Be wary of corporate reputation becoming a fetish rather than a strategy

Next to social media mania, “reputation management” is the latest engrossment in corporate communications. One of its tactical manifestations is achieving a high ranking on magazine lists of most admired companies or the best places to work. These rankings are thought to positively affect personnel recruiting, employee and shareholder morale, and even consumer affection for a company. And they may to some degree, in part because these lists have become self-fulfilling prophecies. The perception that lists matter has had the effect of making them matter.

To make such lists, companies often campaign expending significant resources to demonstrate that they excel in the various ranking criteria such as innovation, employee retention, social responsibility, and people management. This tends to reward the capacity to merchandize flashy attributes much in the same way that Ivy League college applicants are more likely to market themselves as future Nobel Peace Prize contenders versus the investment bankers they are more likely to become.

In a book I wrote with my longtime business partner John Weber, Damage Control, we were critical of BP’s “Beyond Petroleum” advertising campaign several years before the 2010 oil spill on the grounds that the company was posing as an alternative...

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Essay  reputation  reputation management  reputation risk 

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