Care about your reputation? Talk to your staff
Too often reputation strategy focuses on external communication at the expense of talking to colleagues. I understand the temptation: if you want to influence the government, or shareholders or consumers then events, adverts and press coverage can seem the most direct and efficient route. You want to make impact, fast. It is also true that many Heads of Communications or Corporate Affairs come from a public affairs or press background. They know how to talk to the press, how to craft a story and sell it in – and therefore it is the most tempting lever to reach for.
I implore you to start elsewhere. Start with your staff. This is true for organisations of all sizes: if you are small then you need everyone behind your vision in order to function effectively; a larger company expects this cannot be the case but is more likely to have frontline employees who are distant from the corporate affairs function yet have the closest contact with your customers. This is the real shortest route to your customers: via the team members who speak to the them.
Talking to employees is hard. As organisations grow they necessarily hire multiple types of people; this is the very definition of specialisation. Each internal grouping experiences your brand differently and that impacts how they behave and how they talk about you. Good internal comms has to be tailored for these groups and is therefore a lot more complex than an embargoed speech and follow ups with relevant specialist journalists but it is worth the investment.
No comms team will ever have full control over the messages that outsiders hear about your organisation. Just ask Amazon. Or Theresa May. There are so many ways that stakeholders gather information: as customers or donors themselves (MPs are people too!), through friends who work for you, though the engineer or retail assistant who serves them – all of this before they happen, maybe, to read that painstakingly positioned piece in the FT. And the narrative that develops from these myriad interactions will greatly influence the way they read any earned or bought coverage afterwards.
All of this means that it is hugely important that every time the people you care most about encounter you, that interaction must tell the story you are selling. The only way to achieve that is to make sure that every colleague, every story-teller, is reading from the same book.