Who are the real reputation managers?

Published on Monday 27 August 2018

So, super-injunctions have become big news of late, haven’t they, as the costly efforts of footballers and other millionaires to use emerging privacy laws to keep their indiscretions out of the newspapers tumble to the ground?

Whatever your opinion on the privacy rights of the rich and the famous – and clearly such rights should exist to a point – if a celebrity with an affair to hide came to me for advice (not that any ever do!), I’d always err towards a PR solution: let the papers do the big reveal if they want to, do a deal on the story with one of them so at least some journalists are on your side, issue a well crafted statement that shows remorse, fire-fight for 48 hours, plan a programme of repair work, and then get on with your life.

Even if your lawyers successfully persuade a judge to grant you an injunction on privacy grounds, surely there’s always the fear that at some point it’s going to untangle, and then whatever it is you’ve done will look ten times worse. Who wants that preying on the back of their mind?

Of course I write about communications so I’m going to propose a PR rather than a legal solution here. But there’s another thing that interests me about all this, and that’s the phrase the lawyers who specialise in super-injunctions are using to describe their work, ‘reputation management’. As someone who’s always quite liked the idea of PR people, especially at a more strategic level, adopting the title ‘reputation manager’, I am now worried about the reputation of ‘reputation’.

The wider PR industry has always struggled to find a name that everyone is happy with to describe their business and their jobs. You might ask what’s wrong with ‘PR’, but some think ‘public relations’ is too vague, or too associated with parties and boosey lunches with journalists, to properly describe what they do. Some fear ‘PR’ just isn’t taken seriously enough, especially in the board room.

But everyone knows that reputation, while an untangible concept, is very important. What people think of us, and whether they trust us, is incredibly important for a company, or individual, that wants to be successful. Whether you’re looking to raise finance, reduce regulation, recruit and retain the best people, expand into new territories and neighbourhoods, attract more consumers, and ensure you have the benefit of the doubt when things inevitably go awry once in a while, you need a good reputation. And communications people are, in my opinion, the best people to identify what that reputation should be, how it can be achieved, how it should be communicated, and what to do when crises, big or small, threaten it.

Which is why I’ve always been sympathetic to those PR people and corporate communicators who have adopted the ‘reputation management’ term. Some even call themselves reputation managers. It’s taken many years to take off, and some still fear it sounds a little pretentious, but for my money the notion of ‘reputation management’ is something more strategic communicators are right to embrace and promote.

Except, not if the term becomes eternally linked with cheating footballers trying to bully judges into helping them keep their dishonesty out of the papers. So I say to the real reputation managers in the PR industry, fight for your right to use the R word, and give a little thought to how you can ensure the future reputation of reputation management!