear reputation management plan.


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Friday, January 09, 2009

Six Ways PR Must Change in 2009

1. PR must be an opportunity to tell the truth - PR is not synonymous with lying, it’s not obfuscation, it’s not a delaying tactic, it’s a tool to disseminate the truth about our clients that positions them in a favorable light with their customers and other publics. The sooner PR as a profession understands that, the sooner the negative stereotypes of the procession (stereotypes which are, sadly, grounded in reality) will change.

2. PR must leverage online social media effectively - Social media plays a huge role in how messages are disseminated in 2009. PR professionals must understand how social media outlets work, how to use them effectively to target messages to the right consumers, and how NOT to abuse it.

3. PR cannot rely on hype - Consumers are increasingly savvy in their assessment of the messages that bombard them. The idea that hype (false and/or exaggerated claims meant to gain fleeting attention) can be used to somehow cut through that clutter has to be debunked frequently. Consumers of media, especially those in Generations X and Y, can smell hype a mile away, and it will instantly backfire on those who use it.

4. PR has to be a management function - A true partnership with clients, at the boardroom level, is required to quickly and effectively get messages to consumers. The days when a client “forgets” to reveal the most damaging parts of a story being disseminated by their PR professional are over. PR professionals will demand a place at the table where the decisions are made - not to make the company’s decisions for them, but to be able to make fully informed decisions about the best methods to narrowcast their decisions to relevant publics.

5. PR must assume all information will eventually leak - Social media and the immediacy of the Internet, combined with good old fashioned leaks, mean that all potentially damaging information will become public eventually, and will even more seriously damage the company’s brand. (See: Apple’s ongoing attempts to hide Steve Jobs’ continuing health problems.)

6. Relevancy must be spelled out in news releases - Reporters have always asked, “How is this relevant to me?” even if they didn’t verbalize it. Now, more than ever, with a vastly greater amount of information flooding newsrooms, and fewer reporters to process it, relevancy is a critical thing to spell out, right there in the text of the news release. Releases much change in format as well as content to reflect the information environment we’re in now. The evolution will continue throughout 2009 and the coming decade, but it begins with adding a clear statement of relevancy to every release.


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Wednesday, January 07, 2009

Mishandling Steve Jobs’ Health News: What NOT to do in PR

The blog Gizmodo shocked the business world on Dec. 30, 2008 when they announced that the popular Apple Computer conference, Macworld would not include a keynote address by Apple founder/CEO Steve Jobs this year, because of health reasons. In fact, rather than the reason previously given by the Apple Corp., that Macworld was “no longer needed” by the company to unveil its products, a “reliable source” told the popular blog that Job, who has suffered from pancreatic cancer, was in “rapidly declining” health:
Apple is choosing to remove the hype factor strategically vs letting the hype destroy apple when the inevitable news comes later this spring. This strategic loss will be less of a bang with investors. This is why Macworld is a no-go anymore. No more Steve means no more hype. Saying they are no longer needing [Macworld] is the cover designed by the worldwide "loyalty" department.

The blog entry set off a firestorm of speculation on the Internet that his cancer, for which he was treated in 2003, had returned. Many believed the blog and questioned the company’s truthfulness about Jobs, who, unlike other CEOs, is seen as intimately connected with the past and future success of Apple.

However, CNBC reporter Jim Goldman reported on his blog that Gizmodo had gotten it all wrong (based on its sources - most likely the Apple PR department) and that the health scare was an exaggeration. It was “not health concerns” that caused Apple and Jobs to pull out of the Macworld event.

CNBC rather embarrassingly had to walk back it’s pooh-poohing of Gizmodo’s reporting when, on the following week, it was revealed by Jobs and the Apple board that he indeed was suffering from a health aliment that was robbing his body of proteins.

A serious condition, though perhaps not deadly.

Still, the cult of secrecy at Apple led to a flurry of rumors and damaged the company’s stock price.

The company has, in the past, sought to keep Jobs’ health problems a secret. His surgery to deal with his cancer in the fall of 2003 only leaked out in April, 2004, causing shockwaves at the company.

An April, 2008 comment by Apple PR person Katie Cotton that his gaunt appearance was due to a “common bug” was also later refuted.

That strained credulity, but the denials this time were no less strong, and that’s a huge problem for Apple.

Gizmodo noted that “While Steve Jobs' health is nobody's business—not the press, not investors, not the public—we believe that there's a line between saying "no-comment" and plainly misleading—once again—the public.”

They are correct. And kudos for this “New Media” source getting it (mostly) correct while media giant CNBC got it wrong.

But the real lesson here is the (mis)application of PR to a health or business crisis.

In public relations, truth-telling is absolutely necessary. Those in the profession who lie only perpetuate negative stereotypes about what we’re supposed to be all about: TRUTHFUL ADVOCACY OF OUR CLIENTS’ INTERESTS.

PR hackery, in which lying is seen as a way to cover up and delay unpleasant truths, is grossly unethical, but more than that, it is likely to backfire every single time.

Apple is “Exhibit A” in this regard.