Is brand protection a necessity or luxury?

DO you remember the disgraced United Kingdom (UK)public relations company Bell Pottinger? If you do not remember, please look up “Bell Pottinger scandal in South Africa” and the links will update your memory.

On September 12 2017, it went into bankruptcy, as a consequence of its spin doctoring scandal, caused by its nefarious activities in South Africa. Here was a communications firm, that failed to manage reputational risk of its controversial clients in South Africa, leading to its very own demise.

Closer home in Zimbabwe, when bank failures started in the mid-1990’s, high reputational risk led to a run on the banks and by the mid-2000s, only two to three indigenous banks were still standing, with the previous five traditional commercial banks that had been inherited in the economy at independence.

In today's interconnected world, reputation risk management and strategic communications, have emerged as a critical function for both private sector organisations and state-owned corporations.

The digital age has amplified the speed at which reputational damage can occur, making it imperative for organisations to proactively manage their public perception.

In this instalment, we explore the importance of reputation risk management and present a comprehensive 10-point plan detailing the perils of not having a robust reputation risk management and strategic communications plan as well as the benefits of implementing one.

The compelling necessities

The necessity of having a robust reputation risk management and strategic communications plan cannot be overstated, in today’s fast paced, integrated and digitally connected world.

Both private sector organisations and state-owned corporations face an unprecedented level of scrutiny from stakeholders, including customers, investors, regulators, and the general public.

This scrutiny is amplified by the rapid dissemination of information through digital and social media platforms, where negative news can spread like wildfire, causing immediate and potentially lasting damage to an organisation’s reputation.

A well-designed reputation risk management plan helps organisations identify, assess, and mitigate potential threats to their public image, ensuring that they are prepared to respond effectively to crises.

Strategic communications, on the other hand, play a crucial role in shaping public perception, maintaining transparency, and fostering trust. Together, these elements form an essential framework that not only protects an organisation's brand but also enhances its ability to thrive in a competitive and volatile market.

The necessities include, but are not restricted to the following:

Protecting brand value

A company's reputation is one of its most valuable assets. It influences customer loyalty, investor confidence, and employee engagement. A tarnished reputation can lead to a loss of customers, decreased sales, and a drop in share prices.

Building trust

For both private and state-owned entities, maintaining trust with stakeholders is crucial. Trust drives business relationships, investor confidence, and public support. A strong reputation fosters trust, while a damaged reputation can erode it quickly.

Competitive advantage

A good reputation differentiates an organisation from its competitors. It can be a deciding factor for consumers choosing between similar products or services.

For state-owned corporations, a solid reputation can enhance national and international standing.

Regulatory compliance

Regulatory bodies often scrutinise companies with poor reputations more closely. Effective reputation management can help ensure compliance with regulations and reduce the likelihood of legal issues.

Crisis management

Reputation risk management prepares organisations to handle crises effectively. A well-managed reputation can mitigate the impact of crises through strategic communications, whereas a poor reputation can exacerbate them.

Long-term sustainability

Sustainable business practices are increasingly tied to reputation. Companies perceived as socially and environmentally responsible are more likely to enjoy long-term success.

Talent acquisition and retention

A good reputation attracts top talent. Employees want to work for companies that are respected and have a positive public image. Conversely, a bad reputation can lead to high turnover rates and difficulties in hiring.

Financial performance

There is a strong correlation between a company's reputation and its financial performance. Positive reputation drives revenue growth, while negative reputation can lead to financial losses.

Stakeholder relations

Effective reputation management ensures strong relationships with all stakeholders, including customers, investors, employees, regulators, and the community. These relationships are vital for the smooth operation and growth of any organisation.

Global operations

For multinational corporations, managing reputation is even more critical. Different regions have different cultural expectations and regulatory environments. A strong global reputation can help navigate these complexities more effectively.

Perils of not having a strategic plan

Brand protection through reputation risk management and strategic communications is far from being a luxury for organisations; it is an essential component of their operational strategy.  In an era where public perception can significantly impact financial performance and stakeholder trust, investing in these areas is critical for sustaining long-term success and resilience.

Here are ten perils of not having a robust strategic reputation risk management and strategic communications plan:

Financial losses

One of the most immediate consequences of a damaged reputation is financial loss (eg Bell Pottinger and the bank failures in Zimbabwe). Customers might boycott products, investors might pull out, and share prices can plummet. The absence of a strategic plan to manage reputation risks can lead to severe financial instability or corporate failure.

Loss of customer trust

Without a solid reputation management plan, an organization risks losing the trust of its customers. This can result in decreased sales, negative word-of-mouth, and long-term damage to the brand.

Regulatory scrutiny and legal issues

Companies with poor reputations attract more regulatory scrutiny. This can lead to increased legal issues, fines, and sanctions. Not having a plan to manage reputation risks can make it difficult to navigate regulatory challenges.

Talent drain

A damaged reputation can lead to a talent drain, where top employees leave the company, and attracting new talent becomes difficult. This can result in decreased productivity and innovation.

Crisis amplification

In the absence of a reputation risk management plan, crises can become amplified. Poorly managed crises can spiral out of control, causing long-term damage to the organisation's reputation.

Competitive disadvantage

Organisations with poor reputations are at a competitive disadvantage. They may lose market share to competitors with better reputations, leading to decreased profitability and growth.

Erosion of stakeholder relationships

Without effective reputation management, relationships with stakeholders can erode. This can result in a lack of support from investors, regulators, and the community, making it difficult to operate smoothly.

Negative media coverage

A lack of strategic reputation management can lead to negative media coverage. This can perpetuate the cycle of bad reputation, making it harder to recover and rebuild trust.

Decreased market value

A poor reputation can lead to a decrease in market value. This can impact the organisation's ability to raise capital, invest in new projects, and achieve long-term growth.

Impact on global operations

For multinational corporations, a damaged reputation in one region can impact operations globally. Not having a robust plan to manage reputation risks can result in operational challenges across different markets.

Benefits of having a strategic plan

In Zimbabwe, the risk of companies losing their reputational goodwill stands as the "risk of all risks," given the corruption, unethical conduct, economic and political volatility that has gradually been eroding public trust.

Now, more than ever, organisations need to subscribe to values and build public trust to protect their reputation and grow strong sustainable brands. Reputational damage can lead to a cascade of adverse effects, including financial losses, regulatory scrutiny, and diminished stakeholder confidence.  In a landscape where trust is already low and fragile, effective reputational risk management has never been more crucial. It ensures that companies can navigate crises, maintain investor confidence, and sustain consumer trust, thereby securing their long-term viability and contributing to broader economic stability not only in Zimbabwe, but the subregion as well.

Here are ten benefits of having a robust strategic reputation risk management and strategic communication plan:

Enhanced brand value

A robust reputation risk management plan helps in maintaining and enhancing brand value. By proactively managing potential threats to reputation, organisations can safeguard their brand and ensure it continues to be a key asset.

Strengthened trust and loyalty

Implementing a strategic plan for reputation risk management fosters trust and loyalty among customers, investors, and employees. This leads to stronger and more resilient relationships that can withstand potential crises.

Improved crisis preparedness

A comprehensive reputation risk management plan includes crisis management strategies. This ensures that the organisation is prepared to respond swiftly and effectively to any reputational threats, thereby minimising damage and facilitating quicker recovery.

Competitive differentiation

Organisations with strong reputations stand out in the marketplace. A well-managed reputation risk strategy ensures that the company maintains its competitive edge by consistently meeting or exceeding stakeholder expectations.

With the help of reputation risk analytics tools, organisations and their boards can be assisted to “proactively manage reputational risk to protect today’s foremost competitive advantage – a solid and sustainable reputation.” (Hewers, 2024)

Regulatory and legal compliance

A robust reputation risk management plan often includes measures to ensure compliance with regulatory standards. This reduces the likelihood of legal issues and penalties, thereby protecting the organisation's reputation.

Attraction and retention of talent

Companies with a strong reputation are more attractive to potential employees. A strategic plan to manage reputation risks helps in retaining top talent and attracting new hires, contributing to the overall success of the organisation.

Financial stability and growth

Effective reputation management leads to financial stability and growth. By maintaining a positive public image, organisations can attract more customers, secure investments, and achieve better financial performance.

Positive media relations

A robust plan includes strategies for managing media relations. This ensures that the organisation is portrayed positively in the media, which can enhance public perception and further strengthen its reputation.

Stronger stakeholder relationships

A comprehensive reputation risk management plan fosters strong relationships with all stakeholders. This includes customers, investors, regulators, and the community. Strong stakeholder relationships are essential for the smooth operation and growth of the organisation.

Global reputation management

For multinational corporations, a strategic reputation risk management plan ensures that the organisation's reputation is managed consistently across different regions. This helps in navigating cultural and regulatory differences effectively, thereby maintaining a strong global reputation.


Reputation risk management is crucial for both private sector organisations and state-owned corporations. In an era where information travels quickly and public perception can change in an instant, having a robust strategic reputation risk management and strategic communications plan is essential.

The absence of such a plan can lead to significant financial losses, erosion of trust, regulatory scrutiny, and competitive disadvantages. Conversely, a well-implemented reputation risk management strategy offers numerous benefits, including enhanced brand value, strengthened trust and loyalty, improved crisis preparedness, and financial stability.

Organisations that prioritise reputation risk management are better equipped to handle potential threats and capitalise on opportunities. By fostering a positive public image, they can achieve long-term success and maintain a competitive edge in the marketplace. Therefore, it is imperative for organisations to develop and implement comprehensive reputation risk management plans that address the unique challenges and opportunities they face.

Ndoro-Mkombachoto is a former academic and banker. She has consulted widely in strategy,  entrepreneurship and private sector development for organisations that include Seed Co Africa, Hwange Colliery, RBZ/CGC, Standard Bank of South Africa, Home Loans, IFC/World Bank, UNDP, USAid, Danida, Cida, Kellogg Foundation, among others, as a writer, property investor, developer and manager.  —  @HeartfeltwithGloria/ +263 772 236 341.

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