Author Rajneesh Chowdhury shares tips on applying ‘systems thinking’ to reputation management


A systems mindset to approach reputation management is essential for the realities of today, where it is more important than ever before to understand situations holistically and appreciate emergence as a result of multiple operating factors.

Rajneesh Chowdhury is author Systems Thinking for Management Consultants: Introducing Holistic Flexibility.

Today’s dynamic world has brought in a new reality for corporations that poses a range of challenges and opportunities for the creation or even destruction of reputation. Corporations have to manage heightened customer demands, civil society expectations, a 24*7 news cycle, live social media, regulatory crackdown, cyber threats, an empowered employee voice and citizen journalism (the list can go on) that present unprecedented pressures on an organisation for it to navigate through in a sensible manner.

Historically, public relations would play a role in managing crises and putting in place communication strategies that would address risk factors and align response mechanisms around the same. Public Affairs teams would undertake activities involves government liaison and engagements with interest groups and activists. Internal Communications teams would liaise between an organisation’s top management and its employees. However, such piecemeal efforts are not relevant when the environment is ambiguous, and stakeholders a corporation deals with are fluid and often hard to pinpoint. A holistic approach is required that would help critical assessment of the environment and understanding of requirements of different stakeholder groups.

In my book Systems Thinking for Management Consultants: Introducing Holistic Flexibility recently published worldwide by Springer, I have proposed a systemic approach to corporate reputation as a reference for PR consultants to engage effectively with their clients. Following are some of the key aspects of this approach:

  • Start with an alignment of values with your client. A solid foundation for building corporate reputation lies at the level of the values the organisation exists.
  • Understand and assess the market realities that your client exists in. Strategies need to be crafted in the context of existing market realities with alignment to business objectives.
  • Dig deep into the business objectives of the client. What they do, how they do what they do, and why they do the same at the first place.
  • With the above foundation, create authentic narratives about the organisation.
  • Leverage your messaging and strategies to engage strategically with stakeholders. Every stakeholder is unique. Needs of both your client and your client’s stakeholders are required to be met.
  • Safeguarding reputation requires all three of short-, medium- and long-term focus. You need intense scenario planning and brainstorming exercises to identify threat situations.

Action speaks louder than spin

Reputation management is not simply about communication, but about substantial well-meaning action that has an authentic interest to drive results. To quote Bonini et al., “Now more than ever, it will be action—not spin—that builds strong reputations”. Any eyewash approach to reputation management does not work in the context in which corporations exist today. What is required is a well-grounded systemic approach. The role of the PR consultant here gets elevated from merely crafting and transmitting narratives to that of a trusted advisor who should be having a 360° view of the business and its market realities and advising the top management to navigate the complexities in an effective manner.

An effective PR consultant is one who is able to see through the stakeholder divides (employees, customers, regulatory bodies, activist organisations, etc.) and is able to craft strategies that are able to build and engage effectively with them. This introduces new challenges to the role of a PR consultant. 

However, this is a challenge that PR consultants will need to embrace if they wish to stay relevant in the changing market and opinion-shaping realities of today. Focusing on mere image building will soon make PR consultants redundant in a world of hyper transparency. PR consultants need to reinvent themselves as trusted consultants to clients who endeavour to build corporate reputation

Rajneesh Chowdhury is author Systems Thinking for Management Consultants: Introducing Holistic Flexibility. He has also previously worked with The PRactice as VP,  market access. With commentaries, case studies, real-life experiences and application frameworks, his book covers key debates relevant to management and PR consultants.