Navigating the Maze of Reputation Management: Balancing Corporate Actions and Statements
In an era where digital natives reign supreme in media savviness and tech literacy, CEOs operate at the intersection of public scrutiny and acute digital media literacy.
Consumers have seen reality TV stars transform into global celebrities, and their friends rise to instant stardom through platforms like Instagram.
Their media proficiency empowers them to discern fact from fiction, making reconciling a company’s words with its actions more important than ever.
Business leaders and public relations agencies must focus on closing the gap between company statements and actions.
That’s what this post is about.
The Holy Fool: An Unlikely Hero of Truth
Within the pages of Russian literature is an common archetype known as the Holy Fool. Eccentric, unconventional, and sometimes even appearing as if they’ve lost touch with reality, these characters possess unique access to the truth. Malcolm Gladwell’s book Talking to Strangers delves into this concept, highlighting the value of individuals who, despite societal norms, dare to expose reality.
In the fictional realm of Apple TV+’s The Morning Show, Reese Witherspoon’s character emerges as a fearless truth-seeker. She boldly disregards her handlers and confronts inconvenient truths head-on during live broadcasts. Her actions depict her as a hero, challenging conventional norms.
Navigating the Perils of Authenticity
Speaking the truth in a world where conformity often reigns supreme can be daunting. It’s akin to a child pointing out that the emperor has no clothes—a risky venture that may lead to ostracization, exclusion, or even job loss.
A real-world example is Edward Snowden, who exposed the National Security Administration’s global invasion of privacy, leading to his exile in Moscow. While some hail him as a hero, the U.S. government charged him with espionage, resulting in permanent separation from his homeland.
Recently, Lachlan Murdoch, Fox Corp.’s executive chairman, unintentionally assumed the role of the Holy Fool. In a peculiar twist, he lamented the diminishing civil discourse in the country, seemingly oblivious to the fact that his network, Fox News, thrives on sowing division between conservatives and liberals. This misalignment between his message and his network’s practices alienated audiences, further emphasizing the importance of authenticity.
Prioritizing Outcomes Over Outputs
In 2015, public relations agencies introduced the Barcelona Principles, offering guidelines for assessing PR campaign success. These principles advocate a shift from measuring mere outputs, such as news media impressions, retweets, and likes, to evaluating outcomes—specific actions taken by key audiences.
This shift makes logical sense. Instead of gauging how far and wide a message spreads, assessing the tangible impact of corporate initiatives on critical issues provides a more accurate measure of PR’s value.
Hypothetical Honesty: A Path Less Traveled
Imagine if companies chose to be radically transparent instead of crafting elaborate excuses. Consider an oil company that, instead of evading climate change discussions, adopted a communication strategy built on trust and honesty:
“We refine crude into gasoline, powering your vehicles. We acknowledge that emissions from cars contribute to global warming. While competitors may deny this, we won’t insult your intelligence with lies. We’re a fossil fuel company, and our business is to provide automotive fuel, employing countless individuals and fueling global transportation. If this stopped abruptly, your ability to move around would be severely impacted. We’re not here to make that decision for you, but we are here to serve our customers, employees, and shareholders. Our obligation is clear; if we fail, we’ll be replaced by someone who won’t.”
While hypothetical, such honesty could reshape the narrative, garnering respect for authenticity in corporate communications.
Conclusion: Navigating the New Era of Reputation Management
Readers will learn that in the digital age, where media-savvy individuals dissect every corporate move, reputation management requires a strategic shift toward authenticity and transparency.
The Holy Fool archetype reminds us of the power of truth-telling, even when it challenges the status quo. Prioritizing outcomes over outputs is a step in the right direction, ensuring corporate actions align with their stated values.
Embracing radical transparency and telling it like it is can redefine corporate communications. This is done by fostering respect and understanding even when agreement is elusive.
Reputation management in this era demands a new level of transparency, acknowledgment of complexity, and a commitment to rebuilding trust in a world where words and actions are too often fractured.