Calling all comms directors!

The business case for improving and protecting a reputation cuts across an entire organisation. HR takes an interest as it’s important to be seen as a good employer, whilst it is IT’s job to safeguard the organisation’s assets, including, in some part, its reputation. Then you have the obvious departments like marketing and sales where reputation is a key element of their success.

When we (Firefly) talk about reputation, we split this out from brand or branding. We tend to think about ‘brand’ as what an organisation says about itself, whilst reputation is what others think about the organisation. This means that reputations are largely built by the experiences and interactions we hear from others – customers, partners, media, employees, candidates… even the ‘robots’ like Google and Alexa. And it’s our job as communication professionals to influence these experiences and make the most of interactions.

With these multiple influences on your reputation you must ensure you’ve spoken to the right people in the business when creating your communication strategy for 2020. And have you asked the right questions? So, who’s on the list?

Marketing and sales

You’ll have likely worked together with this group as they have the most to gain from having the right reputation. To state the obvious, being known and recognised helps your marketing and sales team boost leads and convert new customers. But they’re a group you must stay close to, and regularly check in with to ensure your communication programme delivers value.

Make sure you ask them:

HR and recruitment

To attract and retain the best people, the reputation of the organisation counts. In fact, pay won’t always sway candidates, as 50% say they wouldn’t work for a company with a bad reputation. Organisations that neglect their reputation as a good employer will risk losing great people. Therefore, what needs to be highlighted is who the organisation is as an employer – what people get from working there, what exciting innovations are happening, what’s the vision and mission of the business.

Make sure you ask them:

Leadership team

Leaders are intrinsically linked to an organisation’s reputation and many stakeholders will want to understand who’s steering the ship. The reputation of the individuals in senior roles will impact the broader reputation of the organisation – in most cases adding strength through the compelling communication of an organisation’s vision, mission and purpose.

Make sure you ask them:

Product and service development

Many teams will be feeling the external pressure to be more sustainable, to be more innovative, essentially to ‘move on’ from the old ways – or simply to continue making better products at a lower cost. For example, products using lots of plastic unnecessarily, or software with a dated user interface will be quickly pushed to one side, and a reputation of being out of touch can quickly develop. Comms and development teams should connect, share customer insights and ensure what’s being communicated aligns to the future trajectory of the organisation. Those in charge of roadmaps will have this insight.

Make sure you ask them:

Security and IT

Unlike the other departments, working with your IT and security team is more about protecting reputation, rather than proactively building a certain reputation. Almost every organisation has been hit by some sort of cyber-attack – some more serious than others, and some with consequences for more than just the organisation itself. This is when security and IT teams link up to comms to ensure the situation is handled correctly and reputational damage is minimised.

Make sure you ask them:

With all this insight and understanding, the communication strategy you create is more likely to serve the whole organisation. It’s especially important to do this exercise when your organisation is going through change – which is pretty much all the time, right?

Privacy will be a big theme in 2018. If you’ve not yet come across the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), where have you been hiding? The regulation will come into play in May 2018 – and if privacy and data protection wasn’t already all people could talk about last year, then just you wait for the explosion this year!

GDPR brings a host of challenges for businesses – particularly for marketing folk. But I won’t go into that now, we’ve already covered this in a previous blog post which you can read here.

But one consequence of GDPR is that people will become more aware of the protection of data and their privacy – which has already started to result in people losing trust in some of the major technology providers.

The build-up of mistrust

We are not far off a major breakdown between consumer-business relationships at the rate we’re going. Last year Uber was hacked and hid it, YouTube allowed sexualised remarks to be left alongside content featuring children, Google was sued for gender discrimination and that’s only a handful of last year’s scandals in the tech sector.

Big players can just about ride out this type of negative attention due to their dominance of the market – although many responsible companies have responded and changed in response. But what would happen if this was an attack on one of the smaller challenger brands? It could be their ending.

There’s nowhere to hide – brands must prepare for total transparency

Internal culture is becoming part of a brand’s identity. For a long time now, sites like Glassdoor and social media have given outsiders an inside view of a company’s ‘employer brand’ and culture. But culture hasn’t been exposed in the way we’ve seen it in 2017 – people have actively ‘outed’ poor behaviour and we’ve seen boycotts of services (like brands pulling ads off YouTube) and regulators swoop in (European demanding fair taxes from Google, Facebook and Amazon).

For transparency to work, brands must work on what they deem is the right internal culture because it will live on outside the company. If the marketing team hasn’t spent considerable time with HR in the past, then it’s time to start now.

Marketing and HR must club together

All employees and all customers are advocates of some kind, whether good or bad. HR and marketing must work together, not just at a tactical level to engage these advocates, but at a strategic one, especially given the incredible harm bad advocates can have on a brand.

Alongside HR, marketing must monitor how the company operates and keep a firm hand on the tiller. More than ever before, the inner workings of a company are projected externally – either through social sites like Glassdoor, or more simply, the way that staff talk to customers, partners and each other. This makes it far more important that HR and marketing are on the same page to ensure alignment in the way they engage advocates. And today, every single member of staff is an advocate. This is especially important if there is a cultural change – and if there’s resistance – marketing must help to mitigate that, which often means working very closely with the senior management team.

In a competitive talent market, HR teams and business leaders will have been busy building their employer brand, but in 2018 it’ll be about building employer trust. There are a number of surveys and studies which show the impact of a bad employer brand – mostly focusing on the consequence of your talent acquisition with higher costs to recruit and candidates turning down roles at companies with a bad rep. But in today’s world the impact of a bad reputation is so much higher, as we saw with the Uber and YouTube boycotts.

Marketing has an inherent skill in building trust. With HR, marketing becomes fundamental in navigating the company during this new era of trust. And customers and employees will demand proof of this trust – regulations like the GDPR will make sure of that!



There is something unnerving about the ‘lost generation of youth’ headlines this week, and not just because of the bleak picture they paint. By my estimation, this narrative is at least two years old and doesn’t look set on changing. In fact, I remember participating in a stakeholder debate on this precise topic in late 2009. The only major change since then is the coalition government; that and perhaps, an acknowledgement that it will take longer for the UK to climb out of economic doldrums, making fast growth and job creation seem a distant dream.

Any discussion of youth unemployment, however, is futile without discussion of skills. You can argue that the ‘UK skills crisis’ narrative hasn’t changed much, either, when you consider the dearth of highly-skilled talent in areas like advanced sciences and technology. However, it should make one question whether post-grads understand that they’re competing (or will be competing) in a global market for talent. This was one of the main axes of the roundtable discussion and one of the most interesting points to consider when thinking about the labour market of the future.

Over the course of my career, I’ve had numerous conversations about whether jobs like marketing (including PR) could be offshored to a lower cost base, like India. Before, it sounded alarmist. A year ago, I was told it’s already happening – albeit to a very small degree.

None of these things should be a deterrent for anybody wishing to break into the PR world: it’s a rewarding and infinitely interesting career path. But good opportunities are few, and the way you think about yourself as a candidate today, should have some things in common with how you visualise yourself and your career in the long-run.

Here are my top tips on preparing yourself for the PR long-game:

1. Listen well: sometimes it’s better to listen to what your audience is really asking, rather than jump the gun and dispense a prepared answer. This can be true for job interviews, team meetings, or casual networking. When in doubt, ask for clarification and use that information to respond from a position of strength.

2. In the words of a friend and ex-PR, “To assume makes an a** out of you and me”: when you’re just starting out, it takes a certain bravery to ask someone (especially a client) to make their point or request clearer, or utter the words, “by that, do you mean…?”. Just do it, because not doing so, could be a lost opportunity to anchor your relationship.

3. Consult with conviction: in my view, consultancy is less about bringing problems or issues to light, but being an early warning mechanism, with the ability to make sound recommendations, consistently and with conviction. There’s really only one way to get there and that’s through experience, making work experience a valuable foot-in-the-door.

4. Be interesting. And interested. If you are to survive and quite possibly thrive in the PR business, you need: a body of knowledge that spans high-brow to low-brow; to be au fait with everything from OK! to Eureka!; and go from naught to having an opinion about the Bank of England base rates to memory card speed ratings, and so on.

5. Get international experience, however you can: one of the great benefits of working at Firefly is that our clients operate in far corners of the world, giving us great exposure to how PR works in other markets. You don’t have to relocate to do this, but if that’s one of your career ambitions,  factor it in your future-term planning now.

The world of PR may be small, but your outlook need not be.

Is it time to shape your reputation?

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