Reputation:  Hard to Build, Easy to Vanish

Reputation = Performance + Behavior + Communication (R = P + B + C) is the formula developed by two experts on reputation management, John Doorley and Helio Fred Garcia that they came up with following years of in-depth studies and research. The three factors that constitute reputation apply equally to organizations, companies, and individuals. This formula looks simple enough, putting it into practice is a different matter.

Doorley and Garcia are not only academically qualified as professors at reputable universities but also look back at distinguished careers practicing their field of expertise. John Doorley contemplated about reputation as a discipline in its own right in the communications field while serving as the executive in charge of the corporate communications function at renowned pharmaceutical company Merck, a job he held for 12 years. Helio Fred Garcia has been the President of the Logos Consulting Group in New York City from 2002 until today.

The formula quoted above should make it clear that image alone will not succeed in supporting reputation if it is not based on real performance. The book they co-authored, Reputation Management unequivocally states that it is not possible to rectify shortcomings in performance, behavior or identity by communication efforts. However flawless the communication is planned and delivered, it will not be able to make up or compensate for bad performance and behavior. The book has now entered its fourth edition after it was first published in 2006 and in the meantime has become required reading at many universities for courses related to reputation.

Reputation Can’t be Bought

Within a relatively short period massive communication efforts may help shape perception as desired by the party that initiated the action. However, this is fleeting, as gradually inconsistencies will ensnare you as the truth gradually rises to the surface.

A concrete example is an incident that has caught the public’s attention in recent weeks, in connection with the murder of the policeman “Brigadir J” or Joshua Hutabarat that implicated fellow police officers, including the general in charge of maintaining internal order within the National Police to whom he was attached as aide.

The direct perpetrators and those involved in trying to deceive the public by suppression of evidence and a carefully crafted narrative promoted by senior officers dragged into the plot now face the consequences. Many police officers with brilliant careers face the hard fact that their future is destroyed after dishonorable discharge from the police to be   followed by criminal court proceedings. This is a clear example that proves Doorley & Garcia’s argument that no amount of communication can disguise bad performance and behavior.

Reputation does not happen by itself. It requires careful and consistent planning and preparation, as well as discipline in its execution. Reputation cannot be bought but must be built gradually and systematically. The role of management is to lead the company on the path toward a positive reputation, and then continuously make sure that it is not damaged or otherwise negatively impacted.

Sometimes people mix up image and reputation. Any organization or company can buy image by means of print or electronic advertisements, but as noted above, if there is indeed a performance or behavior problem, then no amount of advertising will help. This is not to say that advertising has no place in reputation building, however, its role in establishing reputation is to bolster or support reputation building and not as main instrument.

The value of a reputation is reflected in what legendary investor Warren Buffett said to new hires at his company, Berkshire Hathaway, quoted by Doorley & Garcia as follows: “If you lose dollars for the firm by bad decisions, I will be very understanding. If you lose reputation for the firm, I will be ruthless.” Warren Buffett is famous for his hugely successful investments, and as such, he became one of the richest people in the United States. Uniquely, he lives a very simple life. 99% of his wealth is donated to social causes that so far has reached 48 billion US dollars.

A Serious Misstep

The case that engulfs the department of the National Police responsible for upholding internal order – the Police of the Police – is still ongoing. At the time of writing this article criminal court proceedings have commenced. Taking the life of a fellow policeman in a brazen premeditated murder put to an abrupt end the careers of many police officers.

An example from the corporate world, ironically concerns the reputation of the communications consulting firm, Bell Pottinger, that was ruined because of a serious misstep. One of the main services offered by the company based in London was reputation management. It was founded in 1998 ceased to exist on September 12, 2017, when it was declared bankrupt. Its downfall was brought about by involvement in a political campaign that violated ethics and created social unrest when supporting one of the participants in the presidential election in South Africa in early 2017. Bell Pottinger’s reputation began to unravel when its role in instigating social conflict came to light.

All attempts through transparent communication and corrective measures involving credible third parties to salvage their reputation were to no avail. One by one clients terminated their contract with the company, managers and employees quit their jobs, and it was expelled from the professional association of communications companies in the United Kingdom. Less than a year after the crisis emerged, the history of this well-known company in the international communications industry came to a tragic end.

Noke Kiroyan
Chairman & Chief Consultant, Kiroyan Partners

This article has been published in PR Indonesia magazine 90th edition issued on September 2022, page 52-52.

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