Reputation Risk

Written by Chris Galloway, MPRINZ, Massey University



It doesn’t take much to trash a reputation. Recently the Bic pen people in South Africa thought they were doing the right thing with an ad promoting National Women’s Day. Trouble was, they included a line urging women to “think like a man”. The social media fury was predictable – and perhaps, even if briefly, costly in sales terms. The company said “sorry” – but in doing so, acknowledged they’d lifted the quote from a “Woman in Business” blog. Cue more online angst.

Reputations can be fragile things – easily broken, as Bic found out – and once in pieces, can be hard to restore. That makes our role as PR counsellors even more critical, especially as an insurance company survey earlier this year put “reputation risk” at the top of executives’ concerns. The UK Chartered Institute of Public Relations defines PR as “the discipline which looks after reputation”.  But understanding what reputation is can be challenging. There’s no settled definition, and clients can’t (unless they have very, very deep pockets) insure against it.

Reputation isn’t the same as brand. A brand is the promise you make to stakeholders; a reputation is built from how they evaluate your delivery against that promise. That evaluation is shifting as stakeholders receive new information: the old idea of “reputation capital” is too static, because reputation isn’t like money in the bank. The fluid character of reputation means that if you’re to influence it, and help avert a reputation-destroying crisis, it pays to invest in ongoing monitoring. Here’s another reason: research shows that every crisis, no matter how well handled, does some reputation damage.

We’ll explore these topics and more, in next month’s PRINZ workshop on reputation risk.


Chris Galloway is a Senior Lecturer at Massey University and is presenting a PRINZ course on ‘Reputation Risk Management – Realistic Strategies’ on 22 September. Early bird pricing of $355 ends 25 August. Register here

Picture credit: iStock

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