Media Tag

managing brand reputation

Managing Brand Reputation: Media Brands Live or Die by Their Integrity

The news of AT&Ts attempt to acquire Time Warner without shedding CNN brings the value of media brands back into the spotlight. CNN has seen its share of criticism over the last year –primarily from one powerful voice – but its position, and the debate over “fake news” raises an important issue for media brands everywhere. Embellishments and dramatizations may be acceptable in politics and in the corporate business world, but in journalism, they violate a universal standard: integrity. When a writer or editor runs afoul of that hard line, it reflects on the overall media brand. Inability to earn and sustain public trust can kill a brand, or forever damage a business. That balance, trust over mistrust, fact-based journalism over sensationalism, is harder to achieve than ever.

managing brand reputation

The News of the World phone-hacking scandal from a few years ago is a perfect example of how to mismanage brand reputation. Executives of Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp. covered up allegations and evidence of gross misconduct instead of exposing those responsible and holding them accountable. Now, with criminal investigations under way and News Corp. employees in jail, News of the World has folded and Rupert Murdoch’s personal and corporate brands are damaged beyond repair.

Some media brands have managed their brand reputation effectively under challenging circumstances. When Stephen Glass of The New Republic and Jayson Blair of The New York Times were exposed as frauds, their editors immediately made it known to the public and took steps to make it right. This American Life took the extraordinary step of retracting a story when it was discovered that a nonfiction storytelling piece on Apple supplier Foxconn was rife with falsehoods. Editor and host Ira Glass went on air to explain the failures in his and his team’s fact-checking that allowed the story to air. Oprah Winfrey confronted author James Frey for lying in his memoir, A Million Little Pieces, which she had promoted. Each of these media giants avoided long-term damage to their brands by being forthright about their errors in judgment.

Managing brand reputation is essential to any organization, but especially to media organizations. At the end of the day, it’s the brand that takes the biggest hit when credibility and integrity are questioned and restoring the integrity of the brand is most critical. How media editors, publishers, and executives respond in crisis can dictate their brand’s survival.

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The Washington Post: A Name in Limbo

Courtesy Adam Glanzman

A view of The Washington Post building on Aug. 5, 2013. (Courtesy Adam Glanzman)

When Amazon.com founder and CEO Jeff Bezos purchased The Washington Post last month, the media began analyzing the sale and questioning the future of the legacy newspaper. One minor detail, however, that may have not been at the forefront: According to a filing with the SEC, the newspaper’s parent company, Washington Post Co., must change its name within 60 days of the deal closing.

There is no indication (as yet) that Mr. Bezos will change the name of the newspaper. But it’s my hope that he will retain the name. While I generally suggest that geographically based or product-based names can limit an organization’s growth by creating limited perceptions of their potential, this does not seem to be the case with The Washington Post.

“Washington” essentially means “national politics” and “Post” literally means to send, to display and to publish electronically. It seems to be a perfect word for becoming the digital medium of Washington.

Retaining a Valuable Position

What Mr. Bezos purchased is an organization that has tremendous credibility within Washington, D.C., and among top political circles within the district. This is a large and important national audience. The Washington Post is to politics what The Wall Street Journal is to business. The paper owns a unique, differentiated and valuable role within the media industry. And according to his recent statement, I think he gets this.

“I understand the critical role the Post plays in Washington, D.C., and our nation, and the Post’s values will not change,” said Mr. Bezos. “Our duty to readers will continue to be the heart of the Post, and I am very optimistic about the future.”

If It’s Not Broken…

While his commitment to retaining the company’s mainstay values is apparent, the 60-day requirement may leave them with a new “coating.” If it were my call, the name would not be changed as long as the organization continues its unique focus on, and its credibility in, national politics and all that national politics impact. I would not like to see the Post become a general source of random news and lose its unique reason for being. Design, however, could play an important role by changing the visual expression of “The Washington Post” from a traditional newspaper masthead to convey that the newspaper has become a more contemporary medium.

It seems that Mr. Bezos’ main contribution would be to figure out how to turn the newspaper into a viable model for the distribution of credible news about national politics. He doesn’t need to alter the identity of The Washington Post to do that. In fact, its identity and equity is a major asset for his purpose. I would go so far as to say that the Post is one of few beloved institutions in the political sphere.

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