The annual PRCA APAC Future Leader award for Insight saw PR and communications practitioners aged 30 and under enter essays of up to 1,000 words, responding to the following brief: Reputation is no longer something to be ‘managed’. Businesses need to earn public trust, and it can just as easily be lost. How can communicators rally their companies/clients to address this new reality, and how will we know if we’re successful?’ Below is the winning essay.

While businesses across the globe have faced their fair share of challenges over the past two years, their customers and clients have had the same amount of time to reflect on and re-evaluate their beliefs, habits, and stance
in many areas – and their relationship with brands is no exception.

In fact, a staggering 94% of consumers globally find that it’s important for brands that they engage with to have a strong purpose. This is particularly true for the APAC region, as consumers are found to be significantly less forgiving of brands, with 91% of Malaysian consumers and 89% of Singaporean consumers stating they would act against brands that they disagree with.

This focus on reputation is echoed in the ICCO’s World PR Report 2020-2021, which summarised corporate reputation management as a key opportunity for PR professionals; it has seen the highest growth rate of all areas surveyed, with a 41% increase. After all, if a business’ reputation is accurately, appropriately and honestly communicated, it will show in their bottom line. The World Economic Forum says one quarter of a company’s
market value can be directly linked to its reputation, and 87% of executives think reputational challenges are more important than other strategic risks.

The problem is that nearly 40% of consumers state they distrust traditional advertising which ultimately requires social media to pick up the slack and drive a company’s marketing and communications efforts.

Whether consumers trust social media or not, the reality is that people have grown increasingly reliant on organic and authentic testimonials – and social media is the quickest and most accessible gateway to exactly that. This then creates the true task for communicators – how do we nurture organic feedback and authentic conversation that is in line with our brand’s key messages and goals? How do we work together with our clients to create a reputation so strong, relatable, clear, and truthful that our customers are proud to carry our flags for us?

I believe that this is where the future of communication lies, and this is the conversation to be having with our clients.

When customers choose which brand to engage with, they are influenced by a variety of factors, many of which we can safely say fall under the umbrella of ‘reputation’. Apple, for example, does this very well – dominating the consumer technology market for years now with devices that are priced at a premium, having gained the reputation of creating reliable and cutting-edge technology. Tapping into the trendy green agenda, the company recently removed the chargers from their new devices to reduce plastic waste (to the annoyance of pretty much everyone) – but carrying an iPhone is so closely tied to a superior lifestyle, that ultimately it doesn’t matter what they do. As the World’s Most Admired Company for the 14th year in a row, the status symbol its products carry continues to drive sales.

While this is a great example of a solid and well-managed reputation that does all the work for the brand, Dior’s way.
let’s look at the potential disaster coming French fashion house Dior has one of the most established reputations in the luxury fashion world, having delivered class and elegance since the 1940s. However, brand love is about to be put to the test, as its entire next men’s collection is a collaboration with Travis Scott – the youth-culture icon and rapper who is being at least partially blamed for his role in multiple deaths at the recent Astroworld festival in Texas. So far, Scott has released a brief statement, and there are more than 30 lawsuits pending against Scott and the festival organisers.

So, where does this leave Dior in regards to managing its reputation? The company has yet to address its plans, but there are really only two options: proceed with launching the men’s wear line that is already in production, and prepare for the devastating social media backlash; or pull the plug.

If it were my decision, based on the core principles of the future of communications – the increasing need to foster authentic, organic feedback that supports our brand’s reputation – the answer is very clear. Dior is all about class, and the classy thing to do is to pull the plug, all while communicating to the brand’s audiences that they simply could not proceed to support Scott, given the recent devastating events he has been a part of, despite the financial impact this will have on the business.

While it’s a decision that will incur substantial monetary loss in the short-term, the long-term effect on Dior’s reputation will be positively received by Gen Z’s touchscreen warriors. It presents an opportunity for Dior to establish themselves among a new generation as a brand that is true to its values.

So while consumers play the biggest part in developing a company’s reputation, the need to manage corporate reputation will never disappear – and it’s our job to effectively communicate this to our clients and help them understand the importance of the work that we do. By helping them accept these new consumer realities, the importance of building a well-loved brand and a fail-safe crisis management strategy, as well as the financial benefits of building a solid and celebrated reputation, we will continue to establish great PR as one of the most valuable assets to businesses.

For communicators, the new reality is about becoming even more vigilant, attuned and proactive than ever, beating the media and information evolution to the punch with authentic messages and actions.

Our strategies, relationships and landscape knowledge need to continue evolving to give us the biggest chance of ensuring client success. This means reimagining the way we communicate and being brave enough to advise on some tough decisions.

While that is undoubtedly a difficult task, if it were easy, it wouldn’t be nearly as much fun.