It’s not often I’m on the other end of the work that I do, playing the role of community member and answering questions posed by another PR firm about their client, but that’s exactly what I found myself doing this morning.
It’s a great experience to have, a reminder of what it feels like to be the call recipient, the survey-taker, or the person who is forming an opinion about the client in question. This is how firms like mine determine the reputation of a client: is it good? Is it bad? What IS the reputation, and how did it get that way?
Here’s How a Reputation is Formed
- Hearsay. Someone you know works at the company, or knows someone who does and you know from what they say how the company is as an employer, and may even know a little bit about what they do, professionally. Sometimes people call this word-of-mouth.
- Advertising. Have you seen an ad somewhere? Where? And what did it say?
- Strategic relationships. In my community, I know what companies have been openly, visibly supportive of certain nonprofit organizations. I can tell from that affiliation, something about their core values. So whether your company has no visible affiliation of that kind, or one I can’t identify, or one that’s very clear and obvious makes a difference. I know a little something about electronics retailer Crutchfield, based in Charlottesville, Va. and that they welcome pets into their company headquarters and that the company leadership if fond of animals, and, as a result is a long time, big supporter of the local SPCA. That information helps formulate the reputation of the organization through that relationship.
- Search Engine Optimization. This one takes work on the company’s part, and on the part of their public relations partner. What SEO means, is what you find when you google a company. What shows up on their online presence, the part they manage, including their website and social media channels, but also what’s been published about them, in the form of reviews, of news stories, and of other content outside of their control. Go deeper than that and look up the employees of the organization. The reputation of a company is only as strong as its members and if you find that there are people with really bad reputations collecting a paycheck from the company in question, that’s going to flavor your perception of the company’s reputation.
- Personal experience. It’s not easy to change a person’s perception of a company once they’ve had their own experience of it. Whether you’re a former employee, a disgruntled or even enthusiastic customer, or a vendor, that interaction creates a long-term imprint and puts you in the role of influencing others (see #1 above) through hearsay or word-of-mouth.
Those of us in the PR and reputation management business need first to understand the reputation of our client, and how that reputation has been formed, to begin the work of shaping it for the future.