Reputation Management in a Modern World
“Glass, china and reputation are easily cracked and never well mended.”
– Benjamin Franklin, “Poor Richard’s Almanack”
Long gone are the days where figureheads of corporations remain in the shadows. Now, news outlets and the public are putting the spotlight on these bigwigs, often exposing their misdeeds in the process.
Best Buy is a recent example of this. Two weeks ago, the CEO of the consumer electronics giant, Brian Dunn, resigned after the company opened an investigation into his “personal conduct.” There was speculation that he misused company assets to contribute to an alleged relationship with a female subordinate.
Another high-profile case involves University of Arkansas head football coach Bobby Petrino, who was recently fired from his multi-million dollar gig for violating a morals clause. The crime? He had a secret affair with a recruiting coordinator for the Arkansas football team.
These examples highlight two important lessons related to reputation management and the media. First, political leaders are no longer the only ones to have their personal lives catapulted to the front page; no one is safe from the scrutinizing eyes of the customers or shareholders. In fact, everything from financial records to emails to cell phone text messages can sometimes be fair game to the press thanks to the Freedom of Information Act.
Good reputation management involves being aware of the fact that nefarious activities in your personal life can easily cross-pollinate to news outlets and spread like a virus. It takes just one blow to your credibility to dismantle the years of hard work building that reputation.
Secondly, we learn how personal reputation is not the only concern in these scenarios. As shown from the Dunn and Petrino issues, organizations believe their image is tied to that of their employees. This is nothing new, as noted by Cees B.M. van Riel and Charles J. Fombrun in their 2007 publication, “Essentials of Corporate Communications.” They termed the phrase “media mania” to refer to this trend of how companies and their top executives now perform in the media spotlight. The book also states that chief executive officers in particular act as spiritual and emotional symbols of the organization, so it is especially important that these figures adhere to the same values and ethics of the companies they represent.
In this day and age, technology has allowed media outlets to report and deliver news instantly, which means they are quick to pounce on breaking scandals in politics, corporations and even football fields. Organizations have certainly taken notice and become more critical with media monitoring and reputation management, showcasing how they may react to threats by removing scandal-plagued employees from payroll, like what Best Buy and the University of Arkansas did to their offenders.
It also helps if the immoral acts weren’t committed in the first place, either.