Topic: Industry

Reputation Industry

Public Relations and Reputation Management 0

Public relations and Reputation Management

PR and Reputation Management

Public Relations (PR) is evolving into a multi-disciplinary subject that is best termed “Reputation Management”. We believe that reputation is a vital determinant of sustainability in the modern business environment. We take the view that PR, as a single discipline, is no longer able to adequately shape a firm’s reputation, which by its complex nature requires a strategic, holistic and organic approach.

Reputation Management is a capability, not a function per se, and this approach is reflected in our training. Reputation is becoming a core business function that influences strategic decisions about the direction of a business and how it should be communicating with stakeholders. Reputation is an outcome of the collective opinion of others and it can only be “managed” by ensuring that what is promised is delivered and that brands keep themselves innovative and agile.

No organization, irrespective of its size or operation, is now immune from economic or other global threats. The view that the conventional approach to managing reputation should be broadened to include a basic geopolitical understanding of threats.

 

Reputation Management

What is the purpose of a business? According to Peter Drucker, “the purpose of a business is to create a customer.” Such a statement makes good sense as without customers there can be no functional business. Essentially if the purpose of any business is to fulfill some human need within society, then that business, whatever its nature, should take an active interest in its own reputation as a way of securing its future prospects. Central to building and defending a sound organizational reputation is the capability to be proactive and to recognize and evaluate potential and ongoing risks (issues). Legitimacy and transparency are at the heart of issues management and whether the messages developed and delivered through corporate communications are credible to stakeholders. If reputation can be viewed as a form of assessment of a corporation’s behavior and performance, then understanding and identifying risks and issues that may at a later stage damage this value asset, must be an active part of any reputation management structure and process.

“Reputations have to be continually earned and reviewed, and as such, need continuous monitoring and attention.”

The economic advantage of reputation is well established, but the issue of correlations and causation are not always as clear. Evidence does exist to show a link between good reputation and financial performance, but the issue is replete with complexities and variables. What is not in doubt is that as an asset, reputation is vital to the sustainability and growth potential of most brands. Within a market economy signalling a good reputation is important for customers as they have incomplete information and must make valued judgements when considering brands and comparing them against competitors. Those companies that have consistent behavior and communicate their values are more likely to be trusted, making them less of a risk for customers’ decision making.

We are witnessing the era of a reputation economy, whereby economic sustainability is based less on what you claim (typically through mass media) and more on what you actually do i.e. your accountability and consistent delivery of brand promise.

As previously mentioned, reputations count at both the individual and organizational level, and the evidence mounts to show the correlation between reputation and financial performance. Furthermore, business surveys constantly show that organizations list erosion or loss of their reputation as one of their most worrying risks. Like change, reputation cannot really be “managed” per se, just guided and directed. So the term “Reputation Management” is a little misleading in so far as a reputation does not actually reside within the organization but lies outside in the collective opinions and judgements of others.

 

What Is Reputation?

In a word, trust. However, given its amorphous nature, it is hardly surprising that no universally accepted definition exists. Professor Fombrun, CEO of the Reputation Institute, defines reputation as a “collective assessment of an organization’s past actions and results that describes the organization’s ability to deliver valued outcomes to multiple stakeholders.” In its various perspectives and interpretations, reputation centers on the following common elements:

  • A collective representation based on stakeholders’ opinions;
  • An aggregate evaluation that stakeholders make about how well an organization meets its customer needs based on current and past actions;
  • A holistic impression of a person or company based over time; it can be negative, neutral or positive;
  • A form of assessment, whereby an organization’s performance is judged in the context of its past and current behavior.

As a critical intangible, reputation is rather like modern medicine – it is increasingly evidence-based and focuses on prevention and understanding of root causes and changing vital behaviors.

 

Basic Rules for Sound Reputation

  1. Have reliable and credible products/services: Even with the most sophisticated social marketing and influence, people expect some basic quality and consistency in their brand experiences.
  2. Understand your values and mission: Establish core values and a clear mission and make sure all employees understand them. Brands are increasingly focusing on their values and higher order purpose. It is not enough just to sell a product/service; many brands, such as Dove, do better if they also project their values. Linked to values and a clear mission, is having the right ethical environment and the appropriate supporting culture.
  3. Be prepared to admit faults and correct them: Transparency is now expected from brands and organizations. Past public relations practice would try to cover up or re-frame a problem in the hope of mitigating negative outcomes. Today, companies are realizing the value of openly acknowledging mistakes and making public attempts to rectify them. Although one cannot be too naive about such an approach, remedying a fault can generate good reputational equity so long as it does not become too frequent an occurrence!
  4. Develop an effective social media strategy: Social networks are becoming complex Eco-systems, connected to a variety of platforms, which are increasingly mobile. Social media is generating a need to develop social influencing skills, whereby you talk – not at your customers but by providing them with a chance to participate and engage with your brand. Having a presence on Facebook and YouTube, and communicating and providing a brand voice through Twitter are essential, not optional. Brands such as Coca-Cola, Pepsi, Nike and P&G have all developed successful social media strategies and in the case of P&G, Open Source innovation strategies.
  5. Ensure that your structures and operations/processes are “fit for purpose”: Structure versus strategy is an established debate in business but nonetheless it is vital that an organization has the correct internal structures, teams and employee engagement mechanisms to deliver the given strategy. Even the best intentions to build a first rate company with an exceptional reputation will soon become just another great idea unless the correct framework is in place to achieve it.
  6. Have a credible CSR strategy: Corporate sustainability is now becoming mainstream and corporations have to be mindful of their social and environmental accountability and responsibilities.
  7. Good customer/brand experience: Brands must engage audiences and provide them with an enjoyable and memorable brand experience, thereby converting social influence into brand equity.  You only have to look at a commodity, such as the coffee bean and look at brands such as Starbucks and Costa Coffee to see how a commodity can be made into a genuine brand experience.
  8. Have a strong brand identity and clear positioning: Strong identity and position is the cornerstone of good branding and reputation. Brands such as Coca-Cola, Apple, Target, JCB, and Nike have powerful identities and brand positions.
  9. Be adaptable and innovative: The brand Apple has a good reputation because they not only produce great products, but because they constantly innovate and adapt their brands to the market. By focusing on second order capabilities such as how best to adapt and change, businesses can be sustained and are less vulnerable to disruptive technologies or market/regulatory forces. All of this requires up-to-date and appropriate business models that will make the business competitive and in-tune with how to generate income streams form a variety of sources. Amazon and Lego are good examples of business models that are highly agile and appropriately exploiting changes in the market.
  10. Have an effective intelligence or “radar”: To stay ahead of the reputation game, you must have an intelligence or radar system that detects signals. Companies must now try and anticipate strategic directions through effective risk and issue management systems that inform them of threats and opportunities.
  11. Have a well-developed crisis management plan: A critical part of crisis management is pre-crisis planning, which has direct links to risk and issue analysis. Being well-prepared for a crisis can shorten recovery time and lessen reputational damage.
  12. Have effective stakeholder engagement and communications strategies: A basic tenet of modern PR and reputation management is that you must not only engage stakeholders, i.e. the ones that are involved in buying and selling your goods/services, but you must also engage with your detractors, regulators and a long trail of stakeholders who can affect your brand. Stakeholder engagement is a management skill that cannot be underestimated or ignored. Shareholder return and investor relations must be given priority so long as one does not lose sight of the very factors that help generate them in the first instance. Shareholder return is not a strategy, it is an outcome, and must be understood in those terms.
  13. Have a solid brand narrative: The development of a narrative or organizational story is an important and effective reputation tool. Story-telling is an ancient technique of communication that is associated with archetypes. Many brands play on the Jungian notion of archetypes, such as Harry Potter (magician), Harley Davidson (rebel, outlaw), Nike (hero), IBM (ruler).

 

Reputation Management Is More than Shareholder Return

Most company declines are failures of performance and the origins of most failures lie in small incremental errors that mount up over time without people seeing their potential to cause damage later on.

Arguments have surfaced since the collapse of the capital markets in 2008 that have questioned the primacy of shareholder return as opposed to satisfying customers’ needs. Jack Welsh in the Financial Times in March 2009 said that “On the face of it, shareholder value is the dumbest idea in the world”. He also stated that “Shareholder value is a result, not a strategy.” There is little doubt that shareholder value is over-stated and thinking, post-2008, has focused on areas that help provide shareholder return: brand equity, customer loyalty and satisfaction, good product and service provision, strong risk and issue analysis and regulatory compliance. Many firms, such as Research in Motion (Blackberry) J&J and P&G have all adopted strategies that are primarily customer-focused, which, they argue, is the best way to produce dividends.

Link to shareholder return is the important issue of Socially Responsible Investment (SRI). Social responsibility and community investment are now huge areas of investor relations, with trillions of dollars being traded and invested in ethical funds. Corporations whose businesses involve alcohol, tobacco, gambling, pornography and arms trading are typically screened out from ethical portfolios. The purpose of SRI funds is to promote environmental stewardship, human rights, consumer protection and socially responsible business practices.

The message is simple: corporations can no longer just focus on profits without accountability. With few exceptions, businesses are pushed towards being environmentally and socially responsible and paying more attention to what makes brand equity grow in the first place, on the understanding that shareholder return will increase as a consequence.

 

The Emergence of Reputation Management as a Discipline

In the author’s opinion, Reputation Management is a holistic discipline, which is a synthesis of a number of largely independent, yet connected, disciplines:

  • Strategic risk and issue management
  • Corporate social responsibility (CSR)
  • Assurance, audit & regulatory compliance
  • Crisis management
  • Investor relations
  • Systems thinking and knowledge management
  • Online monitoring and SEO
  • Leadership

As an amorphous, inter-disciplinary concept, reputation cannot really be managed, but can be guided in a certain direction by continuous monitoring of its environment (environmental scanning). Good reputations can be sustained more readily if risk and issues are properly analyzed and, where possible, acted upon.

 

Confusion of Terminology

As a complex construct, reputation must be understood at different levels, which in themselves are not mutually exclusive:

  • Brand/product reputation: Reputation of the brand or specific product/service – especially relevant to product brands such as those in the FMCG sector, e.g. shampoo
  • Organizational or corporate reputation: The reputation of the whole organization e.g. Timberland. According to Barnett et al in the Corporate Reputation Review1, corporate reputation is defined as “observers’ collective judgements of a corporation based on assessments of the financial, social and environmental impacts attributed to the corporation over time”. The term “corporate reputation” increasingly refers to an organization as a single entity and not as a sub or individual brand. It is the term “corporate reputation” that has gained prominence, most probably because of the increasing use of the term “corporate communications”.
  • Industry reputation: Reputation of the general sector or industry as a whole e.g. the financial services industry.
  • Reputational capital: The measure of an organization’s reputational value based on the sum of strategic corporate assets: patents, trademarks, processes, trust and integrity etc. Reputational capital focusing on stakeholders’ views of the brand and how these affect shareholders return in particular.

Corporate Reputation Review, Volume 9, Number , 26-36: Corporate Reputation: The Definitive Landscape

 

Having a Good Reputation Is Not Always Enough

Reputation in its own right is not always enough to save a company from decline: a corporation can have an excellent reputation, but a disruptive technology or swift competitor innovation can damage its market share. Historical examples include Olivetti and Encyclopedia Britannica. Both were highly respected brands and yet neither adapted well to the impact of technology. In Olivetti’s case it was the growing numbers of word processors from the mid-1980s, and in Encyclopedia Britannica’s case, it was failure to exploit the growth of online encyclopedias and new models of creating and editing content, such as Wikipedia. The lesson: failure to adapt and innovate is now a greater threat to a business, even if a sound reputation is in place. Although external, mostly economic factors are some of the greatest risks faced by a corporation, internal failures combined with poor positioning and marketing, cash flow problems, and inability to control costs are typically the key nails in the corporate coffin.

 

Sources of Online Reputation Risk

  • Management decisions; many crises are the result of poor management decisions
  • Unacceptable employee behavior or attitude
  • Unacceptable environmental or social actions or decisions
  • Technology failure or security breaches: loss of data or access being made to data by those who have no authority to do so
  • Social media: viral spread of rumors or reporting of real or perceived crisis
  • Poor financial performance or poor economic responsibility
  • Failures in health and safety
  • Failures in product traceability – contamination
  • Failure to follow regulatory compliance
  • General unacceptable corporate behavior
  • Unfair and unreasonable behavior by senior executives
  • Disaffected employees
  • Rumors, both on and offline
  • Accidents
  • Consumer opinion site/ complaints sites
  • Trade-mark infringement and failure to protect intellectual property
  • Sources of products and services that cause environmental or social damage
  • YouTube – campaigning adverts and short films
  • Non-governmental organizations’ campaigning
  • Scandal sites
  • Faux pas by employees

 

How Reputations Are Formed:

Any study of consumer psychology and behavior reveals, in general, how people are influenced. However, the models and theories that pervade much of the marketing literature such as the AIDA (attention, interest, desire, action) and social diffusion models are now less relevant in the age of web communications and social media. That said, there are some basic contributory components that help form reputations:

  • Information based on mass media – advertising, features, news and general print media, TV and radio
  • Engagement through social media and peer-to-peer referrals, recommendations and endorsements
  • Personal experience of the brand or organization – did it deliver on the brand promise? Were the messages credible and consistent?
  • Reinforcement of the above through friends and other trusted sources: increasingly this is in the form of forums, opinion sites, blogs, Facebook, Twitter etc.

Personal experience is the most powerful tool and if positive, a satisfied and loyal customer can become a brand advocate, helping to spread the word, resulting in recommendation and referrals. If securing your next customer and retaining existing customers are fundamental to any commercial operation, it makes sense to get customer-engagement right and ensure that customer-facing staff understand the values and messages that the company wishes to convey.

 

Factors Affecting the Importance of Your Reputation Capital

This is the impact that the marketplace and, more specifically, competitors, have on your own organization’s reputation.

  • The visibility of your brand and its risk-exposure: to what extent is your brand organisation in the public domain? Does your brand/company espouse high ethical values and practice social and environmental responsibility? Do you engage in aggressive advertising and promotion?
  • The history and story or narrative behind the company or brand – many brands have narratives that they communicate to reinforce their values.
  • The sheer complexity and connectivity of your business: if you have a crisis, how many people will be affected and what will the impact be? Clearly, energy companies such as Shell and BP fall into this category, but so do many types of manufacturer and pharmaceutical companies.
  • Does your company/brand have a significant environmental or social impact?
  • Do you espouse high ethical values? If so, you had better live up to them!

 

The Benefits of Having a Good Reputation

Evidence available clearly points to a link between a sound reputation and financial return. A good reputation also helps raise loans from banks and acts as a “shield” during times of crisis, thereby allowing a swifter recovery. Therefore, a good reputation is a critical economic asset that helps customer retention and acquisition and reduces information and transaction costs.

Other benefits of securing a good reputation include:

  • Helps secure revenue income via competitive advantage and the development of trust
  • Makes your brand or company top choice among key target groups
  • By growing brand equity it allows premium pricing
  • Facilitates brand extensions
  • Improves employee retention and talent management, attracting better applicants and retaining vital knowledge workers
  • Reinforces relationships with suppliers and other direct stakeholders
  • Helps increase the chance of success of new product releases

 

PR Versus Reputation Management

The practice of traditional Public Relations (PR) has had a significant impact on corporate communications. Reputation Management is really an evolved, more sophisticated corporate discipline that has been shaped by the emergence of the internet in the early 1990s. Both traditional PR and Reputation Management are involved with building and managing relationships and both are involved with influencing perceptions. Arguments around the difference between PR and Reputation Management are somewhat sterile in so far as both terms have considerable overlap, but Reputation Management has gained prominence since the 1990s following a number of high profile corporate scandals and the rise of social media and online reputation management. Despite the overlaps, as an evolved discipline there are some notable differences that have emerged as a consequence.

The classic PR approach emphasized short-term strategies and the manipulation of corporate image and was heavily media relations based. Emphasis was largely tactical rather than strategic, and PR practitioners often had a limited understanding of business models, overall corporate strategy and the financial and regulatory constraints that business operated within. In this regard, management consultants were better suited to advise on a more holistic approach.

Traditional PR was media relations focused, and interested in the “sound bite” as its reproduction within relevant media. Although this is just as relevant today, the approach through Reputation Management is subtly different in that it uses all forms of communications as a platform to engage with stakeholders, however trivial. As a consequence, it assimilates risks and issue analysis into its strategic thinking when identifying and engaging stakeholders.

Reputation is about delivering the brand promise with a view to the long term security and stability of the company. Traditional PR is still focused on brands and on trying to develop sound customer relations based on short-term tactical actions. In contrast, Reputation Management is more strategic, longer-term and attempts to deliver on brand promises. The spotlight for reputation tends to be on the organization rather than individual brands, unless of course the organization is a corporate brand. To develop a sound and sustainable reputation, the following disciplines will need to work together to get across a message to a wide range of stakeholders:

  • Risk and issue management
  • Investor relations
  • Crisis management
  • Internal communications
  • Brand and customer communications
  • Online brand management and SEO
  • Organisational and managerial communications

Please note that these are highly interdependent and overlapping.

 

Traditional PR

 

  • Less strategic
  • Talking at people
  • Less integrated
  • Influence — direct
  • Focus — Short Term
  • Key people involved
  • Aims to give the best possible image
  • Media relations focused
  • Focus on: limited number of stakeholders
  • Focus on attention

Reputation Management

 

  • More strategic
  • Talking with people/participating
  • Integrated
  • Social influence — referent
  • Holistic — long term
  • Involves all employees
  • Aims to deliver image and brand promise
  • Uses all forms and opportunities to communicate policy and values
  • Medium no longer the message — social media
  • Greater emphasis on multiple stakeholder relationships
  • Focus on communicating values and mission

 

 

Social Media and Reputation

Social media have transformed the way in which ideas are propagated and the nature of how reputations are lost and gained. Online Reputation Management dominates much of the reputation literature, focusing on Search Engine Optimization and how to monitor and reduce negative online coverage. Social media has become central to branding and helps generate social authority, virally spreading messages with credibility. Brands generate trust and reputation via peer-to-peer recommendations and by opinions expressed within online communities. Brands such as Coca Cola, Starbucks, McDonalds and Ford have adapted extremely well to social media as have Sony and Microsoft. Coca Cola has millions of fans on Facebook and has a defined social media strategy to engage with people. Their “open happiness” global marketing strategy has been successful as has their YouTube viral “Happiness Machine”, which by the end of 2010 had been seen by over 3 million people.

Examples of companies and software that can assist with online and social media monitoring include:

What ever happened to Brand.com? 0

brand.com

Brand.com was a major player in the Reputation industry and earlier this year I

brand.com

What happened to Brand.com Reputation Company

had a new, prospective client tell us that Brand.com was no longer responding back to their emails mid campaign. The client also told me they had heard they shut down. I could not believe this as I followed them since their ReputationChanger.com days and they seemed to run a really tight ship. I was from Baltimore and they were somewhat local as they were located in Philadelphia and I planned to network with them one day.

I stumbled across the below article which details what appeared to happen to Brand.com. A sad story indeed.

 

The domain is for sale. The emails are dead. The top execs are gone. The office is dark. What happened to online reputation management firm Brand.com?
The Brand.com office was quiet.

Located toward the end of a narrow hallway on the seventh floor of the Curtis Center’s east wing, its big glass doors were locked. The lights were off. All that was left was a big white “B” cut out of a blue square — the company’s former logo — affixed to a white wall overlooking the receptionist’s desk.

Behind the receptionist’s desk stood an orange superhero, with his fists on his hips and a shit-eating grin on his face. He wore a maroon cape around his chiseled shoulders and a belted pair of underpants to match. The logo on his chest, which bulged steroidally, read “RC.” Reputation Changer. That was Brand.com’s former identity.

But what had happened to Brand.com was unclear. Where did everyone go? We were there to find out.

After receiving a mayoral welcome in 2013, after announcing the addition of former Gov. Ed Rendell to its advisory board just last November, the company had quietly gone silent.

Let’s start at the spring of 2013.

The future was looking bright for the online reputation management company, which made a splash by nabbing the Brand.com domain from MakerBot VP Chuck Pettis for, reportedly, $500,000. It announced that it was rebranding from Reputation Changer to Brand.com and moving from West Chester into Center City. Its success was built on charging $7,500 or more to clean up a company’s online reputation.

That fall, Mayor Nutter cut the ribbon on the 7,000-square-foot office, celebrating the company moving 120 staffers into the city and its expected growth of 100 more that year alone. The company boasted perks like a chair masseuse and a personal trainer, both of which would come in a few times a week.

Now, the company appears to have shuttered its Philadelphia operations. Its once-prized domain is now for sale, according to to DomainNameWire.com.

President and COO Mike Zammuto left the company in November. He’s now president of Chaikin Analytics. When reached for comment, Zammuto wrote at length about his excitement about joining Chaikin Analytics and how Philly’s finance-technology community is promising. “I think FinTech is going to be the big thing for a while,” he wrote in an email.

He declined to elaborate on the circumstances surrounding his departure from Brand.com, citing a separation agreement.

The company lost 70 staffers in 2014 through layoffs and turnover, a former staffer who asked not to be named told us. Another former exec, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said the staff had shrunk to 60 when he left last fall.

No one who still works at Brand.com (at least according to their LinkedIn profile) has returned our messages, the company’s phone numbers have been disconnected and all the emails we’ve sent to Brand.com email addresses have bounced. The company opened a small New York City office in late 2014, said one former sales staffer, but it’s not clear if it’s still open. Brand.com’s website is still up, however. A lawyer representing Brand.com contacted us after he got word that we were working on a story. He agreed to take questions via email but did not respond to them.

###

Amid the radio silence from Brand.com reps, we found these clues about the company’s sudden disappearance.

Brand.com left its office in the historic Curtis Center at 601 Walnut Street and did not leave a forwarding address, a receptionist for Keystone Property Group, which manages the Curtis Center, told us. A staffer from Locks Law Firm, which has an office across from Brand.com, said that the company had been gone since January. Keystone Property Group leasing manager Scott Paymer declined to share details on the company’s lease, though a source familiar with the terms who asked not to be named said it was a five-year lease.

It turns out that Brand.com had another office space, too: a 4,500-square-foot space in the nearby Public Ledger building in Old City, for which Brand.com signed a five-year lease in the spring of 2013, months before the flashy Curtis Center ribbon cutting, according to the source familiar with the deal. It was a sales office, said the former sales staffer who asked not to be named. Brand.com was looking into subleasing this office last fall, according to the source familiar with the deal.

A few months later, in December, Brand.com reached out to realtor-to-Philly-founders Dan Gummel, inquiring about office space at the Bourse in Old City, which had recently been public about its mission to attract startups. One week later, a Brand.com staffer told Gummel the company was likely going to move all its staffers into the Public Ledger building office, Gummel told us.

Brand.com did not get any tax incentives to move to the city, said the Commerce Department’s Luke Butler. The company was eligible for job creation tax credits, but Butler said the city could not disclose if those credits were used, citing state and local laws.

What’s more mysterious is that Brand.com appeared to be on some sort of upswing or transformation.

In November, the company got a new CEO: Dave Armon, the New York City-based former COO of PR Newswire. That news came with the launch of a “groundbreaking platform” for content marketing, plus the announced addition of Rendell to the company’s advisory board. (The only other mention of the Rendell news was this article in Metro US, which appears to have been commissioned by Brand.com. “Reporter was commissioned to write this in-depth article,” is the only disclosure.)

Armon’s hiring pointed to Brand.com’s new direction: less online reputation management, more content marketing.

See, Brand.com had been quietly running another arm of the business called News Headquarters since mid-2013, at least according to the company’s Twitter. They landed a flashy three-letter domain for that one, too: nhq.com. News Headquarters billed itself as a service for publishers and PR firms to “commission reporter-written articles.” Its tagline? “Journalism redefined.” (Editor’s note: Could this have been one?)

Why the switch? One exec who spoke on the condition of anonymity said it was because last spring, Google got more aggressive on SEO tactics and that made the SEO and reputation management business harder. Strategies the company had previously used stopped working. Clients were getting angry and demanding their money back. (Most notably, according to an Ars Technica report, a Seattle public utility demanded a $17,500 refund last summer after Brand.com’s services failed to work for its CEO.)

So the company pivoted.

It looked more and more like a “large-scale PR firm,” the anonymous exec said, and it seemed more sustainable than relying on Google and its finicky algorithms.

But it wasn’t without consequences. The company had to downsize.

One former staffer said of the circumstances in late 2014: “Everything was tanking. People were leaving. Morale was really low.” Still, he doesn’t regret the experience, he said.

The sales staffer who asked not to be named also remembered his Brand.com days fondly. He wrote in a LinkedIn message:

Brand was exciting and fast paced – very dot.com in the early 2000’s feel – lots of high energy. Work hard, play hard philosophy. We cranked techno music on the sales floor – and it was a really exciting company. We always had snacks or energy drinks handy – and it was not a 9-5 job, it was work as long as you wanted job because every additional hour you worked could mean more money for you and for the company.

We spoke briefly with News Headquarters Vice President Myles Fuchs last fall, when we called about Brand.com’s Google penalties. Fuchs did not respond to our recent requests for comment about the changes at the company.

This past January, we were in touch with Armon and Chief Operating Officer and Chief Content Officer Jonathan Cooper to set up a meeting to hear the latest about the company’s new direction. But the day before our scheduled meeting, Armon said he had to be in New York City and canceled.

Plans never came together for another meeting and the next time we checked, just four months after he had joined the company, Armon appears to have left Brand.com. The company is no longer listed on his LinkedIn. He’s now the Chief Marketing Officer of a New York City media company called 3BL Media.

Cooper, a former Digital First Media VP who worked at Brand.com for seven months, left the company in January. He’s now working in media consulting and also founded a craft beer card game, according to his LinkedIn. Armon and Cooper did not respond to requests for comment.

Several Brand.com sales execs (they had many) also departed, including VP of Sales Jay Steffey (now at Cint), VP of Sales Strategy Steve Driben (now at Comverge) and Senior VP of Sales Chuck Evans (now at IBM). Brand.com Chief Technology Officer Kinkar Saha, who appeared to have worked remotely from India, left the company in November after almost four years in the role. Ron Gamble, the company’s creative director of two-plus years, also left last summer. None of them responded to a request for comment.

Strange occurrences seemed to follow Brand.com around, including the time the online reputation manager had to do damage control on its own online presence after a series of alleged cyber-attacks got the company penalized on Google. Or the time when former COO Zammuto was the victim of an alleged $500,000 Bitcoin extortion scheme, where the blackmailers “threatened to smear the reputation of Zammuto and his company.”

Even cofounder Rich Gorman doesn’t know what’s going on with the company. Gorman, who said he founded the company with Justin Singletary and one other man he declined to name, said he stepped away from the business in 2013 after the Bitcoin extortion scheme “spooked” him.

“I lost my enthusiasm for the business at that point in time,” he said in a phone interview Tuesday night.

His understanding is that Brand.com was undergoing a “reorganization” but that he didn’t know anything past that.

Two staffers we spoke with said that Gorman was still involved and would come to the office in 2014, though Gorman maintained that this was not the case. Singletary, on the other hand, was hardly ever around, the staffers said. Singletary did not respond to a request for comment via LinkedIn.

Gorman admits to past issues that have dogged him online since. When asked, he said that those issues had nothing to do with the founding of Brand.com. He declined to discuss his other business ventures, though he and Singletary appear to have another company together: the Savannah, Ga.-based fulfillment center business Fulfillment.com. (Singletary lists himself as a “managing member” of Fulfillment.com, while a 2014 Arizona court filing associates Gorman with the company.)

So what now? The exec who asked to remain anonymous said the last he heard, the company was entertaining acquisition deals. Meanwhile, some Brand.com customers are still waiting for justice, so to speak.

“He really pulled a fast one on everyone, including Mayor Nutter,” said disgruntled customer and local entrepreneur Anthony DiMeo, who points the finger at Brand.com’s former COO Zammuto. DiMeo, who says he paid the company $3,000 for online marketing, said the company stopped answering his calls in February.

Original Source – http://technical.ly/philly/2015/03/11/what-happened-brand-com/

We learned shortly thereafter that

Brand.com has filed for bankruptcy

The company has $1.9 million in debts and $104,000 in assets, according to court documents. “If you show me an internet entrepreneur that hasn’t failed, I’ll show you someone that isn’t an internet entrepreneur,” said co-founder Rich Gorman.

Brand.com is underwater.

The Center City tech company, which seemed to vanish into thin air earlier this year after a splashy domain purchase and a mayoral welcome in 2013, filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy last month, according to court documents. Chapter 7 means that the company must sell off its remaining assets.

The company owes more than $1.9 million to nearly 70 people and organizations — including $52,000 to former landlord Keystone Property Group, nearly $200,000 to services like Salesforce, LinkedIn and content recommendation startup Taboola and more than $200,000 in pending lawsuits from former employees and clients. It reported a total of $104,000 in assets, the bulk of which is office equipment like computers, furniture and phone systems.

The company reported making $11.8 million in revenue in 2013 and $8.5 million in 2014.
rich gorman

Rich Gorman. (Photo via Geekadelphia)

When reached for comment, cofounder Rich Gorman, who is listed as the chairman of Brand.com on the filing, wrote in an email: “If you show me an internet entrepreneur that hasn’t failed, I’ll show you someone that isn’t an internet entrepreneur.”

Gorman, 32, a Chadds Ford resident, according to state records, said the company ran out of funding when it tried and failed to pivot from reputation management to content marketing. It attempted to pivot after Google “changed its policy on reputation management, and penalized the 2 largest ORM [online reputation management] companies (Brand.com & Reputation.com),” he wrote.

Gorman continued:

Essentially overnight all of the tools that we utilized didn’t work. Google even went so far as to remove both Brand.com and Reputation.com from its search engine….

What I learned quickly was that you should never build a business model that is dependent on another platform, especially an SEO play on Google’s platform. e.g. Brand.com’s success was dependent on Google’s algorithm. Business was great until Google’s engineers decided that they would change their algorithm [to] adversely [affect] many of the tools we used at the time to run ORM campaigns.

Gorman had previously told us that, contrary to employee reports otherwise, he was not involved with day-to-day operations of the company after 2013. In February, he told us that he did not know what had happened to Brand.com. Now, he says that in fact, he did make “key contributions” to the business in 2014.

“I was not involved in the business during most of November, December, and January, therefore when we spoke last, I was still wrapping my mind around what happened at Brand.com,” he wrote.

Gorman said that despite its fate, he’s proud of what the team accomplished.

“While it’s really sad to see the Brand.com venture end, I must tell you that it was a fun experience,” he wrote. “A lot of great people put a ton of sweat equity into the business, and the ORM industry showed a lot of promise circa 2011-2013.”

Brand.com cofounder Justin Singletary is also listed on the filing as a debtor, alongside Gorman. Brand.com staffers previously told us that Singletary was rarely around the office.

The filing sheds a little more light on company ownership: the majority of Brand.com is equally owned by Gorman (via his company, Gorman Economics) and Creative Estates, LLC, a company that has been linked to Singletary in a court document. But there’s another company with a minority stake: Lydia Security Monitoring. The CEO of Lydia Security Monitoring, which does business as COPS Monitoring, is Ira Riklis, whom one former Brand.com exec had named as an investor.

Riklis himself appears to have been dogged by online reputation issues and now has a strange online persona. Attempts to reach Riklis were unsuccessful as of press time.

The filing names Michael Griffsby and Ryan Andrews as treasurer and secretary of Brand.com, respectively, though mysteriously. Griffsby does not appear to have any online footprint and it appears that Andrews has scrubbed his online persona of any connection with Brand.com (though we did find this Google+ post that names Andrews as the company’s Chief Legal Officer).

According to the filing, Brand.com sold its domain for $300,000 to what’s listed as “Silicon Valley.” The company had purchased it for a reported $500,000 from from MakerBot VP Chuck Pettis. Brand.com also sold NHQ.com, the domain for its content marketing identity News Headquarters, for $10,000. The Brand.com Twitter account has also been sold.

A public hearing will be held in the coming weeks, said Christine Shubert, the trustee who was assigned to the case. Though the hearing is public, only Shubert and creditors — those who Brand.com owes money to — are allowed to question Gorman about the bankruptcy.

Meanwhile, former Brand.com president Mike Zammuto appears to have brought some former staffers to his new gig at Paoli-based fintech startup Chaikin Analytics:

Former Brand.com director of talent management Paul Sweeney now serves in the same role at Chaikin.
Former director of user experience Pete Campbell is now Chaikin’s director of video and content marketing.
Former IT director Chris Meier now runs IT at Chaikin.

Original source – http://technical.ly/philly/2015/05/04/brand-com-bankruptcy/

 

There are interesting ‘insider’ comments on both articles and worth a read as well. I hope you enjoyed this cautionary tale about what happened to Brand.com. Thanks for reading.

Is there money in the Reputation Management industry? 0

Reputation management is the new black in corporate strategy. In their fight to increase revenue, grow market share, increase the stock price, attract

Reputation Industry partners

Reputation Industry partners

and retain the best talent, and secure their license to operate companies are turning their focus on their reputation. The intangible element that can boost or kill your business has become the center of attention not just for corporate communication or marketing professionals but also for the CEO, the CFO and the Board of Directors.

With this attention comes an increased demand for reputation management services. Over the past 5 years, we have seen an increase in companies who are offering their services under the reputation label. The global PR companies are focusing their offerings on reputation management and reputation risk. The consulting firms like McKinsey & Co and Deloitte are offering Reputation Strategy to their clients. And the insurance industry are rolling out Reputation Insurance products to the market.

Why? Because reputation management is becoming big business.

And today we learned that Private Equity is also betting on reputation services as a growth industry. Reputation Institute, the leading global corporate reputation measurement and management firm has accepted a minority equity investment from Catalyst Investors, a New York based growth equity firm. This adds a new dimension to reputation as a business area. With private equity money backing the growth of a reputation management firm like Reputation Institute the industry moves to the next level.

Here is my interview with with RI executive partners, Kasper Ulf Nielsen , Nicolas Georges Trad and Catalyst Investors partner Tyler Newton…

Bruce Rogers: Why is a private equity firm investing in reputation management?

Catalyst Investors: “In today’s marketplace, corporate reputation has become a source of competitive advantage and a top business priority for senior executives, says Tyler Newton, Partner with Catalyst Investors. “Reputation measurement and management is a service that is relevant to all companies, across all industries, all over the world. So the potential for growth in enormous”

BR: Why have you selected Reputation Institute for your investment?

CI: “We like Reputation Institute because it is the global leader in reputation management. They have the academic credentials and the business cases to prove the value they bring to their clients, says Newton. “Reputation Institute has created a unique, proprietary platform business based on RepTrak™ the global standard for reputation measurement, which we see as a perfect engine for global growth. Cobbled with a client list that includes some of the largest and best regarded companies in the world and a strong global leadership team makes us confident that the company will see strong growth in the future.”

BR: What will this investment mean to companies who want to work with their reputation management? 

Reputation Institute: Over the past 15 years, we have seen a tremendous development in the tools and services available for reputation measurement and management,” says Kasper Ulf Nielsen, Executive Partner and Co-Founder of Reputation Institute’s advisory business. “With the investment from Catalyst Investors we will increase the focus on R&D even more to service the needs of clients. Companies are struggling with the increased pressure from stakeholders to engage and communicate directly with them. They don’t have a systematic approach for managing their relationships with customers, partners, financial analysts, regulators, and employees, and this is hurting their ability to build the trust and support they need to meet their business goals”

BR: What are the trends you are seeing within reputation management?

RI: “Reputation management has two faces. Risk and Opportunity. In today’s world Reputation Risk is the number 1 priority for companies, says Nicolas Georges Trad, Executive Partner and Co-Founder of Reputation Institute’s advisory business. “Results from our 2013 Reputation Leaders study where we speak with 313 leaders from across 25 countries shows, that developing a process and strategy for managing and mitigating reputation risk is key priority. But the best companies are not stopping at the risk element. They leverage the opportunity side as well to grow their business.

BR: How are companies implementing reputation management into their business?

RI: “Companies find themselves at different stages of the reputation journey, says Nicolas Georges Trad. “From Stage 1 where they are exploring what reputation is and how it is affecting their business. Over Stage 3 where they have company specific intelligence that they can use for business planning and integration. To Stage 5 where they are able to make reputation based decisions because they have the relevant intelligence on what matters to customers and other key stakeholders. But this is still a new business focus. 87% of companies are still in stage 1-3 but we see a wave of companies investing in reputation management to move up the chain and use reputation as a business driver.

BR: With a Private Equity partner, the focus is on growth. What makes you optimistic about the potential for Reputation Institute to meet these growth expectations?

RI: “Companies have defined the business case for reputation. With a strong return on investment from reputation work the investment decision is relatively simply, says Kasper Ulf Nielsen. “With 60 percent of the 313 reputation leaders that participated in our annual Reputation Leaders study saying they see a high financial impact from reputation on their business, the financial incentive is there to invest in reputation management. And this is not a communication or marketing topic alone. 56 percent of companies say that Reputation Management is a high priority for their Executive Management and Board of Directors. And 63 percent expect reputation management to be a higher priority for their company in the coming 2-3 years.

So we see an increasing demand for strong robust reputation management services in the future. And having grown 43% on average per year over the past 8 years we are very confident that we will be able to continue the positive development and expand our global reach within Reputation Institute,” says Kasper Ulf Nielsen.

How big is the online reputation management industry? 0

How big is the online reputation management market?

  • What are key market segments and how large are they?Lead Generation Tips from Michael King and Alex Harris – #Pubcon Liveblog-media-2
  • What are growth drivers?
  • Who are key players?

Online reputation management services  are important for businesses (from small and medium-sized businesses to
Fortune 500 corporations), but there is also a huge market for ORM services among individuals.

In today’s news-driven environment, where anyone can be a broadcaster, companies must understand the strategic advantage of proactively building and maintaining a bulletproof corporate reputation, which will include the reputation and privacy of its employees and commercial secrets. Not only are the reputations of companies vulnerable to all the would-be Wikileaks of the world (and there are a reputed 2,000 of them!), any employee or customer with a mobile phone can do equal damage (evidence: Domino’s employee nose pick: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/20…).

This is reinforced in statistics: According to Economist Intelligence Unit, reputation risk is the greatest risk facing global companies, with as much as 75 percent of a company’s value based on reputation.

Various studies also back up the importance of personal online reputation management. For instance, a 2009 Microsoft-sponsored survey revealed that 79 percent of United States hiring managers reviewed online information about job applicants, with an incredible 70 percent of respondents admitting that they have rejected candidates based on what they found. [STUDY LINK:
http://www.microsoft.com/privacy…

We’re living in an incredible time. Thanks to the Internet, information is more accessible than ever. Unfortunately, so is false information, such as ill-informed rumors or malicious slander. So long as individuals are concerned about their reputations, they will be concerned about their online reputations, which means that the ORM industry is in a good position for sustained growth. Our educated prediction is that more and more companies will have “Reputation Manager” roles in 2011 and individuals will be more focused on their individual branding and reputation online.

Recently, Online Reputation Management field is emerging very fast as many people are shifting their attention online now. Be it any comments or reviews, people first vent their anger on online platforms for a particular brand/ company. It is very important to have all clean results for a brand on SERPs as any negative results on Google search may hamper the brand reputation and thereby a potential lead.
Reputation Management for small businesses in itself isn’t a huge market but it is an entry point to maybe the largest and most sought after market today. We use our services to give the business owner total exposure to everything being said about them on the web and deep insight into their content accuracy. That conversation always leads to how do I fix that, which is the buying signal we look for. We have seen reputation management increase our overall business including SEM, Web Design, Social Management and more.

ORM is set to do $5 Billion Dollars.

Largest growth driver has been an automated cyber bullying campaign launched in January 2011 termed Google-Cide which cast Google in a false light by utilizing an SQL code to manipulate search results and cause their online digital assassination to be more deadly.

Here is a certified court reporters transcript of a planning session:

http://www.ripoffreport.com/Comm…

Google or Bing the following term: Google-Cide Fox News

What I find most interesting in this story is that Rexxfield has chosen to respond on its  blog, attacking the reporter who penned the story about him. He also claims that the reporter is back peddling and retracting portions of the story, which is also untrue – in fact, what I’ve seen is that the title of the story now reflects a direct accusation against Roberts and Rexxfield, instead of the original title. None of the damning statements against Roberts have been removed, although some of the multi-media files have been (a PDF of a contract and an audio file, both of which I have in my possession). Predictably, the Rexxfield blog denies all wrong doing and attributes the story to a reporter with a grudge; the words “paranoid” and “delusional” both spring to mind. And of course, Michael Roberts not only tries to place the blame on everyone but himself (his ex-business partners, the reporter who wrote the story, etc…), but he denies all wrong doing.

Is Online reputation Management a growth industry? 0

Among the various industries spawned by the Internet, one of the most intriguing is the field of managing and repairing the online reputations of people and businesses.

It’s a classic case of finding a need and filling it. Review sites such as Yelp and others can trash a reputation, so other sites and services have emerged that, for a fee, will help improve your standing throughout the digital realm.

David Powell, a pediatric dentist, never gave much thought to such matters until he received an email recently from a San Diego company called Review Concierge. It warned that it had found a grade of F for Powell on one of the dozens of sites it monitors.

Review Concierge, which charges up to $200 a month for its services, encouraged him to get in touch “and create the online reputation that you deserve.”

That’s smelly enough. But making the whole thing stink even more was the fact that the F, on a site called YellowBot, was based on a single bad review posted anonymously on another site in 2011 — for a Los Angeles dental practice that Powell had sold 14 years earlier.

Somebody waited 14 years to post a bad review? For a practice I left in 1997? And then this other company wants money to fix it? – David Powell, a pediatric dentist

“It just makes you wonder how legitimate all this is,” he told me. “Somebody waited 14 years to post a bad review? For a practice I left in 1997? And then this other company wants money to fix it?”

It doesn’t take much conjecture to think that somebody might be posting bogus complaints so reputation-repair services can step up with offers to make the problem go away.

Not so, declared David Engel, founder of Review Concierge. “We’d never do that,” he said. “It would go against who we are.”

It will come as no surprise, especially to owners of small businesses, that even one negative online review can have lasting repercussions. I’m always hearing from business owners who say they’ve gotten a raw deal from a review site.

A 2012 report from the Virginia consulting firm BIA/Kelsey estimated that small and mid-size businesses spend at least $700 million a year on tools and services designed to keep their cyber-profiles shiny and bright.

Some services say they can erase negative reviews from top sites such as Yelp and Angie’s List — which both say is impossible. Others say they can offer guidance for balancing out negative reviews with more factual or positive comments.

“The Internet can define who you are,” said Eric Schiffer, chairman of Reputation Management Consultants in Irvine. “You either allow it to define you — or you decide that you’re going to present the facts fairly.”

Bill Wohl, a spokesman for the Reputation Institute, a New York consulting firm, said anonymous reviews can be especially challenging to refute. In such cases, he said, it’s important to get your side across.

“A lot of small businesses are ill-prepared to deal with negative content online,” Wohl said. “You may need to turn to those who know how to get it done.”

Powell, 71, told me he’s always tried to do right by his patients.

“I’ve never had a lawsuit filed against me,” he said. “I’ve never had problems with the state dental board. I’ve taught part time at USC.”

Powell said he opened his pediatric dental practice in the mid-Wilshire area in 1976. He sold it to an associate in 1997 and moved to Utah for six years.

He returned to Southern California in 2004, settling in Encino and working part time at other dentists’ practices. Since 2011, Powell said, he’s worked only one day a week at a clinic in Valencia.

So it came as something of a shock to learn of his F grade on YellowBot — a site he’d never heard of — from Review Concierge, another site he’d never heard of, based on an anonymous comment posted 14 years after he’d left his L.A. practice.

The review said the dentist and his staff “made me feel like my questions and concerns were stupid.”

YellowBot is an online yellow pages based in Burbank. A close look at its listing for Powell showed that the comment originated on a site called Wellness.com, which features reviews of healthcare practitioners. But when you clicked a link to the original review, it was nowhere to be found.

The only comment about Powell on Wellness.com was positive, saying that his office would “absolutely” try to schedule an immediate appointment in the event of a dental emergency. It was posted this month.

Alex Vaccaro, YellowBot’s director of marketing, acknowledged to me that her company’s site routinely “crawls” other sites and copies their listings — a common practice for Internet companies seeking a toehold among the many online directories available.

She speculated that Wellness.com must have recently updated its comments, dropping old or questionable reviews. When YellowBot “recrawls” Wellness.com within coming weeks, Vaccaro said, its listings similarly would be updated.

I asked what good that does for someone like Powell, who, through no fault of his own, finds himself the subject of a seemingly unwarranted online attack that’s apparently spreading to other websites.

Isn’t this unfair?

Vaccaro thought a moment before answering.

“It’s difficult for people and small-business owners to transition to the new digital landscape that’s out there,” she said. “The best thing I can say is that that’s how it works now.”