Implementing a reputation shaping programme can seem daunting, but for most organisations, it’s a matter of following five clear steps from theory to practice. Depending on your business, this task might fall to the CEO, Founder, Communications Manager or Marketing Manager to work closely with their PR agency to develop and implement this plan.

We’ve seen firsthand how this proven process offers clear outputs and brings clarity to an area that has traditionally been hard to define. Here are the five key steps to help develop your reputation shaping strategy.

1. Exploration & Alignment

At this stage, you’re looking for allies and similar programmes to avoid reinventing the wheel. With marketing managing funnels, HR engaged in staff retention and wellbeing, and finance monitoring performance, it’s vital to align and deduplicate your reputation shaping programme with similar initiatives to bring people on board.

2. Strategy & Objectives

It’s important to not only identify opportunities, such as reducing customer churn and increasing cross-selling, but also to assess any risks. Small actions such as actively engaging with external communities, or employee surveys that unearth genuine issues, can bring unintended consequences. So, fix and focus on clear objectives, avoiding diversionary rabbit holes as they appear.

Have a written statement that encapsulates the ‘why’ on the activity you’re undertaking, not simply the ‘what’.

3. Building the Case & Prioritising

By using data from your ‘allies’ in step one, and carrying out unique benchmarking to fill the gaps, you’ll be in a good place to present the business case to your executive team. You’ll need to explain where the gaps are and what the potential impact could be if you’re not addressing a poor reputation in key areas.

This is the stage where you must prioritise areas that need fixing, fast. For example, you might have great employee morale, but half of your customers may be disgruntled. Think of this as a reputation valuation – a crucial element of reputation management in business.

4. Management & Implementation

Once the drivers and intended outcomes are established, it’s time to assign ownership of all things reputation. This involves communicating the purpose and importance of the reputation management programme as a fundamental business metric across your organisation.

Individual functions or business units may need the big picture objective made relevant to them at a micro level, as individual reputation shaping strategies they’re being asked to feed in to may be greeted with scepticism in isolation.

5. Measurement & Improvement

As well as keeping stakeholders informed via periodic updates and formal regular reporting, you’ll have created a framework for continuing to improve the health of your company reputation. It must include the flexibility to steer the ship in response to changing market and competitor factors, without knee jerk reactions to external events or the unexpected from within your organisation.

Importantly, it shouldn’t be seen as a barometer of ‘how things have gone’ but making progress on a continuing journey.

Conclusion

This structured approach ensures that your company’s efforts are aligned with existing initiatives, strategically focused, and continuously improving – thus safeguarding and enhancing your company’s reputation over the long term.

By enlisting the services of an experienced PR agency to help effectively unpack and implement these five steps, your organisation can successfully embark on a reputation-shaping strategy that will yield enormous benefits for your employees, customers, stakeholders and ultimately your bottom line.

Professional wrestling is a unique and wonderful blend of sports, theatre and storytelling. For me, an account executive spending her weekdays working on PR campaigns, the weekends are for hitting the road and experiencing the unfolding drama at wrestling shows. 

At first glance, the world of public relations and the spectacle of professional wrestling may seem worlds apart. One sits at the forefront of communications, the other is renowned for over-the-top characters and outlandish storylines. However, despite the differences in glitz and glamour, there are actually quite a few lessons we can take from the masters of choreographed combat on how to run a successful PR campaign.

Work the crowd

Part of what makes wrestling so electric is the roar of the crowd. The best grapplers know how to work the audience, amplifying their emotions to epic proportions. They know the difference between a family friendly show in a church hall and an arena show filled with 10,000 fans – and they know how to perform in both.

Great PR campaigns aren’t usually performed in front of a packed stadium, but the same principle applies in energising your target audience. It’s about knowing who you’re talking to, what buttons to push, and how to ignite engagement. Get people excited and participating in the conversation – a little showmanship can go a long way.

Be prepared for anything

One of the keys to the wrestling world’s enduring popularity is that virtually anything can happen. Friends can turn on friends, shocking debuts can emerge at any point, controversial storylines are a constant – the writers and performers always lean into the unexpected.

In the PR world, the show must go on as well, even when crises hit. The best professionals and spokespeople don’t get flustered or thrown off when something unforeseen occurs. They must have a knack for pivoting and adjusting on the fly. A depth of preparation, confidence in their skills, and the ability to think quickly on their feet allows them to roll with any punches.

Tell a compelling story

At the heart of any successful PR campaign is storytelling. You need to craft a narrative that captures attention, builds interest, and leaves a lasting impression. This is something the professional wrestling industry has mastered for decades. The greatest wrestlers aren’t just talented athletes – they are heroes, villains, and everything in between woven into larger-than-life tales of good vs evil, redemption, and glory.

Just like the most memorable wrestling storylines, successful PR campaigns thrive on emotion and captivating personalities. While most PR work may not be as dramatic as Kane being revealed as The Undertaker’s long-lost brother, it’s still important to go beyond simply communicating key messages. Your target audience must be transported into a world in which they can get immersed, and invested, in.

Professional wrestling’s unique approach to engagement and storytelling offers a number of lessons for public relations professionals. There’s an art to both worlds – one just happens to involve more body slams and tombstone piledrivers. But whether you’re looking to master the perfect suplex or play a part in shaping the reputation of a tech company, the stars of the squared circle have techniques that can help any public relations executive rank as a heavyweight champ.

Everyone wants to be involved in exciting and relevant conversations. Think back a time to when you’ve been with a group of friends, and they’re excitedly discussing a TV show you haven’t seen. You likely felt excluded, perhaps even compelled to watch the show just to take part in the conversation. As those in PR know well, companies are no different. Everyone wants their company to be in the limelight, so naturally, they gravitate towards getting involved with newsworthy topics of the moment.

While it can be tempting to throw your company’s name in the hat in the hope of getting the right attention and visibility, it’s important to remember that there is a danger in being involved in conversations you really shouldn’t be. While in the short-term, gaining mainstream news coverage or likes and shares on social is exciting, it’s important to consider the long-term reputational risks of straying too far from your company’s original messaging.

The allure of the headlines

Over the past year, the predominant talking point for tech companies and beyond has undoubtedly been AI. As a topic, AI is broadly covered in the news, from specific stories about regional regulations to wider discussions surrounding the technology’s ethics. While your company will likely have something to say about AI, it’s less likely that every AI story is relevant for you.

For instance, a learning and development company utilising AI in their software may be able to comment on the technology’s impact on workforce productivity but will likely want to avoid the topic of AI job displacement. It’s vital to consider the wider story implications – and how a company would be perceived in the broader context, and not just from their own perspective.

While ‘AI Washing’ specifically concerns misrepresenting a company’s use of AI technology, it also serves as an important reminder of the dangers of positioning a company as something they’re not. The same holds true from a PR perspective – the further you stray from your company’s services to focus on the latest trends, the more likely you’ll be misrepresented. Here are some questions you should ask yourself when deciding if that conversation is right for you:

  • Do we already have a perspective? – While new talking points will always crop up, if a story is relevant to you, there will likely be pre-existing content that informs your perspective. If you have to start from scratch to form a POV, it’s more likely that this is outside your company’s remit.
  • Is this a negative story? – There is a time and place for controversy, and it should probably be avoided when the story has high a degree of sensitivity. Even if a spokesperson believes they could share a POV, remember that the company as a whole will be represented – and impacted by the attention. Negative stories are unavoidable, but they should be managed with care.
  • Is this something we’re going to continue discussing? –  Establishing a company’s expertise and profile takes substantial time and in a constant state of change. Not every comment or thought leadership content is successfully picked up, but they all contribute to positioning your company as an important voice in your particular space. However, if you begin venturing into every topic that arises, you’re likely to nullify your efforts to establish your company as a thought leader. By directing efforts to topics your company will continuously refer to, you have a better chance of establishing yourself as a reliable voice.

Every company has a perspective and expertise to share, but it’s vital they are directed into the right areas. A valued PR partner can help your company discern when – and if – they should be part of a conversation. Rather than chasing ’what’s hot right now’, time would be better spent establishing a well-defined perspective and understanding where your company can offer valued insights to the press. With a clearer understanding of what your company can’t discuss, you can be more effective in the conversations you do belong in.

“Potato!”

Ah, right, my two-year old wants that mash potato she didn’t finish earlier, I better go get it.

“No, potato”, she says again but pointing at her craft box.

“Oooh, you’re asking for your Play-Doh.”

I wasn’t listening intently enough, and instead heard what I wanted to hear – her wanting more of the wonderful meal I prepared, of course!

Miscommunication and misunderstanding are part and parcel of life. They happen often, and if corrected in good time, no big deal. But what happens when there’s a communication breakdown that is left unaddressed? The relationship breaks down too.

At the end of last year, I read a WSJ article based on a report from McKinsey that revealed nine out of 10 CEOs feel that marketing has a clearly defined role at their companies, yet only 22% of marketing leaders agree. And it’s down from 31% in 2019.

This gap is significant and is likely largely down to assumptions and misaligned expectations. And why the widening of this gap? It’s been a tough economic climate and when there’s pressure, there’s more scope for misunderstanding and miscommunication.

An analysis in the report also found that “C-suite leaders, with scant to no experience in marketing, reach out to the department hoping to find growth drivers in a very mixed economy.” This sentiment is backed by the fact that only 10% of CEOs at Fortune 250 companies have worked in marketing.

The ‘understanding gap’

C-Suite leaders don’t actually need first-hand experience or an in-depth understanding of marketing operations, but the CMO does need to understand exactly what the CEO requires. And then deliver it. This ‘understanding gap’ worsens when expectations are not made clear.

An ‘understanding gap’ can also turn into an ‘appreciation gap’, and this is where frustration festers which doesn’t bode well for anyone, or the wider organisation. If a relationship isn’t based on mutual respect, then it’s not a functional relationship.

Getting on the same page

1. Listening, and I mean really listening

I will never forget delivering training on ‘active listening’ to a team member, who then said, “this is a bit basic”. Yes, it is basic, but active listening is actually harder than you think. You may believe you’re doing it by listening, staying quiet, nodding your head and maybe even repeating back what you heard. But have you done it with self-awareness and empathy, making sure to pick up on other subtle cues to ensure the speaker feels truly listened to?

You can hear, or you can actively listen. I heard potato, I responded. Had I actively listened – listening attentively to my daughter, really looking to understand what she was saying, paying attention to verbal and nonverbal cues – maybe I would’ve given her what she was asking for.

Of course, that’s not a high stakes scenario. But when the consequences are major, active listening becomes so incredibly important, not only so a situation is crystal clear in your mind, but also for trust and respect.

2. Clarifying/Replaying

Clarification is part of active listening and is the best way to proactively ensure everyone is on the same page. It’s not just about repeating back a point either, it’s about rephrasing it or re-contextualising it, or even asking further questions around it, to be certain that what’s being said is clear and understood.

And be mindful, the person you’re clarifying with may not be actively listening, so how do you navigate that? You clarify and replay in multiple ways to catch misunderstandings early. For example, in the moment or maybe after the meeting in written form.

3. Atmosphere of collaboration

Good collaboration starts with judgement-free exchanges of ideas and insights. In fast-paced environments, pausing and having moments of reflection can be hard to squeeze in, but they become an important part of staying aligned and fostering strong collaboration.

Defining clear roles and responsibilities enables fast progress in-between these moments of pause, particularly when it comes to streamlining decision-making processes. By leveraging respective areas of expertise, CEOs and CMOs combine their super-powers to drive growth, enhance brand reputation, and capitalise on market opportunities.

Effective communication is not just a matter of exchanging words; it’s about truly understanding and aligning with one another. My “potato” incident illustrates how easily miscommunication can occur even in seemingly simple interactions. However, when miscommunication happens in professional settings, the consequences can be far-reaching, leading to strained relationships and hindered organisational growth.

The worrying widening gap between CEOs’ perception of marketing’s role and marketing leaders’ perspectives highlights the importance of actively working to bridge understanding and appreciation gaps within organisations. The market is still a little volatile and now more than ever we should be investing in relationships which are critical for our organisation’s success.

Company scandals and crises hit the headlines on an almost weekly, if not daily, basis. Cloudflare has been in hot water recently, for instance, for the way the company handled mass layoffs. It was made worse by the now infamous video of a woman being let go by two people she’d never met prior, and the company has come under fire from the media, previous employees, and even current staff. There’s also the personal brand of Elon Musk, who continuously seems woefully unprepared for responding to criticism aimed at X (formerly Twitter).

As individuals, we’re taught that failure is an expected and unavoidable part of life, and that it’s how you deal with failing that really matters. The same mindset, really, should apply to companies. Mistakes are inevitable, and the effects can either be short-lived or they can have the potential to cause long-term damage to a brand’s reputation. As such, a blueprint of how to handle a crisis should be in place for every business – big or small.

One part of this is having a ‘handbook’ of sorts, with clear protocols and practices laid out. This could include approval processes for statements, timelines, at what point to involve legal, and hierarchies of responsibilities with who owns what clearly demarcated. Templates for statements and announcements can also be useful, helping speed-up reaction times when it matters most.

Bringing in a PR agency when a crisis occurs is one effective way of getting support and guidance. However, even more valuable is having a long-standing relationship already in place. Here’s a few reasons why that can be so valuable:

  • Skip the intros, they know you well – When you’ve been working alongside a PR partner for a long time, they know who you and your company are – the mission, values, and messaging. If a crisis hits, no time need be wasted making introductions to the company. They know you and your voice, and they can get stuck in offering support.
  • Avoid knee-jerk internal comms – If you’ve already been working with a PR team to bolster your internal communications, then rapport and trust will already be established among your employees. So, if a crisis hits, you’ll have a strong foundation in place to communicate next steps with staff.
  • Support with customers & stakeholders – Crises aren’t just bad for public image – they can be really damaging to relationships with customers and other stakeholders. A trusted PR partner can work closely with you to craft statements and strategies on how to protect these relationships in the wake of – and lead up to – a potential crisis.

These are just a handful of ways a PR partner can support when it comes to crisis comms – there are so many more. Ultimately, having an experienced and agile PR team alongside you is not only beneficial for day-to-day reputation building; it is critical for when a crisis hits and a reputation needs protecting.

We’ve reached that time of year where everyone is just about focussed on the new year ahead, already thinking about their New Year’s resolutions in the hope that this is the year they’ll be able to stick to them longer than a few weeks. We hear the phrase, ‘New year, new me’, as we make promises to ourselves that next year we’re going to try and be a better human, one way or another.

In doing so, do we make our resolutions for the new year too ambitious and, sometimes, too strict? We see it as almost a punishment for over-indulging and enjoying the holidays and yet, most of us don’t stick to our resolutions because we’re too hard on ourselves and we can’t make them a habit. We’re in for another turbulent year ahead in an already hectic world and if we set ourselves completely wild new year’s resolutions, we’ll only add to the chaos in our lives.

Instead of conjuring up really out-there resolutions and then feeling struck down, we should be kinder to ourselves and look at improving what we already know and do. With this in mind, here’s a manageable and sticky approach to New Year’s resolutions and a look into what we could be doing more of next year:

More learning

Whether we’re aware of it or not, we learn something new every day. It could be a new piece of technology that we’ve read about in the news, a new way of working that we’ve learnt from a podcast or a new way of thinking we’ve learnt from our friends. The digital resources around us are saturated with new content every day and we need to continue to take advantage of it. As well as continuing to learn new facts, figures and information, we also need to learn more from our mistakes too.

This makes me think about the parallels between Samsung launching its first foldable phone and Greggs launching its first vegan sausage roll a few years back. Samsung, having experienced a string of hardware problems in the past, chose to rush its highly anticipated product to market only to discover that the product was flawed once in the hands of reviewers. Greggs, on the other hand, did well. Whilst it may not have been the first brand to break into the vegan sausage roll market, it executed a campaign that boosted shares by 13%, the best performer on the FTSE 100 at the time.

The difference? Greggs listened and learned from its audience. The spike in veganism and vegan-friendly products over the last couple of years meant that it was the perfect time for Greggs to enter the market. So much so that everyone wanted to taste the new product. That’s where listening and learning can take you.

More reading  

One of the things I admire about Bill Gates that he talks about in his documentary, Inside Bill’s Brain, is his ‘think weeks’. Twice a year, he’ll spend a week locked away in a secret cabin reading papers on all different kinds of topics, expanding his mind and outlook of the world. When I learned about this, I was in complete admiration and jealous! One of the busiest people in the world still finds time for himself and uses it in a productive way. So, for us, there are really no excuses.

Whilst I’m not suggesting that we all run off to a cabin in the middle of nowhere and read all the Jane Austen novels backwards, we should make the time to read something outside of our daily reading routine. Most of us will probably read the latest headlines, social media updates or newsletters, so why not try exploring a new platform? Maybe find a new subreddit or Forbes columnist, even broadening out to the likes of podcasts and audiobooks to find another way to digest information. Reading and digesting information helps us in many ways whether it’s inspiration for a blog, learning something or just keeping up to date with the world. And we should be doing more if it.

More exercise

Walk into a gym in January and no doubt it will be heaving with people trying to shave off the pounds after Christmas. Then, in February, it begins to die down because people have stretched themselves too much. Instead of going in at the deep end when it comes to exercise, try making small changes. Remember, we’re not starting new, we’re trying to improve what we already do. That could mean walking to work rather than taking the tube or taking a regular walk round the office to stretch your legs.

Wellness remains a huge trending topic, and everyone has a desire to be healthier, but that doesn’t mean we have to push ourselves or plan to run a marathon. Small changes and switches to our normal routine is enough to clear our mind and start fresh.

More quiet time

With social media and news outlets churning out content every hour of the day, there’s never a quiet moment in comms. That means as comms professionals, we also have little quiet time. Although it’s in our nature to work in fast-paced environments and keep busy, we also need to make time for more quiet moments to avoid complete exhaustion and burnout. That could mean taking ourselves away from the office for a couple of hours or working from a different environment. A quiet environment where you become lost in your own thoughts is important to let creative thinking flow.

More face-to-face time

I knew a headmaster who called any TV a moron’s lantern, but these days the email has become the modern-day mind pollutant. Every time we come back from a long holiday or break; we dread the first day back where we have to sift through the mountain of emails we’ve received. As well as taking up a lot of our time, emails can also be poor at getting our message fully across because we don’t have any audio or visual cues to justify the tone or style of the communication.

Psychology professor, Albert Mehbrain, says that there are three basic elements in face-to-face communications: words, the tone of voice and body language. And according to his study, words account for only 7% of the messages, meaning tone of voice and body language make up 38% and 55% respectively.

So, to really make our message count and mean something, it’s best to meet face to face or at least have a conversation on the phone. An email will only get us so far in terms of communicating and building a relationship so face-to-face time is valuable.

Staying strong in the New Year

We often associate the New Year with starting afresh and whilst it’s good to be ambitious and motivated to do more good things, we should also maintain and do more of the things we enjoy too.

In that case, maybe we should drink more coffee because sometimes, and for all the right reasons, we need that extra burst of energy!

Or maybe we should commit and focus on just one resolution that will last all year.

Here’s wishing all our clients, employees and colleagues in the comms industry a good reprieve from the year that was and happy planning for the New Year!

How many times have we uttered these words in defeat during the festive season? After hours of trying to decrypt the magic combination of ‘yesses’ and ‘nos’ in a chatbot window while online shopping, desperately trying to reach the inbox of a human employee.

Well, if you believe the AI industry’s announcements, come the new year, that will soon be a struggle of the past.

Yes, chatbots are undergoing a rebrand. No longer are they the cryptic gatekeepers to the human behind the screen; companies are working on making virtual assistants more humanised. Take bank NatWest’s new AI-powered chatbot, ‘Cora’ for example. Human name aside, it has been developed with the goal of being more personable by being able to provide information to the user in a friendly conversational style.

The humanising of chatbots comes at a time when we are living a strange duality of both fearing AI’s scope and embracing it as one of us. At the same time world leaders met at Bletchley Park to discuss next steps around regulation for AI, we were asking Alexa for quick dinner recipes.

And while identified by some as “one of the biggest threats to humanity”, we are calling it the names of our friends and family. This isn’t a new phenomenon. One of the first chatbots was called ELIZA and was developed in 1966. In fact, you can still chat to ‘her’ today. But more confusingly in the past year, celebrities like Kendall Jenner sold their images to Meta to create chatbots who look and speak like them.  

The effectiveness of using a celebrity image in humanising chatbots is questionable. When speaking to Billie (Jenner’s AI counterpart), watchers of The Kardashians are transferring their parasocial relationship they have with Jenner from the show to Billie – adapting quickly to using and trusting the bot.

Further to the way chatbots are looking and speaking to us, we are unconsciously accepting the personalisation of the software. Using language for human actions is increasing anthropomorphism of AI in our everyday conversations. Terms like ‘hallucinating’ – for describing when a chatbot AI programme produces false information – has become Cambridge Dictionary’s word of the year, cementing it in the 2023 zeitgeist.

Many of us, especially the older generation, are resistant to the chatbot, preferring to pick up the phone and have a real person handle our queries about returning gifts or logging into our banking apps. But a study at the Technical University of Berlin found that working alongside robots causes us to slack off in the same way we would with human colleagues. Is this a crack in the wall between humans and machines?

Perhaps as 2024 continues, and AI’s rebrand becomes more streamlined, the lines will blur between how we treat other humans and how we speak to chatbots.

Which begs the question – how long will it be before we are asking “Can I just speak to a chatbot, please?”.

This article was originally published in Forbes.

It has always been essential for businesses to maintain a solid reputation. However, this has taken on another level of importance in the modern context. Social media, 24-hour news cycles and the ubiquity of information have put reputational issues at the forefront of any organisation’s strategy.

Efforts must be made in terms of public relations, brand management and leadership reputation, but it cannot stop there. To build a truly robust reputation, those who represent your company in day-to-day interactions should fully understand the values you wish to project.

Those who are responsible for sales, by definition, have a huge impact on any business’s success. However, this goes beyond revenue generation. They are also a significant driver of your wider reputational efforts due to their countless interactions with the outside world, including current or prospective customers, partners, sponsors and beyond.

If your firm has a poor sales reputation, this will impact the overall image you portray and may even go against other efforts by your leaders or marketing. As a result, it is critical that your sales teams are kept updated on reputational matters—and are well-versed in your firm’s values and are able to communicate them effectively.

Building A Strong Sales Reputation

A lingering and often unfair perception of sales teams is that their approach can be too “pushy” and not focused on building trust or those long-term relationships that are so important to creating sustainable success. Highlighting the importance of honesty and transparency in negotiations is something that the majority of businesses will already be doing, so what other efforts can be made?

Fundamentally, all your employees must buy into your company’s ethos and what it is trying to achieve. We have all been in an organisation or dealt with a representative of a company who couldn’t care less about how they or the company are perceived. As much as we may try not to let them, these sorts of interactions can have a strong influence on our opinion of the company, and if many others have the same experience, this can cause significant reputational damage.

Therefore, it is important for your company’s leadership to maintain a two-way dialogue with its people. To a large extent, reputation will be top-down—the heritage, culture and personalities of those who founded or run the company will have a significant impact on how it approaches sales and the reputation it wants to build. However, it is important to not be out of touch and to make sure to listen to the wishes and outlook of the people you have throughout your organisation.

There is a wide societal focus on authenticity, and we have seen many examples of companies being called out, even canceled, for not living up to the high moral standards that consumers and workers have these days. For example, many companies have been accused of greenwashing, being misleading in their advertising or having sales practices deemed out of sync with their values. Clearly, this will have a big impact on the reputation of the firm more broadly, but also on sales teams. A team should be comfortable promoting a product or service, not worried about having to make any moral compromises. This can make them more effective in driving revenue and helping build a more positive reputation.

Measuring A Strong Sales Reputation

Revenue is a good measurement of many business outcomes, and reputation is no exception. If your revenue figures are strong, it is likely that a strong reputation has helped make that happen. However, it is a mistake to not look beyond revenue and seek different indications as to how your reputation is doing. The use of customer success teams can be a great way to keep in touch with customers throughout the lifecycle, getting constant and useful feedback to measure how your company is doing and the way it is perceived by your customers. Similarly, engagement programmes between stakeholders and your senior team can also fulfill a critical role and ensure that strong bonds are created and trust is shared.

Other established ways of measuring satisfaction beyond simply revenue include the Net Promoter Score (NPS)—a score that organisations are given that measures how likely a customer is to recommend or promote that company to someone else. This can help give a good indication as to how your brand is viewed—for example, if you have strong revenue figures but a poor NPS, trouble may be down the road.

However, due to NPS’ simplicity, it has its limitations regarding the insight it can give you into customer sentiment and behavior. This is why it is important to review all of the different metrics out there and use the one you think would be most relevant to your business. It may even mean combining a few different ones to try to fully understand your reputation and the lasting impressions that your sales team leaves on customers. As a result, a concerted focus on not only revenue and outcomes but on the process to get there should be factored into all strategic decisions and subsequent training of your workforce.

In business, what you say matters, but what you do is crucial—the reputation you’re building is only legitimate if those in your company back it up with their actions. This is why building a positive reputation and putting wider reputational efforts at the core of your business, prioritising them alongside other key business goals such as revenue or costs, is key to future success.

In the world today, talk travels quickly, and there are countless examples in recent times of business outcomes being inextricably linked to the perception a company has in the public forum. Ensuring that you approach sales with integrity, transparency and honesty is more important today than it ever has been. Creating the right culture within your company can lead to the right reputation being presented outward.

This month, Eurovision exploded back onto our screens in all its campy, zany, extravagant glory. Broadcast from my hometown of Liverpool, millions of people across the globe danced and sang along to some predictably cheesy music – in my eyes, Finland were the clear winners. This celebration of diversity, inclusivity, creativity, and culture was a clear reminder that the human influence is invaluable for businesses – particularly as AI creeps further into our lives.

There’s an overall mix of curiosity around how AI can help companies, fears about it negatively impacting jobs, and pressure to regulate it as it grows more knowledgeable. It can perfectly replicate human voices, churn out content in seconds, and explain advanced astrophysics to a five-year-old. It can’t, however, replicate or replace the human touch, particularly when it comes to reputation shaping.

AI isn’t going anywhere. There are around 5,855 tools that have the potential to be used in PR currently available online, and that number will only continue to rise. But a reputation is curated through the business’ relationship with the public, and relationships are the foundation of the human experience. By working solely off data, AI tools lack the emotional intelligence, strategic thinking, and interpersonal skills that are so imperative in PR. If a business experiences a reputational setback, wants to improve media relations, or is looking for a creative new way to boost visibility, there is a need for soft skills that only us humans can bring to the table.

Eurovision is a perfect example of how the human influence shapes reputation. The longest-running annual international televised music competition, its reputation reflects its core value of uniting people and nations by showcasing musical diversity and cultural nuances. It is powered by human creativity and an understanding of culture, attracting audiences of over 180 million people across the world who share a wonderfully wacky and meaningful experience. Love it or loathe it, Eurovision’s reputation has an undeniably and overwhelmingly positive impact on visibility, cultural influence, and tourism.

When considering how AI can discern a brand’s reputation, the tools may be able to use their vast amounts of knowledge to gauge popularity, identify cultural differences, and calculate the positive financial impact Eurovision brings, but this information is gathered and collated through human input. Because AI lacks the aforementioned soft skills, its inability to think critically or creatively generates concerns surrounding ethics.

Firstly, if the human input is not neutral then the AI-based decisions are susceptible to bias or inaccuracies. This is especially concerning if a company is experiencing a reputational crisis, and neutrality and nuance are needed. One well-known example of this is the bubbling undercurrent of political tensions that surround Eurovision each year. Despite these, the event remains fiercely politically neutral, and makes every effort to bar highly politicised performances and promote peaceful relations, in order to avoid reputational damage.

Secondly, AI is inherently inauthentic, meaning that any creative ideas it suggests stem from human creativity. This also means that AI-generated content or ideas are more likely to result in plagiarism accusations, a serious reputational setback.

Thirdly, there are the ever-present fears around increased surveillance. Once an AI tool is fed a piece of information, it can never be retrieved and wiped from the database. If sensitive information is inputted, the tool has no understanding that it should not be outputted – and if that occurs, it makes for navigating some seriously tricky waters.

So, is AI the future of PR? It can certainly augment, but there’s no doubt that the human influence will continue to drive the industry forward. And with the countdown on until the next Eurovision in Sweden, ask yourself – would this be nearly as much fun with a glittery, AI powered, humanoid robot on the stage? Personally, I’d prefer to see another rendition of the classic Ukrainian entry circa 2007, “Dancing Lasha tumbai”. The contestants may be dressed like robots, but they are hilariously and undeniably human.

Quiet thriving (the opposite of quiet quitting) is the newest HR buzzword doing the rounds. Quiet thriving essentially means making small changes, shifting your mental state and helping give you a positive outlook. And we could all do with that positivity right now after the disruption of the great resignation teamed with economic uncertainty. 

For those in comms, what does this trend mean? How much positivity is there within your organisation and are you using that to fuel growth?

A company’s reputation is shaped by perceptions of others – that includes your workforce, and their voices can have huge power in enabling success. When employees become advocates, they act as a reliable source of truth. But like everything, if it’s not authentic, you’ll get found out and it will backfire. So, how do you know when the time is right to tap into the advocacy potential of your workforce, particularly if you have had a lot of turmoil following the great resignation?  

Step 1: Where do you stand on employee sentiment?

Before creating any kind of communications strategy, you must understand the current sentiment of your workforce. The best way to do this is to carry out an audit and analyse your current company culture. During the great resignation period, many organisations have had their true culture revealed for all to see. For some it’s been great and for others it’s surfaced underlying issues. Regardless of where you are, you must understand what situation you face and how you want to shape your culture here on in.

In particular, evaluate your values. Does your workforce embody the ones you have? Is there a value set not covered that resonates more strongly? Do the values align with behaviour – i.e. more than just words on a page? It’s important to understand these as they become guiding principles to where there needs to be a change and shift in behaviour.

Once confident that your people are on side, are true advocates and believe in the goals of the company, you can work with them to amplify that passion for the good of all.

Step 2: Crafting an employee advocacy programme

All employees will have influence – when it comes to where to place your efforts, it really depends on your communication goal. If a goal is to attract young talent, fresh from universities, then spotlighting your new recruits and using their university networks is the right path. But if your goal is to reach more prospects, then a communication programme which profiles your executives and experts is the best way to go. And there’s no reason for a multi-pronged communication programme if you’re looking for communication to serve several goals – what’s important is to not have a one-size-fits-all approach.

Also, there are often synergies between your communication goals and HR goals. For example, HR may want to showcase a successful LGBTQ+ employee community programme, which could lead to more unusual perspectives and storytelling. For example, a new product may be about to launch, and instead of having the CEO talk to a journalist about it, how about having a member of the team who helped develop the product, and was greatly supported by the company’s LGBTQ+ community? Often, this version of the story is more refreshing! 

If you’re looking to scale your employee advocacy programme, start small and build up. In the era of authenticity, the quality of the communication is more important than the quantity.

Step 3: How do you measure up?

Starting small helps you establish meaningful metrics, particularly if this is a new approach for the company. Getting a baseline in place, means you can benchmark yourself from there, then build and pivot as your communication programme grows. Part of measurement must drive back to employee sentiment, because if there’s a shift, it may mean putting the brakes on your employee advocacy programme to fix things internally.

So, as we head into Spring, with sunnier days, are you using your people’s positive sentiment to help shape your organisation’s reputation?

Is it time to shape your reputation?

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