Reputation management issues don’t only impact big business

Reputation management issues don’t only impact big business

August 10, 2023

In our interconnected world and rolling news cycles, reputation damage can occur at a lightening pace. Two very recent examples include the crisis at CBI after sexual misconduct claims and Natwest’s handling of the de-banking of Nigel Farage by its elite subsidiary, Coutts. But, while these cases involve the upper echelons of the UK business world, such reputation management issues can equally affect smaller businesses, and with very detrimental effects.

With social media and review sites at our fingertips, all directors and staff companywide, need to consider that all of their words and actions are in the public domain.

How can I protect my business’s reputation?

Know your business community

No business is an island. It exists as part of a network of stakeholders, including customers, staff, suppliers, landlords, credit insurers and many more. It pays to know not just who these stakeholders are, but also their attitudes and moral sticking points. This means maintaining an open and regular dialogue with them.

Identify potential risks to reputation management

This may seem like a suggestion requiring eyes in the back of your head, but there are certain obvious areas of reputational risk amid an endless list:

  • How staff are treated
  • How staff behave in public situations
  • How customer complaints and disputes are dealt with
  • How supplier disputes are resolved
  • How internal disputes, especially between senior staff, are handled
  • Tone and content of social media accounts
  • How customers are communicated with and the level of service they receive
  • Interactions within trade associations
  • Relationships with competitors
  • Relationships with neighbouring businesses

If there are issues here that could lead to allegations of poor behaviour, changes will need to be made. Those involved may need extra training or, at the worst end of the scale, disciplinary action, and processes and procedures need to be reviewed to see if improvements can be implemented.

Being a good business citizen

There is no way to eliminate reputational risk, which may come at a business completely out of left field and might also be the result off malicious action by another business or an individual with their own agenda. Behaving well consistently goes a long way to help in fending off these criticisms. This might involve charitable donations or active support for local organisations and for the vulnerable or disadvantaged. The pandemic was a time when many businesses built formidable reputations locally or nationally for their positive actions.

On the other hand, being seen to be excessively aggressive against competitors, with smaller suppliers or other local businesses, or displaying dubious business ethics in difficult situations is never a good reputational look.

Politics and reputation management

Politics and business mix about as well as oil and water. Any battle in this arena will have only one winner, and it won’t be a local business or entrepreneur caught with their head above the political parapet. It’s one thing to mount or support a campaign on a topic where politicians need to be persuaded to introduce change for the benefit of a market or a community, it’s quite another to get involved in the mud-slinging that is such a toxic part of that world.

Limiting reputation damage

Things will always go wrong, actions be misinterpreted, false accusations be believed by some. The question is how a business reacts. Mistakes need to be admitted and rectified and apologies made. Misunderstandings need to be explained. Malicious criticism needs to be countered with the truth. Openness and accuracy in what is said is always the best policy; denial and secrecy is usually the short road to a PR disaster.

Getting expert help

Countering reputational damage is all about effective communications. Hopefully, very few smaller businesses will need to turn to specialist reputation management experts, but it would be wise to engage with a communications professional to talk through potential strategies, help draft press statements or website announcements and, where necessary, act as a ‘buffer’ between a business, its critics and the media.

If you are a director that is looking for professional advice, Opus is here to help. You can speak to one of our Partners who can discuss options with you. We have offices nationwide and by contacting us on 020 3326 6454, you will be able to get immediate assistance from our Partner-led team.