How to lift your reputation

Fiona Fenwick
reputation management

What does a corporation do when its new and flagship product spontaneously catches fire? That's the scenario Samsung faced in late 2016 when it launched its much-anticipated Galaxy Note 7. First there was a recall, and then a safe battery initiative. A final halt in production and sales was announced in October.

For weeks, the big brand was in full-scale reputation management mode. But Fiona Fenwick, a recognized expert in reputation management, thinks Samsung could have done more to minimize brand damage at the start of the crisis..

Fiona talks to Communicate Influence about reputation management, brand reputation and what you can do to improve your reputation. She explains how to handle a situation when things start to go off-track.

Your goal: Build a strong and positive reputation

At a basic level, how do you define reputation?

Your reputation is, quite simply, how you are regarded by others. It’s the sum total of beliefs and opinions about someone or something. It’s your calling card to the world!

Reputation management sounds tricky. You can’t control others’ behaviour, decisions, or product failures. How do you approach the way you guide or advise on reputation management?

It has its moments! Although we can’t control others’ opinions, we can take control of what we do and how those actions may influence their opinion. Building a reputation is vital for success whether you are an individual or a global company.

A strong and positive reputation will increase career options and bring greater rewards for individuals. If you're a company, it will attract customers or clients and often allow you a premium price point if people perceive your product or service as better than the competition.

I always look at the authenticity of those I work with. I ask myself if I can trust them and what they do. If I can answer yes, then that’s the starting point for building, supporting or defending a reputation. Brand and reputation are closely intertwined.

Managing your reputation = satisfied customers

How can brands both manage and maximize their reputations so that customers choose them over a competitor?

A brand is only as good as its reputation. Understanding your uniqueness is key to building a reputation. Then you need to explain that to your target audience in a way that changes their behaviours so that they want your product; you create a desire. Then you consistently deliver on your promises and build trust. That develops a strong reputation and ensures your brand becomes a first choice.

Branding: Act quickly when there's a problem

Speaking of brands, it’s probably too early to assess the longer-term damage to Samsung’s brand after the Galaxy Note 7 recall. But what are your thoughts on how the tech giant handled the disaster? Looking to the future, how might Samsung, or any brand with reputation damage, approach rehabilitation?

Trusted brands can still get it wrong. Samsung has built a strong global brand and reputation for good quality products and innovation over that last 20 years. Customers can accept some problems associated with technology but to release a product which was flawed was a mistake. Compounding that, to offer a “product exchange” was a poor solution when they didn't actually know what the actual issue was.

" I believe an initial complete withdrawal would have instilled more consumer confidence and possibly minimized the damage to the wider Samsung brand.

However, it appears there has been limited damage to the global brand - more than likely due to the trust and goodwill the company has grown over the years. In terms of crisis, this allows withdrawals to be made from the ‘goodwill jar’ they have been filling over time.

Samsung will likely recover fully if the next product they launch is faultless and carries the innovation for which they are known. If, however, there is another failure on this scale, it may be too much of a problem to recover from.

Can a brand ever be forgiven?

What factors do consumers consider when they decide to “forgive” a brand or public figure? Is the decision to remain with or return to a brand more about our longer-term emotional investment with the brand?

Authenticity is paramount. A genuine apology is critical to connect with those affected. We are all able to understand that people and companies can make mistakes. It is how they are handled that makes or breaks a reputation. However, if trust is broken then it is harder to come back from. I completely agree that we can forgive more if we are invested emotionally in a brand. But this investment is a result of how we have perceived the brand over time, which in turn is a result of the effort put in by the individual or company.

Just one person can damage a reputation

With companies or sports teams, what’s the impact on the entity when an individual misbehaves or even breaks the law? How should a scenario like this be managed?

One person can cause considerable damage to an organization or team. This may seem unfair, but again it comes down to how the organization manages it, and how they are seen. The best thing an organization can do is be open, but to say that the matter is being investigated - as it should do.

" I strongly believe in being innocent until proven guilty - especially when the court of social media has such a major impact on public opinion nowadays.

Having clear, open and honest communications with stakeholders, including media, is hugely important in protecting the wider company or team. Once the full extent of the transgression is known, the organisation or team has the opportunity to explain what action has been taken (if any). With that complete, they can create an opportunity to build reputation based on responsible action etc. Some of the strongest reputations have been built on adversity.

Actively manage your reputation

Looking at reputation management from the individual’s perspective, some people take a surprisingly passive approach. They think that if they’re not doing anything wrong, their reputation management is good enough. What can people do, especially early on in their careers, to actively improve their reputations?

That’s a really good question! Very few people actively manage their reputation, which is odd bearing in mind it is with you 24/7 and you are living, breathing and acting it.

My reputation management advice is to be aware. Knowing how others perceive you can sometimes be a shock as it is not how you see yourself.

" Reputations are based on the opinions and beliefs of others, so every action you take plays a part in that.

How can you become expert or develop skills that set you apart from the competition? How then do you demonstrate those and ‘walk the walk’?

It’s so easy now to search for people online and see what you find out. When was the last time you did a search on yourself? Would you be happy if a prospective employer or school admissions department was to base their view of you on what they found? Managing your social media presence appropriately is also useful, as I am finding that managing reputations starts at an increasingly younger age.

Reputation management when things go wrong

What can individuals do to repair their reputations if they’ve had a mishap?

As with most situations in life, take responsibility. Apologize where necessary. Demonstrate your stronger values and aim to rebuild trust through consistent behaviours. These things can take time, but with effort and good management, you may actually enhance your reputation.

Need to hire a reputation manager? Here's what to look for

If we need to hire one, what should we look for in a reputation manager?

The core skill sets I would look for would be strong communications, gravitas, experience, integrity, and calmness under pressure. As well, intuition, presence, influence, trust, confidence, openness, maturity, fairness and confidence are very important. I’m not asking too much, am I?! However, my true test is character. I just know if someone has the ability to read a situation and instinctively offer the best advice to support and develop what is, after all, an individual or companies’ greatest asset: their reputation.

Who have been the biggest influences on you, your thinking and your approach to your work?

There have been many people who I have learned from in my career. Many managed reputation well and many didn’t - equally important for learning! But the two people who stand out as being the main influencers in my career are my Dad and my third boss.

My Dad, George McTavish, moulded my sense and judgment through his personal qualities of integrity, fairness and strong character. It's an inspiring legacy and one for which I am forever grateful. My third boss, Sandy Anderson, was a strong leader who carried his extensive teams through challenging times by influence, not authority. He also trusted the judgement of a very young woman (me) and was always open to respectful challenge. He inadvertently shaped my career and my respect for influential leadership and the power of strong reputation management.



Reputation manager Fiona Fenwick

Fiona is founder of fifteenminutes, a reputation management firm which works closely with individuals and senior teams in the corporate and sporting worlds. She helps clients understand the value of personal influence and why reputation is important for future goals, aspirations, and success.

Fiona is a sought-after international public speaker. Her first book, Stand Out And Step Up, is defined as a reputation toolkit for life and was published in 2017. Fiona says her book is a lifetime reference for any career stage, including those who have not checked in on their reputation for a while!

Based in New Zealand, Fiona has an MA in International Relations and Political Studies from Aberdeen University. Read more about Fiona on Linkedin and follow her on Twitter.

© Communicate Influence. Please see Communicate Influence’s Terms and Conditions for information on sharing, adapting or attributing content.