Words build and words can destroy reputation

Why a return to good newsletters is essential in today’s increasingly critical world

Reputation management is becoming a multi-billion euro industry as environmental concerns raise the temperature on ethics and the internet snoops into every cranny of a public individual or corporates life. It’s an industry that although politicians are aware of it, most are failing dismally at even ascending the bottom rungs of the reputation ladder.

Political leaders from England to the United States, South Africa to Zimbabwe are covered in mud but for isolated examples. The global financial meltdown is seeing yesterday’s corporate heroes, topple and evaporate. As times get tougher the pressure on reputation is going to intensify.

Shakespeare’s Richard the Third mused that, “the purest treasure mortal times afford is spotless reputation; that away, men are but gilded loam or painted clay.”

The measures of reputation from Forbes list born in 1983, to corporate governance, environmental impact assessments, the Equator principles and many more continue to grow. In “The only way you measure character is by reputation,” Coca Cola’s long time chairman Robert Goizueta used to say, he should know under his 16-year-leadership Coke consistently ranked in the top three of corporate reputation leaders.

But reputation is fragile, today’s hero often becomes tomorrow’s embarrassment as politics show again and again. But even in corporate life reputation is hard to maintain, in 1972, as an example, IBM, General Motors and Sears were among the world’s six most valuable companies, 20 years later they ranked 206, 268 and 300 respectively on the Forbes rating of corporate reputations. They would come to mind of very few asked to name the companies they most respect today.

Fortune says that reputation defines a company and motivates people – everyone wants to work for the best, but too, the best often reach the top because they treat customers and staff so well.

Charles Fombrun in his book, Reputation, suggests that, “to manage reputation is to insist on building closer ties between staff groups and to exploit the latent commonalities of interest that they share” within those commonalities, Fombrun suggests lays the motherlode of reputational capital.

Reputational capital is intangible, one most often realises how valuable it really is once it has been lost. Fombrun suggests that reputational management has created a layer of service industries such as consulting firms, law, investment banks, hospitals and universities that provide ‘credence goods’, he says, “their most valuable services are intangible.”

And so too is the value of that much abused medium, the corporate newsletter. In a world where reputation is developed, maintained and enhanced by communication, especially written information, the newsletter is an essential tool to communicate with staff, clients, shareholders and investors.

Too often the company newsletter is left to a junior staff member with no skills in gathering information, nor writing, editing or layout experience and so the company image is left in the hands of someone who may watch Survivor as an intellectual exercise.

Serious companies understand that nothing quite beats the authenticity of paper and while an email gets scanned and deleted, the printed word lingers.

Our skills training course, “Key Elements of Successful Newsletters” sees mid-level support staff assigned to this exciting challenge go through two days where they learn everything from design to typography, text devices, size, texture, colour, value, space, rhythm and movement, balance, writing, editing and proofing, planning your schedule and budget, developing ideas and sources, printing and distribution, as well as e-newsletters among others.

Good newsletters are those that deliver a fast read in crisp English and deliver pertinent information. They usually have high credibility because most don’t carry advertising and are targeted at a very tightly niched community, for example, the clients of a retail outlet, contractors for an underfloor heating company or insurance brokers.

E-newsletters have gained in popularity but still tend to have lower readership than printed newsletters reliant as they are on bandwidth, server speed, capacity of individuals to read, a lower capacity for graphic material and a reluctance by many individuals to read screeds of material on the web or emails. PDF files, if used, may take longer to download and be seen as an extra click nuisance by some.

The best newsletters are timely, engaging especially at a personal level, they carry important information perhaps statistics or new research which ensures people read each new edition and file them. People respond to the views of respected peers and news about people they may know, newsletters often offer a personal glimpse at an organisation or people within it.

Encourage feedback, readers like to know that their views are respected.

Transparency, being prepared to consult, engaging with criticism in a positive manner and in keeping your workforce and clients abreast of new developments and challenges are key to reputation development and management and little is better to begin with than an effective newsletter.

Liza van Wyk is CEO of BizTech, a Johannesburg-based training organisation for administrative and business support staff, email liza@biztech.co.za or go to www.biztech.co.za (011 453 5291 cell: 082 466 8975)

Issued by MediaOnLine 011 646 7637 or mediaonline@global.co.za