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Heather Landy is Editor in Chief of American Banker Magazine.
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The Media's Role in the Reputation Equation

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Editor's note: This post originally appeared in the July issue of American Banker Magazine.

In banking, reputation has many owners. If you work in customer service, marketing, public relations or risk management, if you have P&L or corporate responsibilities, if you have a job in a branch or sit on the board, then reputation is, or should be, your concern.

Each role brings its own perspective as to how a bank's reputation is made and broken (and potentially remade). But all this feedback really can be boiled down to just two big questions: how do you maintain a consistently good experience for customers and employees, and how do you manage the broader conversation around your brand.

Traditional media still plays a role in all this. So for this issue, featuring the results of the 4th Annual American Banker/Reputation Institute Survey of Bank Reputations, I'd like to use this space to offer a journalist's perspective on corporate reputation.

I've met a lot of bankers, and none has ever told me that he or she aims to treat customers unfairly. And yet even after the pre-crisis abuses were exposed, a lot of unfair stuff went on, from the $39 lattes unknowingly purchased on overdraft to the careless handling of foreclosure documents (the latter a particularly egregious breach of trust).

Basic fairness has to be at the heart of the customer experience. Sure, innovations are important, as are civic contributions. But as a news story, not to mention a matter of principle, none of that holds a candle to instances in which customer trust is broken.

Overdraft and robo-signing are largely yesterday's stories now, thanks to voluntary repairs by banks and new rules from regulators with the motivation and influence to clean up problems. But there always will be instances where profit is put above doing what's right. And when they come to light, they will rarely fail to make headlines.

In terms of how employee experience influences media coverage, I offer the example of two prominent retail brands that I used to cover for a major metro newspaper. One had a disgruntled employee base that was great for leaks that led to juicy stories. From the other, I never got anything aside from the official company line. Even when the second company hit a rough patch, no one called the local paper to complain. Here, a healthy culture offset the impact of an unhealthy stock price: these employees were rallying around their CEO. They cared about their brand and were motivated to contribute to its revival.

That functional culture made it a lot easier for the company to handle the second part of the reputation equation, managing the conversation around the brand. Not only were employees refraining from calling the local paper, they weren't going rogue over social media or otherwise feeding into the perception that this was a company on the ropes.

Say what you will about the declining influence of traditional media; the mainstream press remains an important component of the broad conversations taking place around your brand.

So my basic advice for dealing with people like me is the same as it always was: engage if you can, don't ever lie and please respect the deadline. Develop relationships with the newspaper and television reporters in your town. Take time to educate them about what you do; this will pay dividends in the form of stronger, more informed coverage. (The stories might not always be good news for you, but they should at least be accurate.) And refresh your contacts if you haven't done so in a while. The newsrooms in your town may have some new faces, and even the old faces may have some new areas of interest, such as video.

As to the how mainstream media can repair its own poor reputation, well, that's a column for another time and place.

Heather Landy is Editor in Chief of American Banker Magazine.

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