Precepts, Predictions & One Big Takeaway 

These (underlined) 10 precepts of Reputation Management have been in all three editions of the peer-reviewed textbook by  that title, which I co-authored with friend, PR scholar and practitioner Helio Fred Garcia. They have stood the test of time, as illustrated in the third edition, released earlier this year. (The expository statements here are for the sake of currency and brevity.)

1. Know and honor your organization’s intrinsic identity.

Organizations stand for and strive for many things, but, as research and experience show, there must be a dominant, inviolable identity that all employees know cannot be compromised. Hardly a day passes when an organization does not suffer from a self- inflicted wound caused by an identity   failure. No sooner had the U.S. government announced in September the financial penalty for GM’s crimes  – failing to acknowledge and fix for close to a decade an ignition switch problem that killed more than 120 people – then we learned that Volkswagen  rigged   emission controls in millions of cars. The company’s intrinsic identity – solid, honest German engineering – had been violated, purposefully and with the complicity of many employees.  This crime will bring shame to the company and threaten not only Volkswagen’s  preeminent position in the auto industry but the very reputation of Germany itself and its hegemony in the European Union.

2. Know and honor your constituents.

Every organization has many individual stakeholders and stakeholder groups. My colleague Sandra Macleod and I have done stakeholder mapping for a number of organizations.  Even for the largest, there are usually fewer than 10 groups that can be focused on in a strategic, long-term reputation asset program.  Some require more attention at various times than others.

3. Beware the conflict of interest, for it can mortally wound your organization.

The more successful one becomes the greater the number of potential conflicts… so a little paranoia here can be healthy.

4. Beware of the “CEO Disease,” because there is no treatment for it.

We used to have to conjure images from Greek mythology for the best illustration  of hubris (which of course can afflict successful people in all kinds of organizations). Congratulations, Donald Trump, you have bested Homer. And you also,  Hillary Clinton, have  helped us better understand excessive pride and its still-inevitable consequences: What else could have made you think you could put all your government e-mails on a private server and then erase the 30,000 you chose?
Prediction: The odyssey for both presidential candidates will end short of the Beltway.

5. Beware of organizational myopia, for it will obscure the long-term view.

Focus on the here and now, especially during a crisis.  But always be able to locate the North Star.

6. Be slow to forgive an action or inaction that hurts reputation. 

It is hard to say it better than Warren Buffett did to new employees decades ago: “If you lose dollars for the firm by bad decisions I will be very understanding.  If you lose reputation for the firm I will be ruthless.”

7. Do not lie.

The slope is slippery at best.

8. Dance with the one that “brung” you.

It’s a sports metaphor that’s worth remembering, especially when the going gets tough … in any arena.

  1. Reputation is an asset which must be managed like any other asset. 
  2. Prediction:Soon, now that reputation can be measured and managed , CEOs and other leaders will be held accountable for building and protecting reputational capital.  That will be a very good thing but it may not be pretty.

9. Main Takeaway:

Reputational capital must be audited on a schedule, like any asset.  It must be managed — built and protected, day-to-day and long-term  —  via a process, like any asset.


Abraham Lincoln:

“Character is like a tree and reputation like its shadow. The shadow is what we think of it; the tree is the real thing.”