Branding expert discusses the art and science of aligning a brand and its reputation

  • Article by: DAVID PHELPS , Star Tribune
  • Updated: May 4, 2013 - 10:01 PM

A branding expert discusses the art and science of aligning a brand and its reputation in a “hospitable environment.”

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Rose McKinney, head of the agency PineappleRM, says it’s best to immerse employees in the company story in order to bolster the corporate brand.

Photo: ELIZABETH FLORES • eflores@startribune.com ,

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There’s a story behind the name Pineapple, as in PineappleRM, the reputation management agency that public relations veteran Rose McKinney launched in October 2011.

“I wanted to create a hospitable environment for companies to do their business, and I did some research and learned that the pineapple is the international symbol of hospitality,” McKinney said in an interview last week.

The symbolism dates back to the sailing days of Christopher Columbus, who brought back a pineapple for the king of Spain after a stop in the West Indies, McKinney said. Later sea captains brought pineapples home from the trips to the tropics and would place the fruit outside their door at home to show that they had safely returned, that they welcomed visitors and had stories to tell about their adventures.

“The alignment between a brand and its reputation can only happen in a hospitable situation,” McKinney said.

Today, McKinney has a staff of five and an Anoka office under renovation. Her client list ranges from the large technology company Comm-Works, to smaller companies such as Morphology Games, to nonprofits that include Minnesota Masonic Charities.

McKinney, 46, sat down last week in the offices of advertising agency and client StoneArch to discuss the art and science of refreshing, protecting and expanding reputations.

 

Q: Define reputation management.

A: People want to know what you stand for and whether they are aligned with that. It’s also about how you talk about what you do and tell stories and about not getting caught off guard. It’s about performance, behavior and communication and how those work together in the marketplace. You want to get the foundation right but it’s what you do beyond that that determines success.

 

Q: How does social media play into reputation management?

A: If nothing else, you have to monitor it because those conversations are happening. Are you a leader in those conversations or are you reactive? Social media creates rapport but also has its challenges. Look at British Petroleum and its oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. People were not shy about voicing their opinions. Social media creates a voice for those who weren’t there before.

 

Q: What does an organization do once it determines that its reputation has been damaged?

A: It starts on the inside. You have to have the facts and the context of a problem and leadership available that can and should speak to the issue. Secondly, you need to have authentic outreach. BP took awhile to respond when it had the spill. It’s a matter of taking care of a matter and letting people know that you are working on it: “We’re taking these steps and here’s what to expect.” Openness goes a long way.

 

Q: Can you talk about the reputation management and successes and needs of Minnesota companies?

A: We’re blessed in the Twin Cities with some great role models. We have companies and organizations trying hard to be part of the community. Target, the Twins and the University of Minnesota are good citizens and have built rapport with the community. People have positive impressions of these organizations. Look at Best Buy. Here’s an organization that’s been innovative from Day 1. It built a great brand and reputation and yet they’ve hit some snags. We have a tendency to be Monday-morning quarterbacks and there generally is more to the story than any of us know. If ever there was an organization that could be better suited to regain its positivity, then Best Buy is the one. It’s part of their core, part of their DNA. In the marketplace, things are changing all the time. Communication today is so rapid you find yourself being reactive. That’s when quality and integrity come forward. The game changes and you have to be ready to change your strategy.

 

Q: Is there a connection between brand reputation and the reputation of the company that produces the product?

A: We’re hearing a lot about the role culture plays in brand reputation. For the first time we’re seeing a real shift in the thinking that corporate brand is as important as the brand itself. Corporate leadership matters. We have expectations. You also have to make sure employees know what they can say about a brand because they are getting questions out there. It’s best to immerse employees in the company story. Best Buy historically was one of the first companies to establish a reputation function within the organization that goes beyond the HR component and encourages the staff to be a positive voice in social media.

 

Q: Can you talk about the annual Edelman Trust Survey? Banks and financial institutions did not fare very well in that report.

A: Whenever money is involved, you see increased scrutiny by consumers. We know a little bit about money but not a lot about financial markets. There have been some big mistakes and people lost money and trust has eroded. It takes time to get that trust back and a willingness of the institutions to reach out.

 

Q: A recent report on brand reputation by Weber Shandwick notes that consumers shape brand reputation instantly and that brand reputation has a direct effect on a company’s bottom line. True?

A: From the swipe of a smartphone to a comment on Twitter, we are all reporters and purveyors of news now. That can make a difference in how information is spread. It used to be that awareness was a primary goal for a brand. We know today that awareness alone is not enough.Awareness alone doesn’t translate into bottom-line activity. However, experience — and research backs this up — shows that corporate reputation is just as important as product/service branding because consumers base buying decisions and share recommendations with others on what they know about a particular company.

 

David Phelps • 612-673-7269

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