Should You Spin A Better Story or Build A Better Company?

Many companies are embracing corporate social responsibility—CSR—which includes issues like the environment, women, poverty, child abuse, natural disaster relief, etc. In today’s high-stakes competitive business climate, CSR can create great PR. But even PR pros like Edelman can misstep and become quickly mired in controversy. A company can become toast by the mainstream media overnight; their deeds getting magnified by social media posts. A company that mismanages orignores its image will likely pay the price—not only the loss of credibility, but also lost profits.

“Corporate image” describes how a company and its products or services are perceived by the marketplace (the general public and your key stakeholders—suppliers, customers, employees, etc.) It’s the company’s reputation. The question is: is it better to create and communicate a positive corporate image byspinning a better story or by investing in becoming a better company?

Leslie Dach, former executive vice president of corporate affairs at Walmart, says, “If a drumbeat of criticism starts up against your company, … I know what doesn’t work: thinking you can tell a better story without actually becoming a better company.”

So let’s say you want to make sure your corporate image is congruent—truly aligned with what your company is. That’s the most authentic position your companycan hold. What they see is what you are. The goal is to show what you are as a company throughout all its facets, all its touch points with people. Pretending to be something you aren’t is just putting a phony “spin” on your company. There’s got to be some real substance behind the image. No matter how you massage the surface, people will eventually see the truth. Either you showcase it or try to hide it, but eventually your audience will discover what lies behind the exterior image. Your stakeholders get their impressions from things like:

  • How your employees treat each other and in turn treat your customers or potential customers.
  • How your company deals with your vendors. Are your transactions straightforward, honest or ethical or is it a constant power struggle? (“We’ll beat them down on price just for the fun of it or because we don’t trust them.”)

What if better performance, worse image?
What if you discover your corporate image doesn’t match reality? If the company is actually performing better than the image held by stakeholders, this image problem is best dealt with by solutions that come from the “branding side.” This organization needs to improve its image by making its true strengths known to the stakeholders, by aligning its image with its performance. Remedies need to come from the branding or reputation improvement side. They need to come from marketing, public relations, and sales.

If your company has high moral values, identify them and communicate them. To whom? To everyone who can make a difference, everyone who matters. This becomes the banner your organization flies high; what it stands for. Companies that manage a strong reputation enjoy loyal customers, productive employees, and higher profits than the industry average.

What if better image, worse performance?
If the company is not measuring up to the perception that stakeholders hold, this company needs to improve its operation and boost performance to realign with its elevated reputation. Symptoms of misalignment may be that sales are falling off, or there are increasing customer complaints about your products or service. Employees may be dissatisfied or are slowing down in productivity, or absenteeism is on the increase. Of course, there could be lots of other symptoms, but you get the idea. To determine the proper course of action, look at the situation from your customers or stakeholders’ vantage point.

Concentrate on either area
At Corporate Images, we believe the solution can be isolated into branding or peak performance arenas. These represent the most potent means to remedy the problem and bring about better business results. These two areas need to be in balance throughout the company or enterprise. By concentrating efforts in the primary category that needs alignment, the whole company improves. If companies try to focus on both simultaneously, they don’t focus. Focus on the area of most need and direct energy and resources to it, until it improves.

So what’s better: working to improve your company so it stands above the crowd on a solid, well earned reputation, or simply “putting lipstick on a pig”— spinning your story so the reputation sounds better but in reality it is not? We believe you need to take your company to better performance rather than spinning a better story.

Call me if you think you could use aid in your re-alignment process.

Alan Bagg is President/CEO of Corporate Images, Inc. and works with companies and organizations large and small to enhance their corporate image through strategic thinking and creating effective marketing communication solutions. He can be reached at or (262) 633-7772

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Alan Bagg helps manufacturers boost sales by getting more mileage from their current marketing budget.

Alan is happy to entertain more discussion via email or phone. Reach him at or 262.633.7772. Or follow him on twitter @alanbagg. Find more information on Alan at his LinkedIn profile.

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