Dec 15, 2023 - Business

Communication leaders explain the value of reputation

Photo: Steven Duarte on behalf of Axios

PR isn't what it once was, and the profession should rebrand from "public relations" to "protectors of reputation."

Why it matters: When reputations take a hit, so does the business' ability to attract customers, employees and investors.

  • In fact, up to 25% of a company's market value is based on reputation, according to a World Economic Forum study.

Driving the news: To a packed room of 300 Axios readers, United Airlines' EVP of communications and advertising Josh Earnest, Activision Blizzard's EVP of corporate affairs and chief communications officer Lulu Cheng Meservey and crisis communication expert Molly McPherson hammered home the importance of managing, protecting and enhancing reputation.

What they're saying: "The reality of the world that we're operating in is that everything has a reputational component," said Earnest.

  • "It's hard to think of a decision that isn't going to influence the way that people think about you. In some cases it may just be your employees or it may just be your most loyal customers who are going to do business with you anyway. But there's always [an] upside to making decisions in a way that gives you an opportunity to engage and reinforce relationships with your key audiences."

That's why corporate boards need to have someone at the table who understands reputation and communication interests, said Cheng Meservey.

  • "Your job as a board is governance. It's accountability. It's strategic planning. You literally can't do those things if you can't communicate that to people. You can't operate with transparency or build trust if you don't have an instinct for how to communicate."

And internal audiences should be priority No. 1.

  • Because "an external crisis is inconvenient and internal crisis is existential," said Cheng Meservey.

Yes, but: Outside, uncontrollable factors — typically looming on social media— can directly impact reputation.

  • "It's terrifying for communicators and even more terrifying for leaders, without a doubt, because your reputation is now at the mercy of not just people — sometimes anonymous people — but also at the mercy of the algorithm," said McPherson.

To maintain trust and work to rebuild reputational damage, you have to monitor these channels while also actively engaging with hyper-targeted, influential audiences, said Meservey.

  • "I don't care about the public as a communicator. Who is the public? You might have a very wide range of people you care about like United Airlines does — everybody flies — or you might have a very narrow range, but you have to know who those people are. It can't just be this nebulous concept of humanity. How do you speak to that?"
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