Should Companies Use Preemptive Reputation Management?
Effective corporate policy and leadership are part of basic reputation management. Merely doing well by one’s customers and business partners is normally enough to earn and maintain a reputation for trustworthiness.
And so it might seem the phrase preemptive reputation management is redundant. But a preemptive reputation management strategy is a more deliberate – and sometimes targeted – effort to establish a person or company’s reputation.
The preemptive reputation strategy lays the groundwork for creating a good first impression and for responding to questions about credibility, qualifications, and suitability. It is equivalent to being formally introduced to a new market by a reliable third party.
A preemptive strategy may also deflect or diminish the effectiveness of a competitor’s attempt to discredit or devalue a company’s products and services before they enter a market.
Whereas a reputation is normally earned after engaging with customers and business partners, a preemptive reputation strategy creates visibility for a company. The preemptive strategy seeks to build trust in advance of winning a business relationship with a market or region.
It’s an information campaign rather than an advertising campaign.
Preemptive Reputation Management Occurs in Two Ways
Every good deed builds a reputation. By doing business openly and transparently it’s easier to accumulate those good deeds in the public’s eye.
While most companies don’t stimulate much news, every community outreach program and goodwill publicity campaign is a type of preemptive reputation management. If a company is only known to a community because its vehicles drive around town, people may not have much of an impression of what the company does or who its employees are.
Even small outreach projects such as local even sponsorships, issuing statements in support of local causes, offering special discounts in times of need, and helping a community in any way garner positive attention and build community trust.
Such passive or innate preemptive reputation management usually suffices for everyone.
But there are situations where a company must look down the road and see what’s coming – or where it’s going. In these scenarios, the company is well served by an information campaign that introduces it to new neighbors, markets, and potential customers and partners.
Marketing and Communications Normally Act First
After the marketing team has assessed the new audience’s knowledge and needs they’ll recommend a strategy for creating or enhancing a company’s visibility. The communications team and their PR partners craft the message, often through advertising and special interest news articles.
The art of advance introductions is well developed and needs no assistance from a reputation management campaign. The initial marketing efforts are the reputation management campaign.
In some situations, the usual first campaign may not be sufficient. When a dominant player has nearly complete market saturation and visibility potential customers pay little attention to newcomers.
Some markets are influenced by political or financial interests outside the public arena of marketing and advertising. It’s not enough to merely stimulate demand for products and services; some other obstacle, such as a local politician or business owner’s self-interest, must be considered.
A Hostile Campaign May Change the Marketing Environment
When a company’s reputation is attacked by special interest groups, competitors, and bizarre individuals the reputation strategy may come together slowly.
Merely relying on standard business practice to build and maintain a reputation doesn’t always work in the face of persistent criticism and denunciation. A public relations campaign may help resolve complaints and community concerns, but a hostile campaign seeks every advantage in weakening a company’s good standing and reputation.
Preemptive reputation management strategies seek to get one step ahead of the negative campaign. A company must anticipate what arguments will be used against its goals and defuse those arguments before they are made.
Instead of responding to objections as they are raised, a preemptive strategy circulates the appropriate responses without calling attention to potential future objections. It’s easier to defuse a hostile claim by pointing to previously shared information that the public has been aware of.
Hostile objections may still be raised but they are weakened and put on the defensive before they are even heard.
Strong Reputations Defend against False Rumors
Even if there is no hostile campaign targeting a company’s reputation, false rumors occasionally trigger alarmist activity among poorly informed communities.
Most rumors are harmless. Few people hear them or spread them and companies need not worry about them. But once in a while, a company may be targeted by an influential person with a large following.
Regardless of how absurd a rumor may be, once people begin to spread it the task of debunking the rumor becomes more challenging.
When a majority of people are well-informed about a company’s policies and practices, false rumors are less likely to take root and spread.
A preemptive reputation strategy seeks to build community trust in the company’s communications by establishing a history of successful and honest engagements.
Preemptive Reputation Management May Attract Investment
One strength of preemptive reputation management is that it must always be conducted with honesty and integrity. No good will come of spreading lies and misinformation, which when exposed only alienate potential customers and investors and attract regulatory investigation.
Preemptive strategies indirectly contribute to the visibility that attracts investors’ interests. When executives participate in business surveys, even earning quotes or soundbites in business news stories, they enhance the company’s reputation.
Every mention of a company’s name in trade journals and business news increases brand visibility and builds reputation. The difference between normal communications and a preemptive reputation strategy is the focus and frequency of the public-facing commentary. Any data that is normally shared with the public may be leveraged in a preemptive strategy to create a heightened awareness of positive KPIs.
The idea is to step up public engagement without crossing any lines. For a small firm, the preemptive strategy looks 2-3 years down the road – gradually building visibility and credibility in the media and appropriate business communities.
Although the goal of a preemptive reputation strategy should not be to attract investors, every preemptive strategy should consider the impact that it may have on potential future investments.
Preemptive Search Results Management Assists Publicity Campaigns
Even when there is no reason to expect hostility, a marketing or publicity campaign may stimulate interest in a company or its brands only to lead to consumer confusion in search results.
When people begin searching for names that are new to them they often find irrelevant listings in the search results. A preemptive SEO strategy helps improve the search results before the advertising or publicity campaign begins.
If a company creates a new brand name or trademark phrase similar to a once popular (but now seldom used) phrase, search engines may show interested consumers obscure articles about the former usage.
Creating relevant, useful content and positioning it in search results in advance of the publicity or advertising campaign helps both interested consumers and the company.
Does Every Company Need A Preemptive Reputation Campaign?
The business world is confronted by many solutions in search of problems. Legitimate preemptive reputation management sees the conversation coming and prepares for it. This is a normal part of everyday business decision-making.
When your salespeople talk with new prospects they need to be prepared to answer any questions, but they won’t know everything. Good salespeople promise to get an answer as quickly as possible, but reputation management cannot say, please wait – we’ll get back to you on that.
The conversation goes on without your reply. If your clients or company are in a position where unanswered questions hurt your credibility, then preemptive reputation strategies would have helped avoid that problem.
The process begins with knowing where the company wants its message to be heard and understood what questions or objections may be asked. The priorities for preemptive strategies should be determined by people who know what marketing and communications are prepared to handle on the fly. Anything that requires a long answer, a thoroughly detailed answer, or that may be distorted by hostility or confusion should be explained in advance through a preemptive campaign.
A reputation strategist can assist with this planning but much of it is common sense. When a dedicated strategy is required then that is the time to talk with a reputation strategist.
Preemptive reputation management should not be a scary thing. Every company does some preemptive reputation building in its normal business practices. The more challenging it becomes to look ahead and plan for questions and objections, the more likely it’s time to assign someone to preemptive work.
Integrity and honesty are key elements of preemptive reputation management. Its goal is not to fix a problem but to avoid problems, or to reduce the severity of future problems. The preemptive strategy must shield itself from criticism and hostility or it only makes a bad situation worse…
The process and goals for the team working on the strategy should be transparent. Key performance indicators should include easy objectives. And the more integral preemptive reputation planning is to a company’s business operations the more effective that planning will be in the long run. There may be times when a reactive reputation management strategy is called for, but good preemptive planning helps in the best and worst of times.