Brands Must Refocus On Earning Reputation By Permission

I recently read in an advertising column that the two major trends for marketing are “authenticity” and “transparency.” I scratched my head and thought, “Trends?” This is why many brands are failing, built upon a version of marketing leadership that drives disregard for institutions, government and capitalism itself. 

Authenticity and transparency are not “trends” measurable in impressions or clicks or acquisition cost. They are evergreen values earned through permission to do business with consumers and stakeholders. 

This is why companies, brands and organizations should double or triple their investments in people and agencies that understand the concept of earning — not buying — public permission. Instead, PR budgets are being squeezed and reduced to compete with other marketing disciplines. 

Hurricanes, fires, shootings, data breaches, sexual harassment scandals and fake news permeate our headlines. Now more than ever, brands need to invest in long-term reputation management to guide them and help them earn permission for whatever they want to do or sell or be.



Yet, few are thinking long-term or getting rewarded when it comes to reputation. Most brand managers and CMOs vacate their posts within 18 months, and companies are more focused on sales within the coming three months. This fairy-tale, short-term thinking ultimately will lead to more distrust from the public.

A report we completed in 2016 found that earned media trumps paid channels by a landslide: People trust in-person speeches, corporate announcements and interviews far more than advertising (28 to 42% more). So why are PR and earned reputation management being devalued when they are needed more than ever? Partly because PR is not measurable in traditional advertising speak. It is easier to submit a spreadsheet that reports cost per acquisition than to quantify the avoided negative news story, for example. 

It was not measurable or predictable for the NFL and its advertisers to know what would happen when players began kneeling during the national anthem. It was not measurable or predictable when an Equifax breach resulted in jeopardized data for millions of Americans. And, it was not measurable or predictable that Las Vegas and its casinos would be searching for ways to make the public feel safe again.

Reputation is measured in whether your brand has the public permission to survive and thrive in a world of uncertainty, disruption and, unfortunately, crisis. Here are several ideas for the C-suite to consider when it comes to reputation and allocating resources toward public relations:

  • Are you trying to build long-term relationships with your consumers or simply trying to sell stuff over the next three months? If you value reputation, allocate more budget into building relationships with key opinion leaders and understanding vulnerabilities to your brand.
  • Who is going to be standing shoulder-to-shoulder with you when your organization faces natural disasters, data breaches, sexual harassment, regulatory hiccups, equipment malfunctions, labor unrest, or when a notable public figure tweets about you? Investments today in long-term reputation will help you survive.
  • Who is reviewing your advertising campaigns for a reputation blunder? If you are taking a stand on anything around gender or racial equality, LGBTQ rights, body image, access to healthcare, or children, make sure you walk the walk. If your actions and words do not align, you may do more harm than good with that cutting-edge marketing campaign. Positive intentions can go negative quickly when a company’s own actions and policies do not live up to the hype. PR pros who focus on earned reputation will look for the risks and opportunities that those who purchase media are not trained to do.
  • When your digital ad shows up on an inappropriate website or flashes on the screen of an article about people dying in a disaster, are your advertising experts equipped to fix the damage? Consider your long-term reputation resources in advance.
  • Are you building a purpose program that truly changes the world, or are you after a slick video that tugs at heartstrings and wins awards? Think about how much reputation you have in the bank to start with before you launch. 

Earned public permission comes in many forms: media, dialogue, thought leadership, employee morale and culture, regulatory permission, influence. Meanwhile, public distrust is real. How will your brand and product survive and thrive? A few clicks or a 15-second social media endorsement likely will not suffice.

Businesspeople need to reconsider authenticity and transparency as trends, and instead figure out how to put more time, money and people towards earning reputation.

3 comments about "Brands Must Refocus On Earning Reputation By Permission".
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  1. Larry Smith from Live Idea, January 16, 2018 at 2:05 p.m.

    Excellent point: reputation is core to building a powerful brand, as is constantly innovating and delighting everyone (customers and stranges alike).

    I am reminded of this quote by Jerry Garcia:
    “You do not merely want to be considered just the best of the best.  You want to be considered the only one who does what you do.” 

  2. Paula Lynn from Who Else Unlimited, January 16, 2018 at 7:46 p.m.

    You have made some excellent points many skim. Permission is key. Public distrust is real but how much do they do about it like trusting Equifax to protect them from a company and people like from Equifax ? It's a place to start.

  3. James Pasquale from replied, January 19, 2018 at 11:41 a.m.

    Timely and well said especially with the GDPR looming for so many companies. The GDPR requires consent and producing a receipt when either acquiring and or holding as a basic premise come May 25th this year. Companies holding data now and looking for new innovated ways to delight customers and new consumers will have to pivot to solutions based on consent.  The good news is there are emerging companies like ours making this possible. Sharing more personal data more privately though consent, resulting in better business outcomes and compliance for companies and their offers.

    It's just a matter of willingness to get going.

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