This post is courtesy of Alan Towers and originally appeared on PRWeek.
March 8, 2013
Barclays' new CEO made it clear: Protecting the global bank's reputation is his priority. So more than 100,000 Barclays employees are undergoing training to align their behavior with CEO Antony Jenkins's agenda. Compensation supports the program by rewarding those who embrace a new corporate culture, while marketing staffers who question the new values are being encouraged to leave.
A blistering rate-rigging scandal brought these and other changes to Barclays, including shuttering or shrinking profitable operations that exposed the bank to reputation risks.
Similar cross-function programs designed to rebuild reputation at companies emerging from or facing crisis have been used at Walmart, BP, Citigroup, and Toyota. News Corporation, Johnson & Johnson, and Goldman Sachs appear to have taken some of the same steps as Barclays to rebuild their post-crisis reputations.
Although public relations has managed traditional reputation work, influence in reputation recovery programs is shifting to other corporate functions. Executives responsible for compensation, training, culture, strategy, and risk assessment are now playing key roles in reputation change. The risk here is that PR will retain responsibility for media relations, public affairs, and perhaps internal communications. But it won't keep oversight of the entire program, making a policy role less likely.
There's no question communications and media relations are essential in reputation and crisis management. Taco Bell's communications gets much of the credit for defusing a looming 2011 crisis when a plaintiff charged its meat was really something else. The company's factual response was so comprehensive the suit was promptly dropped.
Following furious media attacks against Goldman Sachs during the financial crisis, Jake Siewert, Goldman's top communications officer, has artfully humanized the firm through CEO Lloyd Blankfein, and shored up the investment bank's stature.
There will always be demand for skilled communications executives. But PR people seeking responsibility in multi-function reputation programs will have to develop additional skills if they expect to lead.
To understand the differences in the two careers paths, it helps to envision a wagon wheel with a hub and radiating spokes. In the new model, which I call “repucentric,” many corporate functions participate in reputation management, including HR, risk management, PR, IR, strategy, marketing, law, government affairs, and the board of directors.
Only one function can be at the center. And since repucentric programs require diverse skills, the traditional PR function may be too narrow to lead, putting it at risk of becoming a spoke.
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