Reputation PR: Definition, Strategies & Examples

The judgement is in on your PR reputation! A green cartoon gavel is pictured being stuck down against a green backdrop
The judgement is in on your PR reputation! A green cartoon gavel is pictured being stuck down against a green backdrop

There’s a lot that makes up a brand identity: logos, colors, typography, messaging, and packaging. Each of these plays a role in marketing, helping you differentiate your brand from another. But there’s another critical component of your brand that’s also used in marketing. It’s the single most powerful brand identity tool to make people advocate for and buy from you: reputation.

Your reputation is arguably your most valuable intangible asset. It helps you earn trust, increase your brand’s value, and even attract better job candidates. And just like you need to market your products and services to raise awareness and increase sales, you also need to market your reputation.

This type of “marketing” is called reputation PR. It allows you to take control of the narrative around your identity, help to shape people’s perceptions, and protect your image.

Here’s more on how reputation PR works and how you can put it to work for your brand.

Table of Contents

What is Reputation PR?

Reputation PR can be defined as proactively using public relations to protect or improve your online reputation. This is different from traditional PR in that it focuses solely on building a good reputation, not just getting your name mentioned in mainstream media.

Reputation management PR might include removing negative online articles about your brand, responding to online customer reviews, or using influencer marketing to build positive brand buzz, for example. Like corporate brand management, reputation PR requires ongoing proactivity and communication.

The Role of PR in Reputation Management

A natural part of managing your brand image includes keeping a finger on the pulse of your reputation. But, what is reputation, and what makes a good reputation?

What is reputation?

Your reputation is a collection of other people’s opinions about the things you say, do, and sell. Your employees, products, services, and even your community presence all help to shape your reputation. Every interaction a customer has with your company is an opportunity for your reputation to change (for better or worse).

Reputation management has become an even greater concern in the current digital climate. Things like fake news, digital scams from seemingly legitimate companies, and a spike in product recalls have made it critical for companies to earn and keep consumer trust. What’s more, bad press no longer dies with yesterday’s news. Digital content can live (and rank in search results) for years, making it harder for brand wounds to heal.

The role of PR in reputation management is to leverage public relations outlets and techniques to improve your image in the eyes of others.

A young gril sitting in front of a laptop holding a large smiley face poster above her head.

How Reputation PR Differs from Traditional PR

There’s a subtle yet important difference between traditional PR and reputation PR. Both are tools that can be used strategically to improve your reputation. But while traditional PR focuses largely on relationships with traditional media (think press release in The New York Times, etc.), reputation PR is all about online visibility.

The main goal with reputation PR is to reach as many people as possible with your message. You might launch a new marketing campaign with the goal of earning brownie points from your audience. Or, you might use search engine optimization strategies so that people see positive press when they Google your brand.

Reputation PR can also include traditional PR. For example, you might use your connections at a top publication to write a press release or hold a press conference.

Proactiveness is another difference between traditional PR and reputation PR. Brands that prioritize reputation PR are constantly monitoring the media so they can respond to any negativity almost as soon as it happens. Some companies even hire brand reputation managers to identify opportunities and prepare appropriate responses as they occur.

Knowing the difference between traditional PR and reputation PR is essential to your reputation management strategy. Because you’re not limited to traditional PR tactics, you have more opportunities to take control of your brand’s narrative.

Reputation PR Strategies that Lead to Success

Managing your reputation online can take many paths, depending on the catalysts driving your efforts. For example, you might take a different approach to crisis management than startups trying to earn consumer trust for the first time.

These reputation management strategies can help to guide your efforts:

Reclaim Ownership

You can’t control what others say about you. But you can take control over the conversation and get ahead of the situation.

This is exactly what KFC did when some of its restaurants experienced a chicken shortage. With no chicken to sell (unthinkable for a chicken-based restaurant), the company quickly released a “fowl-mouthed” apology with a full-page ad. The ad showed an image of its iconic striped bucket with the letters rearranged.

Understandably, customers were upset with the chain for having no chicken to sell. COVID supply chain disruptions created chicken shortages that affected the restaurant and many others. However, the brand's creative reputation PR plan helped to smooth things over by offering a humorous apology and taking ownership of the issue.

Behave with Purpose

Effective reputation PR strategies are deeply rooted in authenticity. Brand trust has been on the decline for years, according to the Gustavson Brand Trust Survey. And in the wake of COVID, brand scores have recently reached an all-time low.

Social Media Today reports that 90% of consumers say authenticity is a key factor when choosing which brands to support. They want companies to use real people in their advertising, have real conversations with consumers, and make a real difference in the world.

Authenticity as one of your reputation management strategies means showing the real human side of your brand. It’s not about making a stand or sharing a belief for the sake of marketing. Rather, it should naturally integrate with your business’s values and commitments to your customers.

Enlist the Help of Internal Influencers

Influencer marketing continues to be highly effective for brands, but there’s a new side of influencer marketing that needs to be explored.

Internal influencers are starting to carry more credibility than hired celebrities and paid social media actors. Influencers are essentially a client of the sponsoring company. Because of this, they can sometimes be seen as artificial, promoting only the products they’re paid for rather than the brands they really relate to and advocate.

What’s more, fake influencers abound and can take advantage of willing brands. Without influence over a real audience, they can drain your marketing budget and even damage your brand reputation.

A better approach is to look within your organization to find brand advocates. Using employees as content creators gives consumers a real look behind the brand. No one knows you better than your own people. Look for internal influencers at all levels of your brand. Find ways they can help you improve your communication and internal and external reputation.

Hire a PR Reputation Manager

Reputation management can be as easy as handing off the responsibility to a specialist. A corporate communications expert can help with everything from developing reputation PR strategies to executing those strategies to monitoring results, and everything in between.

There are various PR techniques that a PR manager or a PR firm may deploy to help you manage your reputation, but one of them will likely be social and media monitoring. Companies like Meltwater that specialize in social listening and media monitoring already have the tools, resources, and (most importantly) the time needed to present your brand in the right light. Using a solution like Meltwater, corporate communications experts can gauge how certain brand management tactics might affect public perception. This eliminates some of the guesswork regarding how to best manage your brand image.

Examples of Reputation PR Done Right

Now that you have a firm grip on what reputation PR is and why you need it, let’s look at examples of brands that got it right.

Nike Customer Support

Part of a brand’s reputation isn’t just about the issues that customers experience. It's also how the brand is prepared to manage those issues.

To connect with users that reached out to Nike on Twitter, Nike created a separate Twitter handle for customer support (it’s @NikeService, by the way).

From a reputation PR perspective, this move is genius for two reasons:

  • First and foremost, it gives customers a direct way to contact Nike and ensure their request is seen by the right people. This can speed up resolution which, in turn, can create happy, loyal customers.
  • And second, it means that these customer-related issues aren’t seen on Nike’s main Twitter page. People that engage with Nike’s main Twitter aren’t inundated with bad impressions of the brand, even if they’re not the ones experiencing issues.

Other brands can put this strategy to work, too. If you don’t have one already, set up a separate customer service channel on your social media profiles and make it easy for customers to get in touch.

Tide & Gronk

Remember the Tide Pod Challenge? What may have started as an online joke ultimately led to a PR nightmare for the laundry detergent brand. Teens filmed themselves eating the brightly colored Tide laundry pods, resulting in an average of one ER visit per day in 2012-2013.

In response, Tide partnered with the New England Patriot’s Rob Gronkowski to tweet a reminder that the pods were for laundry, not eating. Tide’s parent company, Procter and Gamble, also worked to have the Tide Pod Challenge videos removed from social media in an effort to stop the trend.

Gronk knows that Tide PODs are for DOING LAUNDRY. Nothing else.

What should Tide PODs be used for? DOING LAUNDRY. Nothing else. Eating a Tide POD is a BAD IDEA, and we asked our friend Rob Gronkowski -Gronk to help explain.

Posted by Tide on Friday, January 12, 2018

This was the very definition of public relations crisis management. The Tide Pod Challenge was an event that a brand could never have fathomed and was beyond its control. However, the company took ownership of the event by working to end it and prevent others from taking part. Quick communication was key and helped put Tide in a positive light.

Aerie

Not all reputation PR takes place because of negative press. Take Aerie, for example. The accessories and intimates brand of American Eagle launched the AerieREAL campaign to promote body positivity and inclusivity among its target audience – teens and younger Millennials – because the brand knew those were issues its audience cared about.

The brand brought authenticity to the campaign by hiring models of all sizes and skin tones, including some with beauty marks and tattoos. Aerie upheld its beliefs by becoming the first major retailer to sponsor the National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA).

NEDA Inspires Award 2015 - Aerie

The move has paid off in terms of financial performance. The company reported in March 2021 that sales had grown double digits for the 25th consecutive quarter.

Conclusion

Reputation PR takes focused, consistent effort. It requires becoming part of the conversation, good or bad, so that you can shape the perceptions of your audience.

Take ownership and respond in a timely manner when something negatively impacts your brand. But don’t only respond when things are going south. When you prioritize reputation PR when things are going really well, you can build equity in your reputation that will make future crises more manageable.

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