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August 27, 2009
If My Competitors Are Crap It Brings Down My Industry - True?

Corporate reputation is now a buzz phrase and years ago it was actually something entities aspired to. (I just dated myself.) It mattered how folks saw you—even in the minutest way. Last week an industry filled with people who claim to be in the business of growing and protecting corporate reputation proved without a doubt that today reputation matters not one whit.

Yes, the PR field. And no I am not speaking about yet the blast e-mail pitch sent to hundreds of reporters. That would be boring and very much passé.

But there is a problem that hasn’t been broached. While some PR folks—take, for example, me—integrate their personalities into their communication for the betterment of the industry, some of our colleagues have expanded their “personalities” to an unwieldy extreme, reveling in attention from anyone or anything while giving them a corporate reputation that is dubious at the very best. And – wait for it—their clients don’t care.

There was a time when an agency CEO that condoned activities justifying a raid by the Department of Labor would have caused a client exodus. Every damn one would have left by lunch. No company—certainly not multinational powerful types—would want communications handled by a PR firm that a) is accused of making employees so miserable as to incite a visit by the Feds, b) managed to get their transgressions written about in a news outlet (online gossip rags count), and c) is led by one who tried to hide from officials by quietly sidling out the side exit!

But the client list on the site of the agency I’m talking about hasn’t changed at all. That is understandable from the purview of small companies who don’t have the time or resources to go agency-trolling—yet not Evian and Barnes & Noble! I would have thought they would be unyielding about protecting brands they worked diligently to build and spent heavily to maintain.

I’m wrong.

It’s easy to point at agency leadership and say, “Oh, what a ridiculous person!” That’s what competitors do with one another. I don’t care whether or not a leader of service companies anxiously promotes what he/she does because I know those types intimately. I object, however, to corporations so engrossed in staring at their own brand-y navels that they don’t give a whit about their vendors’ reputations.

Every one should be offended by the idea of an American company that shrugs “Ah no big deal” when a vendor proves himself beneath its supposed standards. But you know what? We’re not offended and there are few standards that won’t be overturned.

Now you know why no one is brand loyal any longer.

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Richard Laermer is CEO of New York's RLM pr, representing, among others, e-Miles, Epic Advertising, Yodlee, Revolution Money, Group Commerce, Smith & Nephew, and HotChalk. He was host of TLC's cult program Taking Care of Business and speaks on trends and marketing for corporate groups. You can read Laermer on The Huffington Post and on the mischievous but all-too-necessary Bad Pitch Blog. For more like this, follow him on @laermer.

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