The Hanover View

Lorna Jennings

Lorna Jennings

MD, Hanover Dublin

Reputation strategy in a rewired world

Reputation management has fundamentally shifted in the last decade – from a primary focus on protecting and facilitating business growth (and the profit margin), to driving the delivery of a much broader definition of value. 

Likewise, the role of the corporate affairs person has expanded, now taking in sustainability, purpose and values and social issues as well as communication and advocacy. These broader, more challenging roles operate in a world where multiple, fast-changing and inter-connected issues span audiences and timezones. 

This requires a fresh approach to strategy. Many corporate affairs teams end up managing multiple campaigns, launching new initiatives and firefighting never-ending issues without a solid, unimpeachable strategy underlying their efforts.

As a result, we work hard, we produce outputs, but we never achieve the outcome we desire - because we don’t really know what that outcome is and we haven’t defined how we’ll know when we get there. 

Three features should define your reputation strategy in a rewired world:

Simplicity: The temptation to try to solve every problem and take every opportunity in an incredibly frenetic landscape often leads corporate affairs teams into an overly complex ‘strategy’ - which is actually just a list of tactics.

Your job is to define your strategy in the most simple and clear way possible, to take your complex issues, challenges and aims and distil them into the purest expression of who you want to reach, what you want them to think, feel and do as a result and how you’re going to do that. 

The marketing professor Mark Ritson explains this brilliantly: “Complexity is what you dealt with, not what you deliver. It took brains, training, complexity and intelligence to work out your strategy. So much so that your strategy now appears to be that incredibly rare and difficult thing: simplicity itself. Don’t worry, it’s not. You made it look that way.” 

Focus: Focus and simplicity go hand in hand. The often-repeated quote that strategy is knowing when to say no has never been more pertinent. When your house is on fire, you save the most important things. 

In this regard, data is your friend. As the world becomes more and more rich in information, data shouldn’t just inform your reputation strategy, it helps keep it focused on the most important priorities over time and helps you understand how best to achieve them.

Agility: The average lifespan of a company on the US S&P500 has plummeted from over 60 years in the 1950s to less than 20 years today. The average tenure of a FTSE100 CEO is now just 6 years. A recent article in MIT Sloan Review which we share elsewhere on this Rewire hub says: “The most successful businesses today are those that identify when and how to change to improve their strategic advantage.”  

Making sure that your strategy builds in the agility and responsiveness you need to adjust to changing times is essential.