I recently asked a practitioner his thoughts on PR as reputation management. I was rather surprised when he told me that because reputation is something he takes incredibly seriously, he has before now turned away potential clients due to bad press they may have had.
It probably sounds peculiar that I was quite shocked by this, but I’d never really thought of the boot being on the other foot with all the negative connotations surrounding public relations as a profession. It got me thinking:
‘PR is a growing industry and is very important – so why should practitioners and industry professionals just take whatever work’s offered? We have just as much right to pick and choose who we work with or represent as any other industry.’
Reputation is becoming increasingly important – and more difficult to manage. Markets are becoming more diverse, multiple brands are being used to sell homogenous products and with social media and news being reported 24/7 every potential business decision is more risky and visible than ever before.
Corporate social responsibility is crucial in competitive markets and businesses now need PR more than ever.
Companies big and small struggle with reputation. Take Carnival Cruises for example and the difficulty it faces with the recent disasters surrounding its ships the Costa Concordia and Costa Allegra. Carnival’s Costa division’s reputation is at an all-time low and quite possibly may never recover from the two crises happening so close together.
Other divisions of Carnival are now under intense scrutiny as well. I’m sure the majority of PR professionals wouldn’t want to be managing PR and communications for Carnival right now.
Another example is Nestlé. Nestlé had huge problems with reputation and CSR when Greenpeace implemented a hugely successful campaign against them. The campaign discouraged customers from buying Nestlé Kit-Kats on the grounds that the company bought palm-oil from suppliers that destroy the rainforest and disrupt the eco-system. Nestlé didn’t address the issue properly and it ended up becoming a PR nightmare for the firm.
Even huge multinational companies are vulnerable and need their PR teams to spring into action to avoid damage to their reputations that could be beyond repair. PR has the power to protect and save businesses that other departments do not.
The balance of power is shifting and PR is no longer a small part of any business that can just be told what to do and expect to follow suit. Agencies pitch to win clients, but when approached by companies, they have every right to decline any propositions or offers and practice the way they want to with whom they want to.
Reputation should be valued and closely managed by companies and even in this time of financial difficulty where it’s hard not to turn work away, the bigger picture needs to be looked at. Working with or for a company with a poor reputation could be a mistake in the long run, especially for PR agencies that rely on numerous clients. One question mark about reputation could be enough to deter potential clients for good.