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August 15, 2019

Warren Buffett famously said, "It takes 20 years to build a reputa­tion and five minutes to ruin it?" Who am I to disagree with Mr. Buffett? According to the Reputation Institute, in­tangible value-including corporate rep­utation-makes up 81 percent of  market value. This means a one-point increase in reputation yields a 2.6 percent increase in market cap, which translates into an aver­age of $1 billion.

However, corporate and financial com­municators know that if a company is going to market now, it doesn't have 20 years to build its reputation. With 24/7 media, glob­ally connected social networks and online marketplaces, investors, influencers, cus­tomers and employees can alter the percep­tion of a corporate brand in the blink of an eye.

As corporate reputation impacts valua­tion, communicators must close the gap between the reality of a company's current operational status and the  perceptions of key external stakeholders. And, the vast ar­ray of external influences can interfere with a company's ability to control its narrative. Given this, it's more important than ever for a company to use all the tools at its dis­posal. Where to begin?

It starts with storytelling. Financial and corporate communicators need to  build compelling narratives rooted in  data that show an obtainable goal, all to be measured by a roadmap that tracks a company's prog­ress. For all companies, financials are the obvious-and sometimes most critical­gauge of success. It's fairly straightforward: tell  your stakeholders what you're going to do: increase sales, control expenses and grow the bottom line; execute your plan; and then report back. Unfortunately, finan­cials are only one metric used to measure a company's success and not all companies are at the same moment in their lifecycle.

A narrative must go beyond the num­bers. Stakeholders must understand the vi­sion of the company; what are you trying to achieve beyond growth. Start-ups and early-stage companies too often default to, "We're a disruptor in an industry that has been stagnant for too long." Great, but what does that truly mean? Disruption has be­come a cliche. What are you really doing as a company? Solving the last mile of afford­able and efficient transportation; bringing life-saving preventative medicine to those most in need; providing connectivity and speed to rural populations? All of these are disruptive and  also  showcase achievable goals. Build a story that people can relate to, follow and rally behind. Now that you have your story and you know what your audience wants to  hear, you need to reach them where they are. Not every stakeholder is reading the same publication, visiting the same websites or even using the same social media channels. Your audience is as unique as you are. You need to understand how they consume in­formation. Whether it's a commentary in the Wall Street Journal or a thought lead­ership piece in The Atlantic or a listicle on BuzzFeed, make sure you're telling a consis­tent story that is relevant to the outlet's spe­cific audience. Ensure that you employ this approach through all your communications channels. While the appeal of a "third-par­ty" endorsement in earned media remains the  holy  grail for  many, it's  not  the  only means of connecting and  influencing key audiences.

Developing original content provides an opportunity to control the narrative, but it will also allow you to showcase your corpo­rate DNA. As mentioned, companies aren't solely evaluated by financials alone because corporate culture, management credibility and even likability are a part of intangible value. Original content highlighting cus­tomer success stories, community involve­ment and corporate evolution can engage stakeholders in ways companies never dreamed possible 20 years ago. Go ahead, show off your creativity and bring your sto­ry to life. Make sure you stay true to your brand and remain relevant in the eyes of your key audience.

Finally, and possibly most importantly, the role of communications isn't solely the responsibility of the CEO, executive team or communications professionals. I'm not suggesting you move the responsi­bility from the top of the organization. That would be ridiculous! I am, however, sug­gesting that there needs to be a top-down and bottom-up strategy.

The CEO and executive team remain the primary source of information, consis­tently conveying the  corporate narrative during every interaction including media interviews, conferences, investor meetings, employee townhalls and customer engage­ment.

Additionally, employees from all levels must be involved in the external communications approach; they're a company's most valuable asset. When they believe in a com­pany's vision, mission and purpose, they'll be brand ambassadors and help close the gap  between inaccurate external percep­tions and internal realities. It's important to provide employees with the training and tools that adequately equip them to advo­cate for a brand. They're on the frontlines, speaking with customers, partners and colleagues daily. If  they're not  properly trained, they can inadvertently be the cause of  the  spread of  disin­formation.

Additionally, compa­nies must create social media guardrails and provide the tools for online employee ad­vocacy programs that will afford their brand the opportunity to dra-matically increase their Ryan Barr reach. Not only is their reach broader and highly relevant, the cost to implement employee advocacy programs is a fraction of advertising. There's no rea­son for your number-one asset to be side­lined. Get them in the game.

Closing the gap that exists between per­ception and reality is critical to preserv­ing corporate reputation and maximizing shareholder value. Remember to  build a narrative rooted in data and designed with purpose; understand your audiences to en­sure relevance and reach them where they are; and deploy a holistic communications approach that empowers employees to be advocates and  stand aligned with  execu­tives. Follow this blueprint and you won't need 20 years to build your reputation.

 

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