Banking reputational capital when you work in a 'controversial' sector

Whether it's competitors waiting to cash-in, or campaigners that oppose what you do, make a mistake and they'll be quick to exploit it by using it to undermine your reputation.

A competitor needs only to casually drop it into conversation with your customers for some of them to think about replacing you. Campaigners only need to stir-up stories in the media for regulators to take notice, residents to become even more wary and investors to take flight.

For example, imagine you're in the waste industry working with clinical waste, and suddenly you find a problem with third-party incineration capacity that leaves you with a build-up of untreated waste. Very quickly, your reputation could come under threat leading to an exodus of customers and the collapse of your business.

Think that sounds far-fetched? The management team at Healthcare Environmental Services (HES) probably did before it happened to them. A basic Google search of news relating to this particular company quickly reveals the extent to which a media furore was whipped-up, undermining the company's hard won reputation among customers and regulators. 'Good news' stories from its past that could have acted as a counterweight to all the bad publicity? Nowhere to be seen in comparison.

That's what we mean when we talk about banking 'reputational capital'. And it's especially important in large-scale renewables, road and rail, onshore oil and gas, housing and waste - all sectors that court controversy from time-to-time.

It's about making sure that, if you find yourself in the eye of a media storm, your most important stakeholders can remember (or easily find examples of) all the positive things your business has done over the years. It gives people pause for thought, and stops them writing you off as a bad corporate citizen.

Reputational capital is essentially all about trust in your brand.

You can create it in any number of ways, for example by paying your staff the Real Living Wage (like we do as members of the Living Wage Foundation, just search for 52M here) and then telling people about it.

The more you can showcase a track record of professional, ethical business operations, the more people will come to trust you, and rightly so because you'll have earned it.

Then, if something goes wrong and there's a very public incident, or you advance plans for a development that starts to become 'controversial' in any way, your stakeholders will be harder to overwhelm with negative news stories.

In order to bank reputational capital you can later rely on, you need to have a genuine track record of doing good - there's no point in 'greenwashing' your environmental credentials, for instance - and you need to keep telling your good news stories. You can do this through your own website in the form of blogs, using social media and by issuing press releases to mainstream media.

The truly great thing about reputational capital is that you get to benefit from it twice - once as you're banking it and again if you ever need to raid your reputational coffers.

If you'd like help telling your stories to raise your profile and start putting some reputational capital away for a rainy day, why not  start with our XPressRelease service? And, remember, your brand extends to your supply chain in this context, so make sure the companies you work with are banking their own reputational capital too.