Developing and preserving reputation is one of the central interests and responsibilities of today’s business leaders. Bronson Ma Creative recently visited with Blake D. Lewis III, APR, Fellow PRSA, principal and senior consultant with Richardson-based Lewis Public Relations on corporate reputation management.
BMC: How long have you been in the public relations profession and how did you get started?
Lewis: My first formal job in the public relations profession was director of public relations for a medium-sized Midwest medical center in 1982. Previously, I had held three positions of increasing responsibility in the advertising and broadcast production disciplines. I liked the public relations component of communications because it brought into the equation news professionals whose muster you had to pass to earn coverage in a newspaper, on television or the radio.
BMC: What is corporate reputation management?
Lewis: Simply put, it’s very similar to what most of us do naturally as individuals in managing how people perceive us on a personal level. Managing corporate reputation means paying deliberate attention to how people and other organizations feel about our business, industry or non-profit entity, taking intentional actions to enhance these perceptions.
BMC: What are the three most common mistakes you’ve seen companies make when it comes to issues and crisis management?
Lewis: First is simply not being prepared. Most professional people would never think about driving without automobile insurance or living without health insurance. Having a plan for managing an issue or a crisis is somewhat like carrying an insurance policy for the corporate brand.
Second is not testing or maintaining that plan. We once encountered a client who had gone to great lengths to include a wide range of devices in their emergency/crisis supply kit that operated on rechargeable batteries. Unfortunately, battery-powered devices that are not regularly recharged will almost certainly not function over any amount of time, regardless of usage. Same is true, for example, of having a call list of key company contacts. If not updated to reflect departures, transfers and new hires in central roles, such a list provides a false sense of security.
Third is not learning from the experiences – good and bad – of yourself and others. In the public relations profession, the Tylenol tampering case is largely considered the gold standard for corporate performance during a time of crisis, while the Valdez is nearly a universal example of failed crisis management.
BMC: How is public relations and corporate communications a part of corporate reputation management?
Lewis: Public relations and corporate communications professionals who are well-placed in their organizations serve as key interfaces with a variety of internal and external organizational audiences or constituents. Accordingly, these communicators have a unique vantage point for understanding emerging issues and situations, and how these could impact their institutional reputation. Armed with early warning data and a solid understanding of the organization’s business and communications strategies, positioning, messaging and tactics, communications leaders can facilitate the process of managing situations before they become damaging or mitigating events that have already come into play.
BMC: Last words of wisdom in regards to corporate reputation management?
Lewis: Companies shouldn’t feel the need to take an all or nothing perspective on corporate reputation management. The seriousness and potential for brand damage from issues can vary between organizations, as do the resources available to plan and prepare for the protection of corporate reputations. An initial assessment by an experienced communications professional can assist in developing a basic strategy and focusing on “first things first” activities.
Blake D. Lewis III, APR, Fellow PRSA is principal and senior consultant with Lewis Public Relations in Richardson, Texas. With 30 years of experience in public relations and corporate communications, he has worked with a variety of private and public entities in addressing a diverse range of communications challenges and opportunities. He can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 214.635.3040.