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

In Brief: The Garden picks CDs to take on daily creative leadership

Plus, Naked names two new leaders of its own and Digital Ethos comes to Canada.

The Garden promotes two creative directors

ACDs Lindsay Eady and Francheska Galloway-Davis have taken over responsibility for day-to-day creative leadership at The Garden after being promoted to creative director roles.

The pair will also help develop the agency’s creative talent, formalizing mentorship and leadership activities they have been doing since joining the agency four and three years ago, respectively. In addition to creating the agency’s internship program, the pair have worked on campaigns for Coinsquare, FitTrack and “The Coke Challenge” campaign for DanceSafe.

Eady and Galloway-Davis will continue to report to The Garden’s co-founder and chief creative officer Shane Ogilvie, who is stepping back from daily creative duties to a more high-level strategic role, allowing him to focus on client relationships and business growth.

Naked Creative Consultancy names new creative and strategy leadership

Toronto’s Naked Creative Consultancy has hired Yasmin Sahni as its new creative director. She is taking over creative leadership from David Kenyon, who has been in the role for 10 years and is moving into a new role as director of strategy, leading the discipline at the agency.

Sahni is coming off of three years as VP and ECD at GTB’s Toronto office, where she managed all the retail, social and service creative for Ford Canada. She previously managed both Vice Media and Vice’s in-house ad agency Virtue.

Peter Shier, president of Naked, says Sahni’s hiring adds to its creative bench and capabilities, as well as a track record of mentorship, a priority for the company. Meanwhile, Kenyon’s move to the strategy side, he says, makes sense because of his deep knowledge of its clients, which have included Ancestry and The Globe and Mail.

Digital Ethos opens a Toronto office

U.K. digital agency Digital Ethos is pursuing new growth opportunities in North America by opening a new office in Toronto.

Though it didn’t disclose them, the agency has begun serving a number of North American clients, and CEO/founder Luke Tobin says the “time was right to invest in a more formal and actual presence in the area.” whose services include design, SEO, pay-per-click, social media, influencer and PR,

This year, the agency’s growth has also allowed it to open an office in Hamburg, Germany, though it also has remote staff working in countries around the world.

Moray Hickes was the company’s first North American hire as VP of sales, tasked with business development in the region.