Ron Smith's Teaching Notes on …

Reputation and Image


Updated Spring 2016 as a supplement to Professor Smith's textbooks
Strategic Planning for Public Relations and Becoming a Public Relations Writer, (Routledge/Taylor and Francis).


Confusion exists about the relationship between reputation, image, position indentity, and related concepts. Every organization has these attributes, and a lot of organizational resources are given to creating, managing, rebuilding, and maintaining them. But what does each term mean? Here are Ron Smith's (current) thoughts on the concepts related to reputation and image. Try them on, and see if they work for you. 



Reputation is the general, overall, and long-term impression of an organization on a specific public. Based on how a public views and understands the organization, reputation thus is the prevailing impression of an organization and the social evaluation that people make of it. Reputation is rooted in what people know or think they know about an organization (the cognitive element) and what attitudes they hold based on that information (the affective element). Reputation is considered part of the social capital of an organization, something it can bank on and build on. I would argue that reputation is perhaps the most important goal of any public relations program, and certainly one of the most vulnerable aspects of any organization. Thus the need to envision it, actively pursue it, and protect it at all cost. 



Visibility is an aspect of reputation, in the sense that a person first has to know about another person or organization before having an opinion about it. But don't confuse the two. Sometimes an organization thinks it has a poor reputation when the real problem is that it is unknown among its key publics. Low visibility is far easier to correct than a poor reputation.


Reputation Management

Reputation management is the complex and continuing process of how an organization seeks to influence the way its publics view and understand the organization. Reputation management begins with tracking and identifying what others say and feel about an organization. It then focuses on both building and maintaining a desired reputation with key publics. In critical times, reputation management can be part of crisis communication, with the organization attempting to recover from a negative environment. Reputation lags behind an organization's conscious attempt to affect the way people perceive it. 



Image (aka perception) is a more general and short-term evaluation of an organization's messages. It is drawn from the way an organization projects itself toward its various publics. Image is what people think about the organization based on the impact of its messages. Image is based on both word and deed - on the verbal, visual, and behavioral messages, both planned and unplanned, that come from an organization and leave an impression. Because not all publics receive the same messages or process them the same way, image can be inconsistent and can vary from one public to another or from one time to another. Whereas reputation is considered interactive and closely associated with public relations, image sometimes is linked more with advertising and the production/presentation of messages directed in support of a branding effort toward a public or market segment.



Positioning is a process of managing how an organization wants to be seen and known by its publics, especially in relation to other similar organizations and the products or services associated with them. The organization first determines what position it holds among various publics and then envisions what position it would like to hold. It then develops a campaign of both action and communication to maintain or modify its current position. As a concept drawn from marketing, positioning specifically deals with establishing and maintaining a distinctive place for an organization vis-a-vis its competitors. It is the organization's competitive posture. Confusingly, the term "positioning" sometimes is called reputation management, though more appropriately the latter term is the action plan that implements a positioning goal.



Organizational identity is the manner in which the organization consciously projects itself visually, in support of the image it seeks to promote. Identity is the planned, visual expression of an organization's personality. It is a category of images that identify the organization and either associate it with or distinguish it from others. Identity involves the choices an organization makes about presentation through its messages and its actions.


Identity System

An identity system (aka identity program) is the planned implementation of the organization's identity. It involves the systematic and consistent use of verbal and visual elements to project the organization to its various publics. Tools associated with an identity system include the organization's name, brochures, news releases, interviews, advertisements, logos, letterhead, posters, manuals, signage, publication layout and design, correspondence, websites, social media sites, videos, voice mail and telephone answering, uniform use of color, and other means of communication.



The logo (aka corporate symbol or corporate seal) is a primary part of an organization's identity system. The logo is the image people see, often as their first introduction to the organization, and the one that remains as a constant reminder of the organization's presence in the community. The logo includes two parts: a word or words called the wordmark (aka signature), and a graphic element called the symbol.