The Power of Reputation

Every other Tuesday, ProfNet hosts #ConnectChat, a Twitter-based interview that covers topics of interest to media and communications professionals.  Recently, Chris Komisarjevsky, former worldwide CEO of Burson-Marsteller and author of “The Power of Reputation: Strengthen the Asset That Will Make or Break Your Career,” discussed why reputation is among our most powerful assets.

How do you define reputation?

Reputation is, in part, the way you are seen by others, and it is a critical part of your personal brand.

Is reputation equivalent to social credibility?

Yes, it is in many ways equivalent because reputation has a critical bearing on how you are viewed.

How does one build a good reputation?

There are three critical factors underlying a good reputation: character, communication and trust.

How do they work together?

Character is your values and how you live them, communication is how you relate to others, and trust is the underlying goal.

How can one display these three factors online?

Online or not, how you speak with others and share their concerns says much about character and values.

Is character something that can be learned?

Character can be learned if you think about what is important in the long run and watch how people react to your behavior.

Is it also that people tend to think of short-term gain instead of long-term reputation — especially in social media?

The key is to focus on the long-term. Think about short-term judgments and whether they endure. Take the author Jonah Lehrer, for example. His books were pulled off the shelves last night because he lied and exaggerated quotes from Bob Dylan. Short-term gain, long-term loss. He resigned from his reporter job at The New Yorker. What now for him? James Frey redux.

Isn’t social media a long-term investment? We can’t really expect any immediate gain from using social media.

Yes, it is, sort of the like the early days of radio. At first, who is really listening? It takes time. Speaking of social media and reputation, if you are criticized on social media, you have 12 hours to reply or else you are dead meat.

Why is such a quick response important?

Today’s news cycle is short. There is no luxury of a traditional 24-hour cycle. This is not broadcast rip-and-read, but immediate. And 12 hours is the outside chance for having a fair hearing. After that, your point of view or answer to what has been said is lost. It’s almost impossible to regain control of the message.

Plus, if you respond quickly, there’s also the opportunity to turn a negative into a positive.

Absolutely. Think about those who have failed to act quickly. Remember, the cover-up is worse than the crime. Look at the global banking business today: HSBC, Barclays, Peregrine. Short-term thinking, long-term reputation scandals. The humiliation — followed by resignations, apologies — hits hard. Reputation is both personal and institutional.

What about the importance of communication?

We are really talking about engagement. Engagement is the new mandate — an open dialog where ideas are shared, showing respect for other views.

Can these institutions ever recover their reputations?

Yes, but it will take a long time — and it means a change in corporate culture. Anything less will also be short-lived. Read Henry David Thoreau’s 1849 essay, “Civil Disobedience.” “Conscientious men” do make a “conscientious corporation.”

Is there a difference between personal and professional reputation, or are the two linked?

They’re one and the same. You can’t be two different people or you will not be seen as “authentic.” That’s an act.

And being authentic leads to trust, which you mentioned as the third factor in reputation…

People look for authenticity — you know how they will act and can trust their behavior.

The personal brand of employees is becoming more and more important, right?

Great question. When people look at companies they are looking to see the values of the employees. If the values of the employees and the corporation don’t mirror one another, credibility is lost. Those values at work and at play must be the same. In today’s social media world, everyone sees everything, and customers/clients will notice.

This clearly points out the importance of a company’s C-level presence on social media.

Social media is unfamiliar ground to many CEOs. They aren’t sure what to say or how to say it. Interestingly enough, Rupert Murdoch seems to have tweeted more regularly after facing criticism before Parliament. He seems to have seen social media as a way of providing a more human face in the midst of criticism.

In your book, you say that people and corporations are judged in a similar way. What do you mean?

People judge businesses using human terms. They look at the business and judge if the business will deliver as promised — just like you would shake someone’s hand and look them in the eye to see what they are made of. We look at businesses in much the same way. Based on our reaction, we trust or don’t trust. We buy or go elsewhere. We invest or walk away.

One of the things I often struggle with is guilt over work-life balance, but you say having balance can actually strengthen your reputation. How?

Giving employees an opportunity to have work-life balance is extraordinarily motivating. They prove themselves in a different way and, as the boss, you demonstrate that you understand the balance needed between home and work. In my experience, they become more productive, more loyal, and grow in ways you could not have anticipated. With that, the organization grows too.

You also mention that starting at the bottom and doing menial tasks can show you how important those roles are to the company’s success.

Starting at the bottom gives you a picture of the building blocks needed to make any organization thrive. One of my mentors started in the mailroom and retired as the No. 2 in a global insurance company. I pumped gas, drove a dump truck. These early jobs give you a picture that can’t be taught in a classroom or in your MBA class. They make you aware like nothing else.

Do you recommend that all executives take the time to learn about, or even spend time in, all the different departments in their company?

I was trained in the Army, where you learn from the bottom up. I tell a story in the book about peeling potatoes in basic training and the importance of doing a job well, regardless of how menial. In the PR business, if you don’t understand how social media and a newsroom works, it’s tough to be the best.

Can you share some more real-life examples of reputations that were tarnished, and what they did wrong?

Sadly enough, the banking business this summer has been full of debacles and scandal: MF Global, Nomura, JPMorgan Chase. Then there was News International, followed closely by the Secret Service and the GSA. The media are still talking about them. The result has been CEOs called on the carpet to testify before Congress in the U.S. and Parliament. Not fun — and hard to recover from.

Why do you think it keeps happening? Is it just that they don’t think they will get caught?

In some cases, greed and avarice took over, and those involved didn’t think they would get caught. But what we in the public relations and reputation business know is, it’s never if you will be caught but when. Eventually, the truth comes out. There’s an old Italian proverb that, loosely translated, goes like this: “Deceit has short legs.”

This is also a culture question. There needs to be some serious work to understand how to balance the driving financial goals with employee values. After all, without valued employees — working with valued clients — there is no business.

And then there is, of course, the Paterno/Penn State/NCAA case…

I wrote an op-ed about Paterno. Tragic and sad. If he were alive, I would hope that he would apologize. Looking the other way is unforgiveable. I would hope that his family would apologize. Removing the statue was the right decision. I think the NCAA missed the boat by not imposing the death penalty for one year. Like a time-out, it would have forced Penn State to sit back and think. The money was a drop in the bucket — one year’s revenue… But leadership was afraid and abdicated its responsibility to those children. That is tragic and unforgivable.

Author Maria Perez is director of news operations for ProfNet, a service that helps connect journalists with expert sources. To read more from Maria, visit her blog on ProfNet Connect at http://www.profnetconnect.com/profnetmaria/blog/

3 responses to “The Power of Reputation

  1. Reblogged this on NicheValue: Nadia Vanderhall and commented:
    Reputation is a major thing no matter if you are an professional or organization!

  2. Maria, I really enjoyed this post! Your definition of reputation as “the way you are seen by others” and “a critical part of your personal brand” is sport on. Your tips on building a good reputation and examples of tarnished reputations were interesting as well.

  3. Thank you!

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