A scientific approach, including formative and evaluative research, should be the foundation for public relations and corporate communications. And because reputation management is a key, perhaps the key, to successful corporate communication, reputation should be viewed scientifically as well.
General Systems Theory can help us understand reputation. (No kidding!) “It (Systems Theory) provides a framework which conceives of organizations as living things composed of interrelated components or parts. …Systems Theory can help communicators and leaders of organizations adopt a working philosophy that communication is the only way to unity and synergy within the organization, and to openness and harmony with systems (for instance, publics or stakeholders) in the environment outside the organization” (Reputation Management, p. 38, 3rd ed., Doorley-Garcia, Taylor & Francis, 2015).
Conclusion: In the end, an organization has one reputation. I have heard practitioners and academics argue this point for hours. The way I look at it is that, true enough, much depends on the organization — how diversified the industries it markets to, whether the name of the product is the name of the company, and so on. But if you want to manage an asset for one company, you had better manage that asset company-wide.
And so, going back to the definitions of reputation used in my last blog, one can draw certain lessons from Systems Theory:
(R) = Sum of images of the organization held by the stakeholders
Lesson: Knowing how branding initiatives – which are very expensive by the way – are perceived by one stakeholder group, customers and prospective customers, is not nearly enough.
R = Net of good and bad images
Lesson: “All hands on deck during a crisis” is a good mantra. But choosing not to publicize the good things the organization is doing even during the dark hours makes no sense. Hire an agency!
R = Sum of relationships
Lesson: The images held by some stakeholder groups, employees or the media for instance, hold more sway than those held by others, but no singular stakeholder’s views are a proxy for the whole (singular) reputation.
R = (P + B + C) x Af
Lesson: Communication alone can seldom make or break a reputation. Performance (sales and innovation for instance), behavior and authenticity are always factors.
“Character is like a tree and reputation its shadow. The shadow is what we think of it; the tree is the real thing.” Abraham Lincoln