How to make or break reputation in the new media normal

Louise Vaughan,  co-founder and managing director of PR agency Definition, explains how you can use changes to media caused by the pandemic to strengthen your reputation online.

In the famous words of Warren Buffet, “It takes 20 years to build a reputation and five minutes to ruin it. If you think about that, you’ll do things differently.”

If only Boohoo had paid more attention to the sentiment of these words the business could have avoided wiping off an eye watering 40 per cent off its share price in two weeks – costing founders Carol Kane and Mahmud Kamani, and the rest of the Kamani family more than £400million – after allegations of human rights abuses in its Leicester-based supply chain.

They way businesses have reacted and responded to the Covid pandemic has been the breaking rather than making of many household names. The likes of Amazon, Sports Direct, Wetherspoons, Travelodge, Easyjet, DPD and Hermes have all faced media and public scrutiny and reputational damage around issues spanning the treatment of employees, dividends payments to shareholders in the wake of public money bailouts and poor social distancing practices.

And under the prism of the pandemic, business purpose, integrity and ethics are increasingly the drivers of brand trust, loyalty and respect. And in an era of hyper-transparency, those brands who’ve fallen foul have been quickly exposed and vilified – just take a lesson from Facebook. Yet against this backdrop there’s also a fantastic opportunity to enhance both brand and individual reputation for the majority of other businesses who are getting it right.

In a world where traditional news media has struggled to stay relevant, appealing and engaging to the masses, the Covid-19 pandemic has massively shifted the goal posts. Over the last few months as the full impact of coronavirus was realised across the world, the rate at which we started consuming as many headlines as possible – as often as possible – increased exponentially.

According to Ofcom’s current weekly media consumption survey, traditional media sources (broadcasters, newspapers, radio) remain by far both the most-used source of news and information on Covid-related news, with 88 per cent of adults citing mainstream media as their preferred channel, compared to 38 per cent of people using social media as a source.

The spike in the amount of news we are watching, reading or listening to is indicative of the enormous personal impact the pandemic is having on all of us. Everyone is relying on their digital devices to inform and distract more than ever before, and this is creating a big opportunity for brands and business leaders to engage a captive audience.

Whereas early stage pandemic news was dominated by infection rate and response statistics, as we move into the so called ‘new normal’, consumers, businesses and journalists are seeking out content that provides more context and colour to the current situation. That means opinion, advice, insight and thought leadership is now king of earned and owned content– which in turn, can significantly boost reputation.

And with the restrictions of lockdown and social distancing hampering many forms of traditional marketing and lead generation, employing a proactive reputation management and media profiling strategy is opening up a lifeline for many businesses. Done well it will boost brand trust, credibility, client engagement, leads and value. According to research from Havas AMO in 2019, the world’s top 15 stock markets owe more than a third of their valuation to corporate reputations, with that figure rising to 47 per cent for the UK’s FTSE 100.

This means that right now there’s a real commercial imperative for those brands doing it well and doing it right, to boost their recognition, their reputation and their value through a proactive media profiling strategy. To support any business looking at this, here’s Definition’s ‘Famous Five’ tips to securing media interest and exposure to boost the reputation of a business, entrepreneur, or leader.

  • Be first – there are no points for a ‘me too’ strategy when it comes to media – be original in what you say or try to offer a different perspective on an issue that hasn’t been done to death and place your thoughts in the context of the national news agenda – if journalists are already interested in the issue it will make your ‘sell’ easier
  • Be brave – sometimes sticking your head above the parapet – when you have solid foundations to do so – is a great way to get noticed and stimulate healthy debate – and then further engagement on social
  • Be relevant to your customer with fresh services and initiatives – a recent example is how GoDaddy has responded to a Covid-driven surge in its domain registration and web hosting services from firms moving commerce online. In response they’ve launched ‘Open We Stand’ to support small business owners navigate challenging times. The movement has received amazing media exposure and gained backing from 50 other brands including Salesforce, Uber, Adobe and Slack.
  • Be fast – long gone are the days when media was consumed in three square meals for breakfast, lunch and dinner – 24-hour news has a voracious appetite so if the opportunity is there, drop what you’re doing and work to their deadlines and you’ll get results
  • Be connected – do your desk research to understand your target media and the type of stories they are receptive to (or employ a PR agency to do it!) – Twitter is a brilliant platform to monitor and connect with journalists – the #JournoRequests hashtag is a useful tool to monitor live opportunities for comment.

Louise Vaughan is co-founder and Managing Director of Definition – one of the UK’s leading PR agencies specialising in corporate reputation management. Its clients span global brands, leading entrepreneurs, charities and public sector bodies.

Louise has won the Reputation Management category in the European PR Excellence Awards three times in the last seven years for brand reputation work.

© Business Reporter 2020