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

Zulu grows its team and makes a slate of promotions

A director of interactive production for Zulubot is among dozens of new faces and roles at the agency, in response to recent wins.
Zulu Alpha Kilo_New Zuligans

Toronto indie shop Zulu Alpha Kilo had made several new hires and promotions on the heels of new business and also organic growth from existing clients.

Zulu could not officially announce the account wins at this time.

However, it can report that Ece Inan, most recently at Toronto design and tech shop Array of Stars, has been named the agency’s new director of interactive production for Zulubot, the agency’s production arm. In the new role, Inan will lead AR, VR, voice and other digital innovation projects.

Also on the production side, James Graham, who has spent the last 17 years with Grip, has joined the agency as its studio director.

Zulu has also made numerous additions on the client services side, led by Michael Brathwaite, also from Grip, as account director.

It’s also announced a spate of new account supervisors, including Hayley Blackmore (from G Adventures), Risa Kastelic (from BT/A), Kara Oddi (also from BT/A), Emily Anzarouth (also from Grip), Chris Rosario (from FCB/Six) and Sarah Shiff (from Rethink).

In addition to the new hires (pictured above), the agency has also announced several promotions: Alyssa Guttman moves from account director to group account director, while Nina Bhayana, Michelle Fournier, Jenn Gaidola-Sobral and Erin McManus have all been promoted to account director, and Haley Holm to account supervisor. On the strategy team, strategists Carly Miller and Spencer MacEachern have both been promoted to strategy director, while Shaunagh Farrelly, who has been with Zulu for two years in a client service role, moves into a new role as a digital strategist.

In December, the shop also announced that Stephanie Yung would be returning to the agency after a stint in New York as its head of design. Recent wins the agency has been able to announce including work as AOR for the Ottawa Senators, as well as a new arrangement with existing client Consonant Skincare, setting up an in-house team to support growth after taking an equity stake in the company.

Zulu president Mike Sutton says it’s wonderful, in a new year, to welcome new faces and energy to the team and says the agency is fortunate to have had so many people across the agency step up to support its clients.

“Simply put, they were rock stars, and the promotions are very well deserved,” Sutton says.