Corporate reputation is an intangible asset that is the collective knowledge of organisation-public relationships, based on consistent organisational behaviour. Although corporate reputation management is not a new concept, it has been growing in importance and has influenced the way organisations have approached their strategic management. There are, however, many misconceptions with regard to the concept of corporate reputation.
This study has explored the impact of different understandings of corporate reputation on the management and measurement of reputation in organisations. Current understandings of the term ‘corporate reputation’ are traced, pointing out the confusion in the literature regarding corporate image, corporate identity, corporate social responsibility and corporate behaviour. The assumption underpinning this study is that the way corporate reputation is defined will influence the way it is managed and measured by organisations.
Moreover, this study explores how managers of an organisation understand the concept of corporate reputation’s impact on the selection of the management function that is responsible for corporate reputation management. Thus this study not only identifies the preferred management function by organisations to manage corporate reputation, but also explores the role of public relations practitioners in managing corporate reputation in organisations. The assumption underpinning this study is that public relations practitioners will only play a role in reputation management if corporate reputation is understood in terms of organisation-public relationships and if public relations practitioners are part of the strategic management team of an organisation.
To reach these research objectives, a qualitative methodology is followed, using a multiple case study research design. There is little explanation in previous communication and business theories concerning the impact of the definition of corporate reputation on its management and how corporate reputation can be managed. As there are several inconsistencies on the theory on corporate reputation, an in-depth study was needed.
This thesis argues that corporate reputation should be intrinsically related to the identity of the company, and not to its image. Based on the case studies, the more successful corporate reputation management is that which valued corporate identity more highly than public perception, as, in this way, the company behaves in accordance with its values and principles.
This study concludes that corporate reputation, being an intangible and a complex notion, cannot be managed in the business sense of the word. Although a reputation depends on how stakeholders perceive a company’s behaviour, organisations can manage their corporate identity and their relationships with stakeholders. As such, this thesis has argued for stakeholder engagement management as a way of managing corporate reputation.
Communication managers have a major role to play in managing corporate reputation, not only as communicators, but as relationship managers (or as stakeholder engagement managers), as part of the strategic management team. More than just communicating what has been happening, public relations practitioners need to take part in the corporate decision-making processes. Changing a company’s image is not the same as changing a company’s behaviour. Only the latter, together with two-way symmetrical communication, can generate a trustworthy corporate reputation.