The topic of reputation management has become an integral part of corporate performance. TALK Team interviewed Guillermo Fernandez, Alumni from EMBS 5th generation and Senior Research Executive at the Reputation Centre of Ipsos Mori.
When did you first become interested in reputation?
During my bachelor’s, my close friends and I organised a Seminar on Corporate Social Responsibility, we invited four companies to the University to talk about the way they interacted with their stakeholders (clients, employees, shareholders…) and how they responded to the growing requirement of social responsibility, beyond simple economic profit. It was a great experience and I guess it planted the seed for me to want to know more about the relationship between the corporate world and their groups of interest. Then, during the EMBS, we had the sessions with Prof. Dr. Klaus-Peter Wiedmann in Annecy, where he briefly talked about reputation, as the perception that stakeholders have of a company. The year after I decided to write my master’s thesis about reputation recovery after a crisis, meaning, what do companies do to regain the lost trust?
Can you tell us more on what does a Senior Research Executive in the field of reputation?
I work for global clients from different industries telling them what a specific group thinks and expects from them in order to trust, admire, respect and hold them in high esteem. In other words, what are the issues they need to address to have a good reputation with the relevant audience. My key responsibilities include project management, being the daily contact for the client, report development and presentation of results with the wider team.
What is reputation management, and why it is important?
It’s very simple, reputation management is the discipline that studies and advises on how to engage with key stakeholder groups. It’s relevant in the sense that it helps organisations (often big global multinationals) listen and respond to emerging needs in order to survive.
How does a firm’s reputation impact its performance?
I think that having a strong or excellent reputation shouldn’t be a goal in itself, it’s just a tool for a wider purpose. What you want is your clients buying your products, your employees being happy to work for you and delivering on your vision, and the media sharing your point of view, for example. You’re in a better position to do that if they think highly of you.
Reputation management has changed dramatically in the past years with social media and the big data revolution. What have you seen from the inside?
Certainly the 24/7 news, social media and all the noise around it makes companies nervous, especially because perceptions of a company are formed through three main channels: what the company does, what the company proactively talks about, and also what others tell about the company. In the old times, you had control over these channels, but nowadays, the picture has changed, and what others say, how much they say, and how viral it gets, is well beyond the company’s control.
How do you deal with potential threats to stakeholders trust?
I’d differentiate between a “media storm” (bad news that don’t have long-term consequences, like a minor customer complaint) and a serious reputational threat (crisis that can have a long-term impact, like massive car recalls in the automotive industry, or the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico for BP). In any case, we normally advise companies to get to the bottom of the issue as quickly as possible and be open and transparent about both the mistake and the solutions to prevent recurrence.
Would you say that reputation management requirements differ from one industry to another?
There’re certainly nuances by industry and also by company. For example, we used to work for a big multinational hotel chain that had a very strong reputation in the 11 markets where we measured them. They were associated with quality service and luxury among their target audience. That was great because that’s what they wanted, so we advised them on how to maintain the strong perception. Conversely, we worked for the biggest energy supplier in the UK, with a long history of unethical behaviour, overcharging customers and being opaque on the way the tariffs were calculated. They had to focus on recovery. Industry perceptions definitely played a role there (hotels are better perceived than energy suppliers) and they had to work from very different starting points, but I think the bottom line’s always the same: respond to your stakeholder expectations in a truthful and honest way.
And what about small business and entrepreneurs ? How can they control their reputation? Do you have best practice to share?
I think that it’s a relevant discipline for any kind of organisation. They all depend on their groups of interest to survive. I don’t think there’s a magic recipe, but certainly using research to listen to what they want would be the first step. Then I’d say that transparency in the corporate behaviour (not just when talking to the media) is always key.
What are the most challenging aspects of your current job?
It’s a project-based job so that means that it’s great fun because you can work with different clients across industries and learn a lot. The downside is that sometimes you have to face especially challenging industry issues or deal with very demanding clients, but all-in-all I feel very lucky.
What are some of the accomplishments you’re most proud of in your career?
Building great personal relationships with my clients and colleagues. I have just joined Ipsos from Reputation Institute and have kept strong ties with the people I’ve worked with before. For example, I went through challenging times with the client from the energy sector but when I told her I was leaving Reputation Institute she was grateful for the effort on moving the project forward and the results we accomplished. That was great and I’m sure we’ll be in touch in the future.
How has your EMBS experience prepared you for what you are doing today?
I’d often picture Prof. Ganassali saying the magic word “flexibility” haha. Apart from that, the mark that the programme made on my personal and professional life is obvious, I’d especially mention the soft skills that have made us be able to work in changing environments with people from different backgrounds in an effective way.
If you could offer just one piece of career advice to students, what would it be? What would you say are the top requirements (skills, mindset, etc.) for someone entering this line of work?
Be proactive! You have to always show energy an enthusiasm in whatever you’re doing.