Building a strong reputation takes time. Whether for a business or a government department, it’s not an easily-applied band-aid. It demands a long-term, strategic approach with clear, open communication with all stakeholders – shareholders, employees, clients, suppliers, communities, regulators, media, experts and consultants. It pays dividends to communicate and tell the corporate story, through difficult as well as good times. To paraphrase a popular song of yesteryear: Good reputation and communication, like love and marriage, go together like a horse and carriage.

One of the most important tools available to do so is, of course, the media – whether through the pages of print media, words of radio, images on television, or the increasingly powerful format of online and social media. Contrary to what some executives and government officials believe, they do not own the media, and therefore cannot dictate what is communicated about their activities through the media. However, an intelligent and focussed media strategy goes a long way towards proactively shaping the messages to be conveyed to the public.

Many years of managing the reputation of one of the fastest growing brands in South Africa have confirmed the value of excellent media relations, even in times of crisis, and the importance of consistently applying a few simple rules.

Never underestimate the power of the media in building – or destroying – your reputation. In spite of the oft-heard complaint that “you can’t believe what you read in the newspaper”, most people have an inherent trust in what they see and hear through the media, giving media an enviable power to shape opinion. This power has grown exponentially since the advent of Facebook, YouTube and other forms of social media, where a few hundred people can, within a matter of hours, mobilise a protest against a company or a government. Media cannot be ignored. Executives and politicians who bury their heads in the sand when it comes to media do so at the peril of destroying their own and their corporate reputations.
As a company or government spokesperson, be available at all times to the media. This may be highly inconvenient, and means being always “on duty” to the media whose deadlines have no respect for the time of day (or night), or for personal circumstances. However, having an open door policy and being consistently willing to help the members of the media do their job will go a long way towards your messages being accurately communicated to the market.
Keep your messages clear and concise. Avoid puffery and drivel, and be open and honest. Good communication is not about “spin”; it’s about recognising that the media is an important channel to connect with a wide range of stakeholders. It’s about having the courage to publically acknowledge when a company or government has messed up and spelling out what is to be done to put things right again.
Recognise that reputation takes a long time to build, but can be destroyed very easily. Beware the minefields of carelessness, indifference and arrogance: they can render useless many years of nurturing reputation.
Like the horse and carriage in the song, good communication is harnessed to a strong reputation. Applying the above simple principles clearly and consistently will go a long way towards ensuring that all stakeholders hold the organisation in high esteem, and, over time, ascribe to it a good reputation.

Dot Field is the only individual member in South Africa of the highly regarded Global Reputation Institute. As a firm believer in the importance of Reputation Management she consults to a select client base as Dot Field Consulting.

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