The Harsh Reality of Brand Reputation

ReputationRecently, I had a curious experience involving a Mastiff and Alzheimer’s disease. Before I confuse you, let me explain. I am currently the communications intern at the Alzheimer’s Association Greater Dallas. One of the ladies involved in the nonprofit asked our permission to take a picture of her beautiful Mastiff, Campbell, with our Alzheimer’s Association logo in the background. She hopes that country artist Glenn Campbell will sign it and then she can auction it off, donating the proceeds to the nonprofit. Regardless of the outcome, this experience sparked a conversation between my boss and I about brand reputation.

Why is it important?

I think people and brands have a lot in common when it comes to reputation. In both cases, success is tied to a good reputation. In the same way, a bad reputation can cost everything. I would argue that reputation, whether for brands or for people, takes constant work. At the same time, I argue that reputation is something that, when tarnished, is almost impossible to repair. Blogger Cara Pring shared a quote from Benjamin Franklin that captures my thoughts exactly. He said, “It takes many good deeds to build a good reputation and only one bad one to lose it.” She warned that it’s easier to protect than to repair a brand’s reputation. 

Why should you care that a brand is so difficult, if not impossible, to repair? In addition to the frustration of fixing a reputation, Author Sam Huleatt explained that a brand is increasingly becoming the most important part of a company. Huleatt says this is due to brands becoming more a means of personal identification. This makes sense. Just think about all the different ways we identify ourselves through brands and products. I am proud to drink Dr. Pepper. The organization even makes shirts with the saying “I’m a Pepper” across the front. In the same way, we also identify ourselves by what brands we don’t associate with.

Therefore, if a brand is not only the most important part of an organization but its reputation is nearly impossible to repair once damaged, it is imperative to protect it in all circumstances. Remember that reputation is in the mind. Reputation is all about perceptions. The crisis public relations agency, the Red Banyon Group, made an excellent point: “Perception is reality, especially when it comes to your company’s image.So, what can you do?

1. Protect

First, it is important to realize that everything your company produces and does, including the actions of employees and representatives, is a reflection of the brand. Therefore, it is important to protect your brand’s reputation in every area. One way you can protect brand reputation is by protecting the brand identity. Novagraaf, an international patent and trademark consultancy, recommends several legal avenues of protection such as trademark, copyright, design and logo protection.

2. Communicate

Another way to protect your brand reputation is by making sure that everyone in a company or representing a brand is aware of the desired image. Pring suggested that everyone, from the very top to the very bottom, needs to understand the policies and guidelines and abide by them at all times.

3. Be Prepared

The last recommendation I’d make is being prepared for the worst. This world is filled with unexpected moments and events outside of our control. Therefore, just like my brothers learned in Boy Scouts, it is always good to be prepared. Being prepared includes protecting in case of possibilities. This means asking the tough questions and coming up with a plan, typically called crisis communications plans. Think of these crisis plans as reputation insurance. Heather Rast gave an excellent reminder that planning prepares you to respond instead of simply react. Coming up with the solution to the problem before the problem occurs is the best way to protect a brand’s reputation.

In public relations, as representatives for companies and brands, this should be our MO. If a brand’s reputation crumbles, we are the ones who get to pick up the pieces.  Remember how I said that people and brands are a lot similar in this area? Take a moment and consider what you do to protect your reputation. What would you do to keep your reputation from falling apart? What would you do to repair it? Consider your answers and ask yourself if they’d be applicable to the brand or company you represent. Right there is a great start to a crisis communications plan.


To Be Taken Seriously

Processed with VSCOcam with c1 presetI strongly dislike it when people ask about my major. Sometimes I simply say, “I’m a journalism major,” but that isn’t the whole truth. Why do I shy away from telling people I’m going to school for public relations? I hate the question because of the look people give when I answer, or even worse, the many questions and comments made after. No, I will not lie about things for my company because I’m on the payroll. No, I will not “spin” everything. Please don’t talk about BP.

I don’t believe this is just a problem I face. There are a lot of public relations professionals and students alike getting a bad reputation simply because of their job title. An article from BBC News touched on the irony of public relations having this sort of problem. As I’ve heard countless times, public relations has a public relations problem and this problem is making it hard for people to take it seriously as a profession.

This is not just a recent issue stemming from the various stunts and terrible mistakes PR professionals have made in the recent past. This problem stems all the way back to when public relations was in its infancy. Edward Bernays, the first man to teach classes on PR, published a book in 1928 titled “Propaganda.” In it he expounds on his idea that people who manipulate the masses are the true government.

What word keeps occurring? Manipulation. Let us take a moment and understand this word. The Merriam-Webster dictionary gives definitions that don’t give this word a good connotation. The definitions include words like “insidious” and “unfair.” Exploit is a synonym. No wonder public relations isn’t seen in the best light.

Not to mention the nickname. Public relations professionals are often referred to as “Spin Doctors.” I found an article online and the title said it all: “Public Relations (Spin Doctors) Deliberately Deceived Public About Global Warming and Climate Change.”

Sure, public relations professionals dress in business clothes. The profession has its own terminology, its own major and its own organizations. In some cases, the PR professionals have a management function. This is all good, but why is the profession still not respected? I’d be so bold as to say public relations has an honesty problem. The only way public relations practitioners can be taken seriously is by first, gaining the trust of the public. How does one do that? Through honesty. PR Web suggested, “Honesty shouldn’t be your best policy, it should be your only one.”

Simply having a code of ethics doesn’t make you ethical. We need to actually be committed to honesty and truth in all public relations endeavors. I guess this means I’ll have to start being more specific when people ask me about my major.