B2B PR Blog Editor Heather Baker (@TopLineFounder) reviews one of 2014's must-read business books.
My dog is utterly petrified of the vacuum cleaner. Whenever I rev up the Henry, poor Devon will react in precisely the same way: she’ll back herself up against the wall, bark loudly enough to wake the dead, and only stop when it’s all over and the nasty machine is safely out of sight. These days, I can’t even pick up the extension tube without hearing her familiar growl.
Social media shouldn’t be new or frightening anymore, but that doesn’t stop many organisations from viewing it the same way a confused dog might regard the hoover. They know it’s there, they know it makes a lot of noise, but they don’t really know what it does – let alone know how to use it. This is an especially damaging type of ignorance when the digital realm is more central to a company’s public standing than ever before.
This culture of corporate stupidity is the main target of The Reputation Playbook, and author Jennifer Janson – MD of Six Degrees, a UK-based reputation management agency – gives it no quarter whatsoever. “I was encountering CEOs who felt that their grip on social media was under control because they had an intern managing a Twitter feed”, she writes early on. “I disagreed.” In another episode, she refers to “CEOs of large business-to-business companies who genuinely believe that social media […] really has no major impact on them”. Janson’s plainly heard these misconceptions repeated a thousand times before, and her exasperation with executives who dismiss their public perception as a “comms issue” is palpable. Companies always pay for this kind of overconfidence, and the cost is never cheap.
If all the Playbook did was tell arrogant execs to cut the crap and get with the times, it’d still be a valuable diagnostic tool. Janson spoils us: alongside her thorough investigation into modern reputation management, she takes care to offer proper, actionable advice for CEOs – at least, those willing to listen.
The best thing about this advice is that it’s refreshingly free of cynicism. Unlike several other (always tiresome) business books, The Playbook isn’t How to Win Friends and Influence People with a different dust jacket. It’s not about manipulating your customer base or “handling people”. The author knows from experience that a company’s public standing can’t be grafted on by a comms agency, and certainly isn’t something to toss at a marketing department and forget about entirely.
Her philosophy is simple: reputation should be “the essence of what your business does”. This isn’t to say the CEO should hand craft every tweet before embroidering it on a handkerchief, but it does mean that everyone in a business – from the janitorial staff to the boardroom – should be concerned with protecting the company’s status. Too often, core values are painted on a wall in reception, listed on the “About” section of your website, and not otherwise given a moment’s thought. Janson thinks they should be…well, actual core values. Principles you believe in and adhere to.
Saying you have integrity isn’t the same thing as having it, but many businesses are happy to do so regardless (the author cites News International and Tesco as two recent examples). They lose sight of the big picture, make their comms people perform busywork in the name of weekly, incremental (and ultimately meaningless) improvements, and act surprised when they walk into rep-shredding PR disasters. Per Janson, they haven’t asked themselves if their “processes align with [their] core values” – and they always suffer for it.
The Reputation Playbook is an energetic, cliché-resistant guide to the issues of reputation management that harm Fortune 500 companies and startups alike. Given the depth and volume of her research, it doesn’t hurt that it’s also an easy and enjoyable read. The author offers workable solutions to bone-deep PR problems, and invites both the aspiring entrepreneur and the battle-hardened CEO to ask vital questions of themselves.
At the same time, it prefers optimism to doom-and-gloom: where others treat social media as a minefield to navigate (or a snakepit to avoid entirely), Janson seems to see it as something that – without being a corporate policeman – can encourage businesses to become their best selves.
Towards the beginning of the Playbook, the author promises to “encourage you to think differently about your reputation” – by the end of it, you will.
By Jennifer Janson.
230pp. Harriman House. £28.99
The B2B PR Blog is a resource for both PR professionals and people working in B2B industries on how to devise and implement successful B2B PR campaigns. The blog is managed by B2B PR specialist Heather Baker, founder TopLine Comms, an inbound marketing, B2B content marketing agency and proud HubSpot partner agency and takes contribution from anyone sensible in the industry with something intelligent to say. Follow Heather on Twitter @TopLineFounder or contact the B2B PR Blog editorial team via email on [email protected].
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