Should one lie to protect a good reputation? This was one of the key questions discussed at the 2015 Reputation Conference which took place at the Protea Hotel Fire & Ice in Cape Town.
The conference, hosted by Reputation Matters, provided stimulating discussion and food for thought for public relations professionals, business leaders, communication specialists, leaders of non-profit organisations and the media in attendance.
Professor Ronél Rensburg, Head of the Communication Division at the University of Pretoria at the University of Pretoria shared results from a study she conducted with 20 communication directors working for JSE listed companies. One of the questions posed was, “Have you ever lied to the media and to other stakeholders to protect your organisation and CEO?” Interestingly, 17 out of 20 answered ‘yes’ to the question, some saying that they are “paid to lie.” Fourteen of the respondents said that they would lie again if they had to. A follow up study of a wider sample of communication professionals will be released shortly, however Rensburg says that results already reflect her original findings.
Multi-award winning Sunday Times investigative journalist, Mzilikazi Wa Afrika sent a clear message to conference delegates in his speech. “I will advise you as executives or PR agents, when you prepare a press statement; be honest, be transparent and whenever you’ve made a mistake admit to it. Admit your oversight, admit shortcomings… don’t lie.
Wa Afrika captivated the crowd with his stories of confronting corrupt politicians who denied allegations put to them and told how he had turned down millions of Rands in bribes to keep quiet as well as a near-death escape while conducting an undercover investigation into human trafficking.
Huma Gruaz, PR and Marketing Executive at Alpaytac in the United States shared examples of organisations that had made communication blunders to the detriment of their organisation’s reputation. She referred to the Black Fish documentary which exposed Sea World and online dating site Tinder’s reaction to an article that reflected negatively on the organisation. Gruaz emphasised the importance of honesty with stakeholders.
“The brand needs to be transparent, that is crucial for a reputation.” Reputations improved when organisations were open about making principled decisions, said Gruaz, even if this affected their profits – in most cases these effects were only temporary as stakeholders’ support for the organisation increased because of their transparent and honest approach.
Co-founder and CEO of Argon Asset Management, Mothobi Seseli spoke about the value of trust in building a strong reputation, he said that while investment performance was critical, perceived performance – based on trust and the reputation of a firm - was a major factor in choosing who manages your money. Having started the organisation in April 2005 with zero assets under management, Argon is now a highly regarded firm, with multiple global and domestic awards, consistent top quartile investment performance across its portfolios and ZAR30bn in client assets under management.
International motivational speaker and environmental activist, Braam Malherbe was MC for the day, which started off with an impressive juggling performance by Jason Barnard from Cape Town’s non-profit, Zip Zap Circus School. Regine le Roux, Managing Director at Reputation Matters explained how communication professionals need to keep their eye on the ball, juggling many expectations and requirements at once when it comes to managing a reputation. Le Roux’s book,Reputation Matters, Building blocks to becoming the business people want to do business with, which explains the ten building blocks to a solid reputation was also launched at the conference.
“The conference provided communication professionals with stimulating and fresh new perspectives and case studies to inspire and equip them for the challenges they face,” concludes le Roux.
Other speakers at the conference included Andrew Boraine; CEO of the Western Cape Economic Development Partnership (WCEDP), Nicole Webb; Founder and Director of Impact Communications in Australia, Norbert Ofmanski; MD of On Board - Poland and Lutz Cleffmann from ECCO International Communication Network in Düsseldorf, Germany.