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The reputation of reputation 2019

As 2019 draws to a close, thoughts inevitably turn to the year that’s passed and what to make of it all. For those of us with a broader interest in reputation (and indeed the reputation of reputation) it was another fascinating year.

While not quite scaling the single day heights of 2017, when a certain Taylor Swift brought new attention (and possibly audiences) to the concept of Reputation, 2019 followed in its predecessors’ footsteps by registering a further 10% year-on-year increase in references to the R-word. 

We have covered many of 2019’s big corporate reputation stories in our blogs and case studies this year, however the continued increase in references to reputation speaks to its wider adoption as a catch-all term in media and social media, encompassing politics, celebrities and once-cherished institutions.

In this short piece, we look at some of the drivers of interest in reputation that have come from outside of the corporate world.

2019’s (non-corporate) reputational highlights

2019 has indeed been a year in which reputations took front and centre stage: from politicians attempting to undermine those of the opposition parties while shoring up their own during December’s general election campaigning; to the royal family being exposed in the media spotlight as never before; and entire generations being vilified by teenage climate campaigners for failing the planet.

That reputation has become a much more recognised trading point in the popular consciousness over the last year is undeniable. But it has also become shorthand for the negative consequences of any dubious behaviour. In his three years as president, Donald Trump is said to have ruined the reputation of the entire United States as he reportedly plays hard and fast with the conventions of democracy. In the Axios and Harris poll of the worst reputations in the US in 2019, both Trump Org and the US Government featured in the top three.

Things have deteriorated to such an extent that, according to research by the European Council on Foreign Relations, Europeans no longer believe America can act as a guarantor of their safety – and the majority favour neutrality over taking the US side on global issues. Trump’s hasty exit from December’s Nato summit, faced with an impeachment hearing back home, can hardly have helped.

But it’s not just ‘anti-establishment’, right-wing politicians who have pushed the story of embattled reputations up the media rankings. That very model of the establishment, the British royal family, has also been bombarded in recent months. 

Despite excellent credit thanks to the Queen’s impressive longevity and dedication to duty, and the media-friendly faces of the younger generation of dukes and duchesses, even this edifice of goodwill has cracked in the face of Prince Andrew’s PR debacle. His now infamous Newsnight interview was widely reported as having backfired, causing untold damage to his reputation and resulting in him being dropped as a patron by charities, removed from royal duties and evicted from his Buckingham Palace office.

Reputation crystal ball?

With the variety and range of reputation stories seemingly ever expanding, we would never be so foolhardy as to commit to predictions for 2020 (at least not in print!). However, it’s fair to say that the increasing media and social media interest in the concept looks set to continue apace, with ever more disparate issues, events and personalities presented through the lens of reputation.

And while for us working in reputation intelligence, an increased profile for the concept can only be a beneficial development, one evolution we would very much like to see is reputation starting to be more widely seen as a positive force, rather than simply appended to “risk” or “crisis”. For as any good reputation practitioner knows, reputation is as much an opportunity as it is a risk.

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