The Quarterly


Reputation Management in a Digital Age

The Quarterly: Reputation Management in a Digital Age

Only a few years ago, the dividing lines between the different PR disciplines in the corporate world were fairly sharply drawn.

On one side was financial PR which enabled Chief Executives and CFOs to talk to shareholders, analysts and the financial journalists. Getting the communication of company strategy right could have a significant impact on the confidence the capital markets had in the executive team, especially during a transaction. PR proved its value and the industry professionalised with the best financial agencies commanding premium fees for a premium service.

On the other side was consumer PR, usually reporting to the marketing director. The task was to help boost product sales by promoting brands through the editorial side of media. Its success meant that, over time, consumer PR captured a larger share of marketing budgets with creativity and content, on the agency side, that rivalled the best advertising.

But this easy taxonomy of the PR world no longer applies. Powerful forces are transforming the landscape and breaking down divisions. Even the most fervent advocates of shareholder capitalism now accept that any communication campaign that focuses solely on the capital markets will fail because it does not cover some of the key drivers of company valuation.

Many different audiences now communicate about businesses in a way which impacts on their operations, their profitability and their value.

Companies need to equip themselves to talk to a much wider group of audiences and to be aware of the interplay between them. Their needs are more about reputation management than traditional financial PR targeted at a small number of journalists and analysts.

This is a seismic industry shift. Business leaders now seek out communication consultancies that understand finance but can help them communicate to a wider range of audiences on issues which affect their reputation.

At the same time, consumers now want to know much more about the companies behind their favourite brands. The communications revolution allows them to find this information instantly, to share their opinions and run campaigns in support or against companies through their laptop or smartphone.

So consumer PR also now has to include high quality reputation management. That is why chief marketing officers are turning to agencies that understand brands but can offer broader support.

Public affairs is another area of the industry in flux. Services are moving away from direct lobbying towards a broader reputation management approach. The companies that are most successful in winning arguments with politicians will be those that can get their case across directly and indirectly by mobilising consumers and other interested parties, on and off line.

The final change is that communication campaigns are increasingly global. Brands can be damaged in one country because of their actions in another. Effective global communication campaigns no longer require an endless network of offices, but they do need the involvement of people with expertise and knowledge of a wide range of local media markets. Agencies with the right expertise can win business all over the world, wherever they are based.

At Portland we are hugely excited by these changes. Our work often cuts across traditional boundaries of financial PR, consumer PR and public affairs. We find that many large corporations, which previously relied on traditional financial and consumer PR are realising they need help which goes beyond these narrow disciplines. So they are turning to agencies like Portland which can provide the integrated support they need to manage their reputation in the digital and global age.

This edition of the quarterly contains several articles that showcase our work in this area.

We hope you enjoy it.