Our Corporate Practice partner, Viv O’Connor-Jemmett, takes a few minutes to discuss how he works with our corporate clients and the new and emerging challenges they face.
I have spent most of my career working in an advisory capacity for corporate communications firms, focused on digital strategy and online reputation. During my first year working in a corporate PR firm, companies and their boards were faced with the new challenge of going digital. Most clients had very little understanding of their company’s presence beyond their own website, and were simultaneously weighing up the pros and cons of having a social media presence. In the beginning, convincing CEOs and their boards of the need to establish and control their online presence was a challenge, but ultimately expectations from customers, combined with seeing other businesses doing it successfully, led the way to unanimous digitalisation – even among traditional firms where digital was a foreign concept.
Having worked on and executed numerous digital strategies for FTSE 100 companies and other listed and non-listed global companies, it became clear that the effective management of those online profiles from a reputational perspective would become critical. I started specialising in online reputation management (ORM) during a time when most people at the boardroom table had little idea of what ORM meant.
Many companies were focused on achieving positive coverage in the media or beginning to share corporate messaging online, but their efforts were not translating into a positive or controlled Google profile. As Google quickly became the most important search tool, corporates began to understand that when shareholders, analysts, or journalists were searching for information, they were doing so online. The search results that Google returned became central to what is now referred to as an online reputation, from which ORM was born.
ORM has traditionally been perceived as a reactive solution that is used to rebuild a positive online profile after a reputational crisis has taken place. Although this serves a valuable purpose, taking a proactive approach to establishing a positive online profile is important in the long term, building resilience that protects against crises that may arise in future, in turn reducing or mitigating the reputational threat altogether. Communications agencies have long been appointed by corporates on an ongoing basis, and we are seeing the same shift with ORM, meaning we are now working alongside the appointed PR and law firms to achieve shared reputational goals.
Monitoring has become a more important tool for corporates. The speed at which crises now develop through a round-the-clock news cycle, whether via social media, blogs or 24-hour online media reporting, leaves very little time for companies to react to fast-moving situations. The time taken to react often determines the severity of the reputational damage that is inflicted, so ensuring our clients act swiftly and effectively is vital. Our technology team has been extremely busy developing unique tools that are not offered elsewhere in the traditional communications market, which we are launching more formally in 2022.
I work with such a variety of corporates, and the diversity is one of the elements that my team enjoys the most. No two clients are ever the same, and each faces unique challenges. Whether establishing an online profile for a new company across multiple territories and languages, or assisting with 24-hour crisis monitoring when a company becomes the centre of an international news story, we leverage our proprietary technology and tools to solve complex problems.
Aside from advising global businesses, their CEOs and boards, we continue to work for a number of successful entrepreneurs who are navigating a range of reputational challenges. Social media, cryptocurrency, and more recently non-fungible tokens (NFTs) have produced a new breed of entrepreneurial investor who faces the challenges of tightening government regulation and also media interest regarding their wealth and activities.
The media’s focus on wealth, particularly the renumeration of individuals leading well-known companies, has led to a sharp increase in the number of CEOs and senior figures facing personal attacks. The moment a company stops reporting growth or an issue becomes public knowledge, senior executives become targeted by journalists and a wave of personal accusations are reported – particularly in the tabloid press. Understanding the risks that exist online, whether from a search profile that lacks resilience, or personal information that poses a reputational or security threat, is so important given the often-unjustified campaigns that are levelled by the media.
From a security perspective, ransomware and corporate hacking have certainly become emerging challenges for corporates today. We have advised several businesses (large and small) following the theft of sensitive data and the threats posed by its publication online. Covid-19 presented an indirect security threat, with businesses working remotely for the first time and hackers looking to exploit vulnerabilities. I fear that risk will not go away, particularly as the value of data stolen during the pandemic has reached record highs.
From a corporate perspective, online reputation management will become ever more important. I foresee that we will be working in a proactive capacity for an even larger number of clients who understand the value in protecting against the numerous reputational threats posed online.
Online narrative management, which has the sole objective of establishing a client’s messaging around a contentious issue, will become one of the most vital tools in a company’s armoury. With the sharp rise in high stakes corporate litigation, the ability to control the online narrative and communicate your argument effectively is of paramount importance.