By Jenny Fujita and Joy K. Miura, Fujita & Miura Public Relations

Last year, homemaker extraordinaire, Martha Stewart, elicited warm fuzzy feelings. Today, in the midst of the corporate scandals with Enron, Arthur Andersen, and WorldCom, even Martha Stewart’s reputation has suffered amidst speculation regarding insider trading. Consumers are stepping back to scrutinize corporate America. In turn, businesses are looking to one of public relations’ cornerstones, reputation management.

Businesses are “focusing more on reputation management than at the height of the dot-com boom, when it was all about sales and products, and general respect for business was much higher,” stated Patty Farrell, KVO senior vice president and head of the agency’s corporate leadership practice. “Everybody’s business was booming; it was a different kind of communication then. Now there are reputation challenges, in addition to the financial crisis that brought about the recession.”

Reputation management concerns every company and means building up your business’ character in the eyes of your publics (customers, employees, stockholders, vendors, surrounding community, etc.). Strategic reputation management can prevent, or help you survive crisis, through good planning and being proactive.

Think of it as a fire drill. Openly and honestly consider your business’ weak points. Where and how could fires start? Next, develop a plan. Where are the fire exits and how do we get everyone out alive? Install fire alarms and sprinklers, know your local firefighters on a first-name basis, and give a donation to the fire department. Build a treasure chest of credibility with your key publics to lessen the effects of difficult times. Perfect practice makes perfect. Run your staff through simulations to prepare if a crisis hits. Be constantly vigilant that your business affairs and operations are in order, that your business actions are driven by the highest ethical standards, and that all of your publics are on the same page. An ounce of prevention…you know the rest.

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