driving image and reputation
with the Guru Program®
Gable PR helps clients rise above the clutter and build reputation for the long term through an innovative and proprietary program developed over the past three decades and now trademarked — the Guru Program®. CEOs, CFOs, CTOs, marketing experts and others often ask why the same people are quoted regularly in the media, analyst reports, industry roundups and speeches by outside experts or elected officials and seem to have better margins, easier access to capital, an edge in recruiting and better overall image.
The answer: the organization, its agency or a combination thereof have invested time to implement a program and incorporates image as a part of corporate strategy, resulting in a positive impact on a company’s reputation and fortunes.
The reason: studies by Charles Fombrun, in his books Reputation and Fame & Fortune, and others show that a reputation developed from a company’s uniqueness and identity-shaping practices will, over time, lead constituents to perceive the company as credible, reliable, trustworthy, and responsible.
Fombrun notes that reputation builds strategic value for a company by granting it a competitive advantage that rivals have trouble overcoming. To quote Fombrun: “To acquire a reputation that is positive, enduring, and resilient requires managers to invest heavily in building and maintaining good relationships with their company’s constituents…Doing so pays off in the long run because favorable reputations produce tangible benefits: premium prices for products, lower costs of capital and labor, improved loyalty from employees, greater latitude in decision making, and a cushion of goodwill when crises hit.”
The true path to guru-dom isn’t based on hype or empty claims. The Guru Program starts with seeing if the organization and the individuals leading the climb to the top have real core values, points of differentiation, uniqueness and identity-shaping practices and attributes that can be demonstrated over time. On the flip side are many pretenders to the throne. Gable research showed that half of the companies issuing releases over Business Wire and PR Newswire during a one week period claimed leadership of one kind or another but couldn’t prove the claims or created sub-categories that sometimes defied logic. Using this same approach, Gable PR could be promoted as “the leading PR firm in the Western Hemisphere run by a left-handed former journalist of Scottish-Irish-English-Chickasaw extraction and a phone number in the 858 area code.
Identifying Real Criteria
For the organization, does it have a real competitive advantage with its science or technology? Intellectual property? First mover advantage? New category or niche? Management team? Market strength? Culture? If not, what about proprietary processes — the secret black box inside your organization that helps you deliver better services and results than your competitors? What about the character, reputation, intelligence and personality of the potential guru? Gurus can come in all sizes and shapes, too: an expert in a narrow area of science or technology; thought leader in an industry, profession, business, government body, think tank, field of study, etc.; or individual visionary with compelling prognostications on just about anything.
Generating Tangible Benefits
Gable PR has helped many companies build reputation and achieve Guru Status. The process requires hard work and commitment. And, as Charles Fombrun noted, tangible benefits can be considerable. In our experience, guru status helped one technology start up company attract strategic partners, recruit an advisory board, raise venture capital, successfully introduce its new Internet e-commerce service, go public and sell to a bigger company. A NYSE company increased sales and achieved a higher price-earnings ratio than its major competitors once it began talking about the evolution of its industry rather than just its own business. The CEOs of new biotech companies have found that Guru Status in a particular area can ease entry into the capital markets. A business organization took on the more important role of providing trend information on a regular basis to the media, grew its reputation and membership along with it. A NYSE health care company saw a Guru Program turn around its reputation among buy and sell side analysts and investors, with its stock going from $9 to $45 in less than a year. A venture capital firm began promoting the bigger picture of investing in a specific geographic region and different emerging technologies, resulting in both increased deal flow from inventors and more interest and investments from global investors.
Avoiding Baggage, Land Mines
Since not every organization has led a pristine existence, agencies and staff need to probe for baggage or potential land mines. Anything from history that has the potential to explode in the future and obliterate the other positive evidence?
On authenticity, are you too slick, lacking in proof of principle, perceived poorly in the industry or profession and seriously over-hyped? Journalists, with built-in B-S detectors, are perhaps your most cynical target audiences, followed by angel investors, venture capitalists and private equity investors. Conduct a candid assessment. Picture a canary looking for deadly B-S in your reputational coal mine. If it can keep singing with 95 percent validation and higher and maintain that level over time, you are ready to start on the path to guru-dom.
Media coverage offers one proven method of communicating pro-actively about the deeper core values that drive an organization and using them as a foundation to build reputation over time. In our experience, the media will have the most significant (and cost-effective!) impact on building image, awareness and understanding of your organization because of the numbers of people reached, the quality of the audiences and the credibility of the messages. Outside validation is essential. Studies by Columbia University and, more recently, Al Ries in his book [The Fall of Advertising (and the Rise of PR)] demonstrate clearly that media coverage has ten times more positive impact than advertising. To quote Ries: “every brand that gets to the top got there by favorable publicity.”
Building Media Relationships
Media credibility and relationships build over time, hence the focus on core values, vision, proof of principle and authenticity. The media are creatures of habit and go back to good sources rather than seeking new ones. So organizations and individuals need to be positioned or re-positioned correctly from the outset. Gable PR uses its contacts and personal relationships to open the door for its clients; ramp up awareness and coverage; get “on the Rolodex” with the media so they start calling automatically whenever they have a story requiring smart commentary on a particular niche, trend, industry, technological or scientific discovery and more.
The Guru Program is multi-faceted and can operate on many levels simultaneously: media relations, trade relations, community relations, public affairs, governmental relations, speaking engagements, special events, financial relations and internal relations. Gable PR develops plans on spreadsheets to establish specific targets and milestones, often with 18-month and two-year horizons. With this draft road map to Guru Status, we use many tactics and tools to educate previously casual observers along the road and position our clients as having a vision that goes far beyond the company. This includes creating compelling stories, pursuing media coverage six to nine months in advance and beyond, getting editors and writers interested in including organizations and individuals in news roundups, arranging informal and formal briefings to build relationships, conducting media/analyst tours of the east and west coasts where appropriate, testifying before government bodies on important issues, and populating the news and industry databases of the world with a consistent flow of positive stories and information that support guru status.
Creating Image Momentum
Reputations reflect how companies are perceived across a broad spectrum of stakeholders, Fombrun writes. “And that’s a function of how companies communicate both with the media and with the public. When authenticity, consistency and transparency come through from a company, it earns kudos from both the public and the media.”
On advertising, overloaded publics pay less attention to paid commercials, which have lost their effectiveness, he notes. Further: “Broader reputation-building strategies rooted in public relations, event management, sponsorships and corporate citizenship have grown in importance in the media mix for influencing consumer perceptions and cutting through the crowded media marketplace.”
Ultimately, Fombrun writes, fame breeds fortune. “On average, companies with stronger reputations have higher intangible wealth, significantly higher return on assets, lower debt-to-equity ratios and higher five-year growth rates, in each case dominating lower rated companies by a factor of nearly two to one.”
If you are considering the road to Guru Status, let Gable PR show you the proven way. For the latest ideas on achieving guru status through authentic PR, please check out our blog — Authentic PR Counsel.