Middle-aged life is full of reminders that the years are clocking up.
A good example is when I got an email reminding me it has been five years since one of the books I co-wrote, #brandvandals, was published. It asked how things at the sharpest end of reputation management – protection against sabotage – might have changed since then.
Which was how I ended up writing a section for Tony Langham’s new book, Reputation Management: The Future of Corporate Communications and Public Relations, the latest in the PRCA’s Practice Guides series. Tony is hosting some launch drinks tonight, which reminded me to do a quick post about it (see how many reminders I need these days?).
Anyway, #brandvandals was the follow-up book to Brand Anarchy, and set out some advice for communicators in defending brands against the very worst that can be deliberately flung at them my miscreants, including of course having a strong reputation, being trustworthy and behaving well in the first place.
All of which, the section in the new book concludes, absolutely rings true today. What has changed in the intervening years though, are two big things. Firstly, attacks on brand reputation these days tend to happen after something that the company has done which is genuinely bad. Yes the nature of a brand’s business can always spark action by detractors and protestors, but generally speaking, things have evolved to a point where effects have a direct cause.
Secondly, and more importantly from a reputational standpoint, brands have become activists themselves. As our sister company Edelman charts each year with its Trust Barometer, brands have to a degree move into the void left by politicians in taking a stand on world – or even small, local – issues themselves. They are listening better to their publics. And they are doing something about it, to the benefit of their reputations.
Beyond all else, the thing that has changed since #brandvandals is bravery. As the section of the book, also co-written with Stephen Waddington, says:
“Courageous organisations are those that are prepared to listen to their publics and stand up for what they believe in, and crucially what they don’t. They’re also prepared to ‘fess up to their weaknesses.
“Here’s the issue: a brand only has true value if you are prepared to defend it. Organisations under increased pressure from their audiences are prepared to respond, and where necessary take a stand and share their genuine point of view.”
What triggered the rise of modern brand activism was, of course, the internet. The evolution of the media and the crumbling of prior barriers between audience and brand mean more direct action can be taken by more direct means. But now brave brands can take direct routes too, and bravery is likely to have to figure highly on the list of brand reputational assets. For many, it has become practically unavoidable.
Tony’s book is a comprehensive account of the state of corporate reputation today, and pokes into every corner of communications. Do consider buying a copy, as he’s buying the drinks tonight.