Praise is profitable

Corporate Reputation and Competitiveness
February 27, 2004

When I started working in advertising, I swiftly learnt that it was unwise to spend too long introducing new campaigns to clients. Instead of warming up the client, too much sententious preamble can irritate. I feel much the same about Corporate Reputation and Competitiveness . The first half of the book is intended to tee up the second half, but instead it skims over a lot of ground lightly and sometimes foolishly. This is a pity, but is easily explicable.

Despite its expansive title, Corporate Reputation and Competitiveness propounds a small but perfectly formed thesis. The authors have done some excellent research into the ways in which the reputations of service companies affect the relationships between their staff and their customers. If the reputations of companies among staff and customers are congruent and satisfactory - they define what is satisfactory very clearly - then the staff will serve the customers better. Customers who are well served are likely to be loyal, which means the company is likely to thrive.

Unhappily, the authors want to build their thesis into a much larger edifice than it warrants. So they begin the book with a series of general, and somewhat simplistic, chapters on business theory. The early chapters deal with the history of strategic thought, branding, crisis management, corporate valuation and the like. Inadvertently, these chapters highlight the many areas to which the authors' work is inapplicable.

For example, their work hardly applies to manufacturing companies. And, although they mention shareholders as company stakeholders, their work hardly applies to them either. Then the book begins, and ends, with the statement that advertising is relatively unimportant to corporate reputation, while public relations is increasingly important. As a generality, this is codswallop (I have worked in both disciplines). Companies get much publicity in the mass media only when things go horribly wrong. The mass media almost never carry stories about companies or brands that are going swimmingly. Why would they? If corporations want to publicise good things about themselves in the mass media, they have to pay for it - and advertise. Even maverick masters of publicity such as Virgin have to advertise their products.

As the authors' prime concern is the relationship between a service corporation's staff and its customers, they feel advertising to be all but irrelevant. They have a point, but it is a narrow one (and, anyway, one of the key audiences for a service corporation's advertising is its employees, who can be hugely motivated - or equally demotivated - by the campaign's messages).

Corporate Reputation and Competitiveness offers excellent, thought-provoking material for those interested in how the staff and customers in service companies relate. Others will find little that is helpful.

Winston Fletcher is founder chairman, World Advertising Research Center, and chairman, the Royal Institution.


Corporate Reputation and Competitiveness

Author - Gary Davies with Rosa Chun, Rui Vinhas da Silva and Stuart Roper
Publisher - Routledge
Pages - 2
Price - £24.99
ISBN - 0 415 28743 X

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