As communications professionals, we all have our favorite books on PR and reputation management, many of which can be found discussed on PR Daily and Forbes, among other professional media sites. But what about a simple, clear-cut, no-nonsense, easy peasy, lemon squeezy guide to creating and maintaining a good reputation? Not so many, perhaps. Here’s an attempt in a series of Do Be, Don’t Be pointers to achieve precisely that.
1. Do Be: A person of integrity in your actions and words and on behalf of your organisation. Merriam-Webster’s definition identifies this as “an adherence to a code of […] values” and cites its association with “incorruptibility”, “soundness” and “completeness”. Having integrity in your efforts to protect and add to your organisation’s reputation means what you do, say and write will be seen as credible and trustworthy. Integrity in all communications is therefore the vital foundation upon which a good reputation is built: for individuals as well as organisations.
2. Don’t Be: Inconsistent in your ethics, words and actions. Such behavior will undermine your organisation’s and stakeholders’ trust in your PR and communications.
3. Do Be: Consistently proactive in taking into account all stakeholders in your communications. Ensure your content, wording, tone and message points – key takeaways – are appropriately tailored to suit the requirements of your different comms channels and your various stakeholders. (E.g., each of your social media communities, internal comms, the media, customers, speeches, investor updates, website copy, etc.)
4. Don’t Be: Kidding yourself that you can be a PR or communications professional without being committed to building relationships with your organisation’s stakeholders, through effective, meaningful and credible communications and content.
5. Do Be: Honest and fair in your counsel and recommendations to management on matters of reputation concerning any and all aspects of your organisation’s goals, plans and actions.
6. Don’t Be: Afraid to speak honestly, most especially with those in power in your company and business life. It’s sheer recklessness – besides being negligent – to tell management only what they want to hear and to approve of what they intend to do regardless of the risks you perceive to the organisation’s reputation. Even if your management disagrees and/or doesn’t take kindly to your counsel, you will have kept your integrity and acted responsibly for the sake of the company’s reputation.
7. Do Be: The Devil’s Advocate, as it will help you speak more fearlessly (sometimes) unpalatable truths to power. This is often invaluable when adopting the viewpoint of journalists/the media, customers and employees, but it works just as effectively when representing any stakeholder group or individual. Remind those in control of how specific decisions or actions they take may impact negatively on stakeholders. Paint a compelling picture, substantiate your argument and communicate it with professionalism, clarity, evidence – even if anonymously sourced to protect the names of certain stakeholders – and calm.
8. Don’t Be: The Sean Spicer of media relations, simply acting as a mindless mouthpiece for your boss or management. It’s more than likely you’ll live to regret it, just as he did. You have been hired to protect and grow the reputation of the company, not undermine it. If your boss/management thinks otherwise, either you need to look for another job or recognize that you’re no longer working in a profession that merits the term PR (spin, however, yes).
9. Do Be: Knowledgeable and on-the-ball about your firm’s business goals and plans: both short- and long-term. Understand how your organisation fits into your industry’s landscape. Monitor it against those of your competitors and peers, listen to and engage your stakeholders, to ensure an ongoing evaluation of your firm’s credibility in how it does business, and its relationships with its stakeholders. Factor in your knowledge as you then create, shape, review, revise and implement your PR and communications activities and plans.
10. Don’t Be: A silo mentality; somebody who is blinkered in their conception and approach to a problem or opportunity, whether devising a campaign or managing a crisis. It’s vital in PR that when you write, do, create, respond – whatever it may be – your first consideration always should be the stakeholders of your organisation and to factor in how your efforts, once actioned, may impact them.
11. Do Be: Open-minded, engaging and receptive to different, challenging viewpoints. Embrace them. Don’t like some of them? Offended by them? Take them on the chin and remind yourself: be humble and know that communicating and listening with empathy will make you a truly effective PR and communications practitioner (and a great friend and confidante to boot). It means, in short, you will be better able to manage the reputation of your firm.
12. Don’t Be: A cynical, nay-saying, whinging, whining, doom laden, sackcloth-and-ashes, negative person. Especially when it comes to dealing with problems, whether they’re matters of organisation or about others. If you’re critical or negatively questioning of something in your role or that you’re tasked with, if you are wary or deeply concerned about something and its impact on reputation, never be silent or cynical. Don’t be negative, even if you feel or think that way: it’s too easy that way. Besides which, nobody will respect you for it. In fact, it’s a surefire way to alienate those around you and potentially harms your reputation and the organisation you represent as one of its ambassadors.
13. Do Be: Trustworthy – someone who can be relied on to be discreet. Confidentiality is part of the lifeblood of any good, decent person, never mind a communications professional. If you can’t be trusted to keep confidence – whether on a personal or business matter, you can’t be trusted, period. It won’t be long before you find you are not being told everything that’s going on by different stakeholders, because you won’t have their confidence. If you don’t know the genuine feelings and views of those you need to consider in your communications activities, how do you expect to protect and grow your firm’s reputation?
14. Don’t Be: Facetious or attempt a comic response to a serious matter. Even a slip-of-the-tongue could get you in trouble. You may think in a situation of stress or disruption that by “lightening the load” you will help others to feel better. Things could always be worse, after all. No. Nope, never. You may risk being thought of as glib, at the expense of others’ feelings and circumstances – and may possibly cause them serious offence. In other words, you could end up undermining your – and, yes – your firm’s reputation in that one instance.
15. Do Be: The best communicator you can be, in all your efforts – both speaking and writing. This means being clear in meaning, consistent in messaging, coherent about context. It means avoiding the unnecessarily complex and convoluted in what you write and say. Instead, be determined – always – to achieve the grace and art of simplicity. Use short sentences instead of long. And fewer clauses. Sound out your written words before publication: often, if what you write sounds right it will be better understood and appreciated by those who read it (even if they disagree with the message itself).
16. Do Be: A voracious reader, whatever the form and content, because it will help you to improve your writing skills. If you’re a keen reader of fiction, you may also be delighted to know research shows it “can improve empathy and theory of mind”. And empathy is, of course, a vital asset in relationship-building, which is at the heart of your work.
17. Do Be: A do-er, and do it well. Meaning, the best way to gain confidence and communicate with credibility, is to do-do-do what you should be doing. The more you do, the more confident you will be. Those who say they’re not confident to do something, here’s the thing: confidence only comes from doing, not sitting on the sidelines. There’s only one recipe for success in life and in reputation management: do what you need to do, do it often, and do it to the best of your ability. And if you’re ever unsure or insecure about a task or problem at hand, imagine what you’d say in counselling someone else for them to do/say/act if they were asking you about the same thing. If that fails, speak to someone in confidence, who you trust: ask for a few minutes of their time for you to air the problem and ask for their no-holds-barred-but-constructive opinion.
18. Don’t Be: Angry or respond in anger in your actions or words. Too often, the worst mistakes impacting reputation are the result of giving in to spontaneous negativity about something that happens or because of the action of another. Instead, take five (I mean, literally, breathe in long and deep for five seconds, and out slow for five seconds, repeating this just for one single minute. Surely you’ve got a minute, right?). Then, reflect and consider constructively what you want to say, and then and only then act and speak in a manner fitting to your integrity and professionalism. After all, as the guardian of a good reputation, we know that the credibility of a message is achieved more often by how constructively we say and write something, in order best to be heard, understood and respected.
19. Do Be: Known for always following through. Whether returning a journalist’s call, that of a member of the public, or replying to an email, be sure to do it. It all matters and impacts not only your reputation, but that of your firm. It’s a slippery slope once you begin to rationalize and justify to yourself that it’s okay not to respond to a request, because “it/the person doesn’t matter”. Even a brief response is better than none at all. Leaving someone dangling, waiting for you to do them the courtesy of following through shows disrespect to them and undermines your profession: and it’s certainly not good reputation management.
20. Don’t Be: One of those infuriating spokespeople who resorts to journalists’ questions with the inane, useless and irritating response of “no comment”. There’s always something better and more meaningful to say or write in response.
21. Do Be: A communications professional whose goal is always to under-promise and over deliver, rather than the converse.
22. Don’t Be: Thinking that your content only ever needs to be well-written, accurate, proof-read and relevant to your organisation’s interests. Those are just the basic criteria for writing and publishing content. What matters to your readers (stakeholders) is for it to be one or more (ideally, at least two), of the following: insightful, evidence-based, timely, forward-thinking, entertaining, well-argued, channel-appropriate, visually attractive, informative and meaningful. The more your content, published across all your channels, meets two or more of the criteria listed here, the more likely it is you will add credibility to your organisation and its reputation.
And, to end on one more positive point:
23. Do Be: Passionate, creative, engaging and sincere in your communications efforts. After all, if your heart and mind are not in the job, sooner or later you may find it gets in the way of you being vigilant and conscientious in the protection and care of your organisation’s reputation.