HM Insights

Your reputation precedes you – so how do you protect it?

Whenever anyone mentions reputation management, thoughts immediately turn to celebrities. We never really stop to think that we all have a reputation.

Not only that, but it’s a reputation worth nurturing; it’s a reputation worth managing; and it is most definitely a reputation worth protecting. Whether you are an individual, a sole trader, an entrepreneur, a small business, a director, the CEO of a multinational corporation, or the rich and famous, your reputation precedes you. With that in mind, here are some thoughts on putting your best foot forward.

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Bringing online in line

Reputation and brand are synonymous. You spend a significant proportion of your time building up your brand which in turn builds your reputation, and vice versa. Both have the ability to be everywhere and that is largely down to one thing - the internet.

As soon as anyone whips out their mobile phone, types your name into a search engine, there you are: literally and metaphorically in the palm of that person’s hands.

Take that new supplier you are thinking about using or the potential employee’s CV you are reading or the restaurant you are thinking about going to this evening. You Googled them, right? Of course you did. And you probably found a number of hits including a plethora of information on social media accounts. The important question though is whether the results of your internet search impacted upon your ultimate decision?

Taking the number one slot in the modern day guide to reputation management is ensuring your online presence is in order.

It’s a sobering thought that many decisions are now made based on what is read online. Disgruntled customers, ex-employees, competitors, even. The internet has given everyone a platform to voice their views, good, bad or indifferent, so if you decide to put yourself out there you have to bear in mind that you have no real veto-at-source option. Even if adverse posts are taken down quickly, someone somewhere will have read them before being removed.

So much information is now available on the internet that your business could thrive or barely survive as a result of what is posted online. Make sure it is the former. Take steps to recognise as early as possible where there may be potential threats to your reputation and, once identified, take legal advice on how to manage – or better still, defuse - those threats as best as possible. Depending on the threat, a strongly worded legal letter might do the trick, but if not, then we can certainly go to court and obtain that court order for you.

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Dealing with a mess – reputation management

“Well, here’s another fine mess you’ve gotten me into”, said Oliver Hardy to Stan Laurel.

Whatever the mess you find yourself in, active reputation management is needed. Nobody has a working crystal ball but it is important to take a step back to see the bigger picture in order to assess the longer term effect on your reputation.

If you feel you are too close to the situation to remain objective, then a fresh pair of eyes will always help. Sometimes the mess is just so messy that it would be prudent to consider an independent review of the situation so professional advice can be invaluable.

Take Maria Sharapova. She has an exceptional talent for hitting a ball across the net. That talent has won her a loyal fan base, secured lucrative sponsorship deals, and turned her into a multi-million pound business. You might ask why has she jeopardised all of that by admitting to the taking of a banned substance? (The proverbial horse has bolted, but we all know the real question is why did she jeopardise all of that by taking it in the first place?)

The decision to admit is no knee-jerk reaction on her part. This is reputation management in action. Her advisers will have spent considerable time coming to the conclusion that honesty is the best policy in this situation and they will have put in place a plan of action. This is damage limitation.

Only time will tell if her admission will be enough to secure a more lenient punishment or salvage her off-court reputation, but she is in a better position now having taken the bull by the horns and actively managed the situation rather than let the uncertainty and speculation play out in public via the media.

In a world of 24hr media, we’re always on the clock

A final thought is this. Generally speaking, when your workforce clock off for the day, what they get up to is not really your concern. However, neither you nor your workforce should forget that you are all walking, talking brand ambassadors for your business.

So, when any extra-curricular activity impacts upon the reputation of your business – for better or for worse - then it absolutely becomes your business’s business.

Positive activities can maximise your reputation. It is, however, important to have ground rules on what is absolutely not acceptable. In managing your reputation, are your policies fully up to date and do your staff handbooks contain the right words to help you manage and protect your business’s reputation?

Policies need to be reviewed regularly to take into consideration social and legal changes. What was acceptable behaviour several years ago when your policies were written might no longer be suitable in today’s world. Prevention is always better than cure, but finding and administering that cure is always easier when you have the necessary and relevant tools to do so.

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At Harper Macleod we have one of the largest teams of dispute resolution solicitors in Scotland - a breadth of litigation expertise which sets us apart. Working out of our main offices in Edinburgh, Glasgow and Inverness, we represent individuals, businesses and organisations in every sector.

When it comes to resolving disputes, we work hard to understand what matters to you and how you would define success. Then we fight hard to ensure you achieve it.

Find out more about how we can help you