Is public relations really about reputation? I ask as a result of a couple of thought provokers. Clive Thompson (link picked up from Chris Anderson’s blog) is researching three ideas (I’ve edited the first two and left the last in full in Clive’s words):
Secrecy Is Dead: the results of an excess of information meaning rarity no longer adds value, new media devices making it almost impossible to hide anything, and public derision if “secrets” are found out.
– Tap The Hivemind: that sharing gets better results as more people help improve on ideas, and also are necessary if we are to make sense of information overload.
– Reputation Is Everything: Google isn’t a search engine. Google is a reputation-management system. What do we search for, anyway? Mostly people, products, ideas — and what we want to know are, what do other people think about this stuff? All this blogging, Flickring, MySpacing, journaling — and, most of all, linking — has transformed the Internet into a world where it’s incredibly easy to figure out what the world thinks about you, your neighbor, the company you work for, or the stuff you were blabbing about four years ago. It might seem paradoxical, but in a situation like that, it’s better to be an active participant in the ongoing conversation than to stand off and refuse to participate. Because, okay, let’s say you don’t want to blog, or to Flickr, or to participate in online discussion threads. That means the next time someone Googles you they’ll find … everything that everyone else has said about you, rather than the stuff you’ve said yourself. (Again — just ask Sony about this one.) The only way to improve and buff your reputation is to dive in and participate. Be open. Be generous. Throw stuff out there — your thoughts, your ideas, your personality. Trust comes from transparency.
Reputation matters to public relations – since the CIPR definition states PR is “about reputation – the result of what you do, what you say and what others say about you. Public relations is the discipline which looks after reputation…”
But can reputation be “managed” – and if so, are PR practitioners able to do this? My second thought provoker was a discussion yesterday with one of my fourth year dissertation students at Bournemouth University. We were discussing a paper by Yungwook Kim entitled Measuring the Economic Value of Public Relations.
This paper presents a model that proposes expenditure on PR has a positive impact on reputation, which in turn has a positive impact on bottom line profits. Our concern with this research was firstly in relation to whether the variables of reputation considered (taken from the Forbes Reputation study) were all within the remit of PR – although as the research is basically an opinion poll, it tends to recognise companies that have a higher profile, which could be the result of PR actions (although not exclusively).
Secondly, does increased spending on PR correlate to a better reputation? We had some ethical concerns here – do journalists and other influencers really rate companies better because of bigger budgets?
Thirdly, is it a causal fact that companies with better reputation are more profitable? Or is being more profitable one of the factors that improves a company’s reputation?
If PR does claim “ownership” of reputation management, then it needs to be working at the strategic level and ensuring relationships with key stakeholders and publics are effectively managed. It needs to understand the drivers of reputation and ensure these are understood and protected as key corporate values.
If one of the new drivers of reputation is performance in search engines such as Google and comment in online social media, what is PR doing to ensure this is taken seriously within organisations?
Reputation management is not simply equated with getting better press coverage or creating a positive image (especially if reality is different – see point on secrets above). It presents a real challenge to public relations and we need more discussion in the profession around the reality of the CIPR definition.