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Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Executive Reputation Management , Reported by Robert Paisola

Perhaps the best-known example of reputation management in Corporate America occurred almost 100 years ago when oil titan John D. Rockefeller hired a public relations manager named Ivy Lee to burnish his image. It was Lee who conceived the idea of having Rockefeller hand out dimes to the public and made sure that only positive pictures of the magnate were released to the public.
Today, with the advent of the Internet, managing public opinion is a lot more complicated, intransigent and global. The result being, that a separate discipline called “reputation management “ or “executive reputation management” has been carved out of the public relations basket of options.

Obviously, corporate mavens have always tried to manage their public personae, but the pervasiveness of the Internet has made the task much harder because negative comments and verbal portrayals have a life beyond the local community. Anyone with a computer anywhere in the world can find out anything about you as a public person, and those same people can create statements online, in a personal blog that can cloud other’s opinions of you.

If one little thing that is disparaging about you or your company gets tossed into the information infrastructure, “you have to imagine that it is floating into every single household,” says Michael Bayer, the chief client officer and senior managing director with FD, a New York-based business and financial communications consultant. “It’s hard to get your head around that concept as it has never been the case in the history of mankind. Reputation management has never been more intense and more critical.”

Today, almost all research begins with an online search engine.

“Everybody is just turning to Google as their first point of reference on just about anything,” observes Nino Kader, who in 2006 created International Reputation Management, based in Washington, D.C., a unique public relations firm that solely focuses on ensuring clients are well represented on the Internet. Business, he says, is booming.

There are a number of search engines on the Internet, but Google is the market leader and as such creates the biggest online impact. “Google has taken such a dominant position in the market that who Google says you are very quickly becomes the reality of how the market perceives you,” adds Mike Myatt, managing director and chief strategy officer for N2Growth, a Portland, Ore.-company that provides reputation management services.

Not only do scandals and debacles quickly become the fodder of Internet entries, but if bloggers get a hold of some idea about you and start running it around the Web, immediately thousands of negative pieces of information about you can be circulating around the Internet—none of it may even be true

“The first thing 80 percent of the population does when they want to find out something is they go straight to the Internet,” says Myatt. “So, how you show up on the Internet has a high impact on other’s initial decision about you.”

The mistake a lot of companies and executives make is that they only hire someone to help with their reputation when they are already in trouble. Then it’s often too late to repair the damage.

“A brand takes years to build, whereas a reputation can be destroyed over night,” says Bayer.

Most mainstream and Internet public relations and reputation management firms recommend being proactive.

“Everyone needs to pay attention to, engage in and help shape their own reputation because we live in a world where information can suddenly get passed around globally. And because it is not necessarily accurate information, it makes reputation management even more crucial,” notes Kathy Bloomgarden, co-CEO of Ruder Finn Inc., a New York public relations agency, and author of Trust: The Secret Weapon of Effective Business Leaders.

There are a couple of first steps in regard to executive reputation management. The first is to stop pretending you know what your reputation is and that you have the skills to manage it. This is a time-consuming task, so hire people who know what to do and will dedicate the time to it, because you are paying them to do so. A company like IRM asks for a minimum six months contract because it takes time to get written articles, quotes, etc. placed and indexed properly into Google.

IRM, for example, had a client who worked at a small management-consulting firm and needed to get more credibility in regards to the energy industry. “What we try to do is find gems in someone’s background and highlight those on the Web,” says Kader. “As it turned out, this person had a lot to say about energy but was never published. We worked with him on a white paper, which was picked up by an industry publication and put on their Web site, appeared on his company’s Web site, plus on blogger’s Web sites. It looked like this person has been talking on this subject for a long while.”

Some firms recommend a reputation “audit”, which pretty much of what it says it is, an audit of all the information out there about you and your company.

If negative publicity about you and your company starts threading through the Internet, or bloggers have been creaming you, the most important thing not to do is go on their turf to answer the attacks. The best response is to gather all the good information about you, create positive position statements (a white paper, announcement of awards, press releases, etc.), and then have the professionals make sure they get you the best Internet exposure.

“What we try to do is have more of the positive listings show up above where the blogger commented and have that one get pushed back so it does not appear front and center,” says Kader.

Traditionally, says Bloomgarden, the three basic rules to follow when your reputation was under siege were, “Be fast (in response), be honest and be accessible.” Today, it’s necessary to add one more direction and, “be on the Internet.”

Proactive vs. Reactive
It is much easier to maintain a reputation than trying to build a new reputation from the ruins of a damaged one.
If something negative about you goes to the Internet, develop a position and get it on the Web quickly.
Do not try spinning information that is not true. Remember, the truth is probably just a mouse click away.
Continually monitor what is being written about you on the Internet.
Use reputation management as part and parcel of career management.

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