Our colleagues at news aktuell recently published a survey according to which reputation is important or even very important for 97 percent of companies in Germany. Despite this overwhelming importance of the topic, however, only slightly more than half have a strategy for systematically building it up — and only slightly more than a third measure changes on a regular basis. Sounds unusual at first glance — after all, one would assume that communicators should first and foremost take a strategic, long-term approach to building the reputation of the brand assets entrusted to them. But why this glaring gap between the actual mission and the seemingly unglamorous reality? The reasons are complex and can be found on very different levels.
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Although on everyone’s lips, the topic of reputation is initially difficult to grasp.
There is widespread agreement that reputation is one of the intangible assets of a company and is located in the area of perception among target groups. In addition, a positive reputation is conducive to business success.
In fact, however, there is no consistent definition of which elements reputation comprises and how it is formed.
The A-Gap (Authenticity Gap Study) developed and regularly surveyed by FleishmanHillard offers a pragmatic approach developed from the communications practice of a globally operating agency, which defines clear fields of action and control variables as well as check-ins and measurement points.
In addition to the conceptual ambiguity, however, by far the greatest hurdle to consistent reputation management is still the short-term nature of many companies’ communications.
This is too tactically oriented instead of consistently translating long-term corporate goals into consistent communication.
Often too little investment, too late
As before, action is only taken when either the (social) pressure is too great and/or the economic damage is foreseeable or can hardly be averted.
This is just as true for the German automotive industry when it comes to the switch to climate-neutral mobility concepts as it is when it comes to the question of supply chain transparency in the clothing or food industry.
In addition, the communication culture often found in companies stands in the way of consistent and long-term-oriented reputation management that creates added value.
Communication to external as well as internal target groups is still understood too much as a function of “good news daily”.
Too often, positive brand messages are sold as supposedly honest and transparent communication, and CEOs position themselves with statements on topics that are currently en vogue in society, without really representing their own controversial or positively provocative points of view.
Courage to take a stand is needed
Thirdly, however, strategic reputation management really does require a communicative agenda that goes where it can hurt, that also and especially deals with the less dazzling facets of one’s own company.
Only those companies that are constantly ready and willing to question themselves, to identify potential weak points, to accept constructive, even critical input from outside and to see it as an essential contribution to their own development are actually in a position to manage their reputation in the long term and thereby create value.
Similar to a successful relationship that cannot shimmy permanently from honeymoon to honeymoon, companies today must understand the development and management of reputation more than ever as the product of a critical dialog with all stakeholders.
Above all, this means the ability to listen, to consistently absorb external stimuli, and to relinquish control. As a result, only in this way will an authentic and thus value-creating reputation be achieved.
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