Web impacting corporate reputation

Jane Langdon, APR, is president of Toronto-based Langdon Starr Ketchum - the Canadian partner of Ketchum, a leading global communications firm. In senior management circles, corporate reputation is today considered the holy of holies. However, it is also a commodity...

Jane Langdon, APR, is president of Toronto-based Langdon Starr Ketchum – the Canadian partner of Ketchum, a leading global communications firm.

In senior management circles, corporate reputation is today considered the holy of holies. However, it is also a commodity that has come under increasing attack from many quarters – the most significant of which, by far, is the Internet.

In a new economic landscape, where customer and shareholder loyalty are shifting, the reputation of an organization has a direct link to share value. So it’s no surprise that senior managers have recognized the importance of what’s being said about their companies – and by whom.

Two years ago, a study conducted by Ketchum’s global corporate practice noted a correlation between what mainstream print and broadcast media are saying about a company, the state of its reputation and its share price. It seems reasonable to assume that the same correlation exists when you factor information exchanged via the Net into this equation.

Use of the Internet is increasing all the time, across all age groups. The primary reason that users cite for going online is to do research and gather information – and that includes information about corporations. One recent study, reported in Newsweek, found that 60% of respondents turned to the Internet when they wanted to learn more about a company.

With the volume of information online doubling every six to seven months, and traffic doubling every three months, the Internet is creating a fundamental shift in the way organizations interact with their publics.

Through the Internet, anyone with a gripe against your company can potentially reach hundreds of thousands of people. For all of about $150, an individual can register a domain name and put together a ‘rogue’ Web site – essentially, an online platform for criticism and complaint about a company or other organization. Wondering if your business is the target of a rogue site? Just try typing in yourcompanynamesucks.com and see if anything comes up.

Rogue Web sites aren’t illegal; they’re protected under free speech legislation. So the traditional corporate response has been litigation, citing trademark infringement. But legal action may bring more unwanted publicity than is worth the price. And there is actually a great deal of learning that can be gained from rogue Web sites. Smart companies are monitoring what’s being said on these sites, and putting response mechanisms in place.

There are also a great many ‘advocacy’ sites out there, generally created by organizations critical of the business community and the way they conduct themselves. These organizations often become key players in controversial public issues.

Some advocacy sites worth keeping an eye on include Corporate Watch (www.corpwatch.org), an online magazine and resource centre designed to provide the public with tools for investigating and analyzing corporate activity, and Essential Action (www.essential.org), a search engine for more than 40 activist groups, which was created to alert activists to current international campaigns and other activities.

Your company name may also come up in online newsgroups (sometimes called message boards, bulletin boards, forums or discussion groups), which are areas on the Internet where members can post electronic messages for others to read and respond to at their leisure. It’s a good idea to monitor relevant newsgroups and post replies to comments about your company – perhaps even directing users to a response page on your corporate site. Chat rooms and discussion forums, in which participants talk online in real time, may also warrant monitoring.

Another ominous possibility is sabotage of your site, involving the use of ‘meta tags.’ Essentially, these are words hidden in a Web page that can be read by a search engine. Anyone using a search engine to try to locate your site can find themselves transported instead to another, unauthorized page, such as a porn site.

So is the world talking about you online?

Companies that want to know can either do the monitoring in-house, or hire an outside service.

Doing it yourself has the obvious benefit of providing ‘real life’ knowledge, but can prove time-consuming and ineffective if you’re relying on search engines. Specialized services may represent a more efficient solution. The Web Sentinel, for example, is a Canadian company offering a wide range of Internet information management services, including the monitoring and analysis of online editorial coverage, online advertising and copyright and trademark protection. Bryan Minnes, managing partner for The Web Sentinel, says the company rewrites its software on a monthly basis in order to keep up with changes on the Net.

Companies must consider the Web carefully when developing an issues management and corporate reputation plan. That’s a sentiment you’ll hear many of my colleagues echo. In one recent speech, for example, Bruce MacLellan of Environics described the Web as an ‘accelerator and multiplier’ of information: News spreads rapidly in the medium, and containment is next to impossible.

So be warned: With an estimated 500 new Web pages being created every second, the impact of the Internet on corporate reputation is only going to increase.

Also in this report:

* Dot-coms put best face forward: PR playing a larger role in communication strategies of online enterprises p.B2

* Branding dot-coms with PR poses challenges: Companies must resist impulse to move too quickly, or to shift positioning constantly p.B4

* PR meets investor relations: Disciplines converging in high-tech world p.B5

* High-tech PR expertise in short supply p.B6

* PR firms must show creativity in hiring p.B7

From Karen Howe’s dining table: Creativity, COVID and Cannes

ICYMI, The Township's founder gathers the best of the best campaigns and trends so far.

Cannes Base Camp

By Karen Howe

I’m attending Cannes from the glory of my dining room table. There’s not a palm tree in sight, yet inspiration and intel are present in abundance.

Cannes Lions is a global cultural pulse check. The social course correction in the wake of the murder of George Floyd and BLM has delivered far greater diversity in the judging panels as well as the work. And we are all better for it.

I’m proud to say that creativity defeated COVID, which speaks to its power. Great work and big ideas flourished, despite unimaginable odds.

The work from the past two years spans a vast emotional range. From the profundity of Dove’s “Courage is Beautiful” to the hyper exuberance of Burberry’s “Festive,” they are opposite ends of the spectrum, but each answered a need in us.

Take note, the ascendency of gaming cannot be understated. Smart brands have embraced the channel. It makes sense, because gamers participate to meet others around the world, not just to play. And they represent a huge and powerful community. That’s why QSR Wendy’s gamified their iconic gal in RPG’s Feast of Legends.

Burger King sponsored the unknown Stevenage Football Club, transforming the team into online heroes and vaulting BK into the fray at the same time. Once again, the brand embedded itself in culture.

The birth of gaming tourism arrived when Xbox snuggled up to travel guides and created a brilliant baby: a travel guide for gaming worlds. It, too, embedded itself in culture.

From the standpoint of social good, Reporter Without Borders showed how it worked with Mindcraft for its “Uncensored Library” to bypass press censorship, with Minecraft providing a loophole to a space where young people could be educated. It provided youth with a powerful tool to fight oppression: truth.

COVID changed us in unexpected ways. We learned how to pay attention again and there was a notable lack of 30-second commercials. Instead, longer format content thrived. Apple’s WFH was seven minutes long. Entertainment reigned king, so we find ourselves returning to our advertising roots.

Seeing competitive brands form partnerships was one of this year’s other great surprises. The brilliantly simple “Beer Cap Project” by Aguila to reduce binge-drinking saw the brand reach out to competitive beers to join in. Aguila put incentivizing (keyword: free) reminders to drink water, eat food and get home safely on its bottle caps from all sorts of fast food chains, ride-share co’s and H2O brands.

On a personal level, I’m so proud of Canada again this year. Given that it was two years of work from all over the world being judged, even making the Cannes shortlist was an accomplishment. Canada is herding in the Lions in tremendous numbers – and it’s not even over. Fingers are crossed.

KAREN-HOWE-PIC-higher-rez-300x263Karen Howe is a Canadian Cannes Advisory Board Member and founder of The Township Group