As with Rome, reputations aren’t built in a day.
But also as with Rome, they can quickly be destroyed when the embers of inappropriate behaviour, misconduct or even just rumour give oxygen to the flames.
In the past the fire may have been fuelled by traditional media headlines, but today social media makes it more difficult to find the many sources that keep sometimes an all-consuming fire going.
Democratisation of news which now enables anyone with a mobile phone or access to Facebook or Twitter to be part of that conversation during its 24 hour cycle – something which is encouraged by many traditional media outlets – means there are now many voices which some commentators believe is more credible than that reported in the pages of our newspapers or on our screens.
Reputation management and the media was the theme for the local Army Logistics Officers Mess annual professional luncheon where I, the Border Mail’s chief of staff , Anthony Bunn, and a former CEO of this newspaper, Tony Whiting and journalist, Kylie King, was a member of a panel invited to respond to questions about the topic.
A key issue to emerge centred around the media’s right to expect an immediate answer to its questions when an issue arises against the organisation’s need to work through due process to get to the truth of whatever the crisis is that threatens to damage their reputation.
Is there an unwritten commandment that thou must answer the media’s enquiries in the minutes after the crisis?
For the Defence Force the subject of reputation management is a sensitive one especially in light of the so-called ‘Skype incident’ involving two ADFA cadets that hit the headlines in April this year.
It was a subject not avoided at the luncheon.
Following the uncovering of this incident the Defence Minister, Stephen Smith announced six reviews aimed at changing the culture of the defence force.
This is again in the news with the decision to open all military roles to women.
But the question of culture isn’t just one for the defence forces: a healthy organisational culture is the foundation of building a good reputation from the blocks of integrity, trust and ethical behaviour.
It’s also vital that employees are part of that building process and have an investment in it; a result which, with the casualisation of the workforce, is more difficult to achieve.
How do large companies achieve the buy in from people who may only be working ten to fifteen hours a week in a job which may not be their first choice?
How is that disengagement addressed to have employees be more than just someone who turns up for work into an advocate for the organisation, speaking positively about their workplace in the outside world?
How can they support the positive things their business may be doing so that when there is even the whiff of the smell of smoke on the breeze they can back their organisation?
But this isn’t just about reputation; it’s also about good business practice, because good internal and external relationships are simply that: good business.
Yes, businesses and organisations make mistakes.
People employed by them or within their ranks make mistakes, but it is the way the issues are managed, which should never include covering up, which could be the difference between a reputation being singed at the edges and able to be rebuilt, and one which can never rise phoenix like from the ashes.
But back to the original question of reputation management and the media – it’s never a case of black and white; just varying shades of grey.