The woes and pros of reputation management
This is a guest post from Pearl M. Kasirye, head of PR at Pearl Lemon. She works in reputation management, crisis communication, and loves the challenging aspects of her profession.
One of the most complex forms of Public Relations is reputation management. It’s the one that attracts the most exciting clients and keeps PR teams busy 24/7.
‘Cancel culture’ is in the zeitgeist and people’s reputations are at greater risk of getting damaged. Reputation management clients are the kinds who keep you up at night thinking about whether or not to put on Olivia Pope’s white hat.
Sometimes clients get in real trouble, and they need us to clean up their image. When we get clients like this, it is never a walk in the park, and our approach is always different because of the complexities of reputation management.
What are the Biggest Challenges?
The more scandals companies and individuals get involved in – the more clients and money PR firms get. I know, it’s not pretty, but that’s the truth.
What do you do when a client gets into a scandal that puts you in a moral dilemma? It can be hard to swallow if you are part of the LGBTQ+ community and your client got caught harassing or saying derogatory things about people like you.
There’s that moment when you find yourself wondering how to approach it. It’s challenging to keep a straight face when you know that your client behaved that way or said things that personally offends you.
This is when it gets interesting because you get to empathise with the audience that is angry with your client and understand what needs to be done to mitigate the situation.
It can be both a blessing and a headache when you are in a situation like this. When you work in reputation management, you’ll inevitably get clients whose scandals personally offend you and make you question your moral ethics.
The question is, how will you handle it?
Sometimes, there is a huge gap between how the client views their brand versus another brand. The trick is to understand that gap from the start and analyse how to align those two things.
Here’s an example: when you have a client who specialises in tech, and they think they are the most innovative and unique, it’s possible that they really are just average.
Your role as their PR manager is to look for those distinct elements within their brand that makes them stand out. This can be challenging at times because you can’t just tell your client, ‘Hey, sorry, you’re just not that interesting,’ and walk away.
You have to see it through! Look for a human interest story, a quirky tidbit about the company/client, or a newsworthy PR angle that could help you build a strong reputation for them.
Reputation management is not an exact science. Just like with any PR service, there are no real guarantees that you can give clients. Someone may hire you to put out a fire and fix their brand image, then leave right after they get some good press.
Then they may return when they’ve made another mess that you need to clean up. For this reason, reputation management is an ongoing PR process. Many clients think it’s a simple thing that can be solved in one or two months. That couldn’t be further from the truth.
In my experience, I’ve found that having a three to six month minimum for contracts is essential. Within this time frame, clients can start to see real tangible results. However, it’s unfortunate that many of them come in expecting us to fix their lives in a matter of weeks.
On a Lighter Note
Reputation management is a very rewarding form of public relations. It’s one of the most challenging, along with crisis communication. Reputation management can often feel like playing a three-month-long game of chess.
You’re constantly anticipating, strategising, and making decisions to kill the bad press or fix your client’s reputation. If you’re a chess nerd (like me), then you’ll find this line of work exhilarating and intellectually stimulating. Every client presents unique challenges that push you to your limit.
Regardless of the ups and downs in this line of work – it’s clear that there’s never a dull moment! What a way to grow and push yourself to be better! Over time, you start to look at the world differently and find unique strategies to keep your clients looking good.
Want more on managing reputation in difficult situations? Check out our previous piece on embracing technology in a crisis and learning the lessons from the COVID-19 pandemic.
For monitoring the reputation of your brand, business and clients across the media, try Vuelio’s Media Monitoring solutions.
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