The article in the Economist What’s in a name – why companies should worry less about their reputation’  reminded me of a reputation management conference that I recently attended, hosted by the Quadriga University in Berlin. As the conference progressed, I remember wondering whether I was in fact attending the ‘spinning’ conference.

The conference was dominated by business, with some civil society representation. Reputation was addressed from different angles: which criteria matter most, how to work with different stakeholder groups, how to deal with crisis situations – how to advance your reputation, basically.

The real concentration was on how to leverage one’s reputation to serve the current business needs. Every tool out of the communications box was explored to safeguard ‘The Business’. Fundamental questions about the overall goal and values of the business were not really addressed. ‘Reputation to what end?’ was not explored.

Basically, this conference was designed to understand how to best ‘use’ reputation to keep ‘business-as-usual’ and on ‘how to spin your way out of a reputational crisis’.

Why was I surprised by many of the presentations? Why was I so surprised to observe how comfortable corporate communications professionals feel about using reputation for truly wrong business paths? It has only been three and half years since I left the corporate world myself to transition to the NGO sector to create a better world, so I should have remembered the speak, but I clearly had not.

Conference Berlin

"Photographer: Baumann Stephan

At the conference I presented the Greenpeace 2011 detox campaign and I challenged the audience to consider whether we, as communications professionals, are doing the right thing. I posed the question as to what is holding us back in applying the true basics of communications: make your reputation your reality. Isn’t it time to devote ourselves to authentic communications?

If anyway the truth is, as The Economist article states: that the best strategy may be to think less about managing your reputation and concentrate more on producing the best products and services, the task for communications professionals will be quite a different one from now on.

And if, as Saatchi’s CEO Kevin Roberts is pointing out ‘Marketing is dead‘: then it is clear to me that we need to work harder, much harder to change the way we conduct our communications. If RoI can indeed be ‘Return on Involvement’ (Kevin Roberts), then let’s change the name of our communications game! Who will join me?


  1. “Reputation to what end?” is a very good lead to pursue indeed. Compare this quote by Charles Fombrun of the Reputation Institute, taken from the (restricted) group discussion about The Economist on RI’s LinkedIn team room: “those of us providing strategic advice in this space have repeatedly stated that reputation is not an end in itself. Rather, reputation is an outcome of a process that connects a company’s value proposition and business model to what it stands for in its everyday behavior and actions.” One way to get the genie from the bottle during a reputation conference is to engage participants in a discussion about real sustainability. But communication officials will probably stay within their comfort zones as indeed many business executives would do. For them reputation is a tool for maximizing profits within their present enterprise paradigm which usually does not attribute equal value to all stakeholders.

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