What brands can learn from the way Netflix dealt with Spaceygate

Netflix

Managing the reputation of a company or brand has long been one of the founding principles of public relations, highlighted in the case of Kevin Spacey and House of Cards.

The trailer for the sixth season of the show has just dropped with Spacey’s key character being left off the star billing following a slew of sexual harassment allegations last year.

House of Cards will now focus on Claire Underwood stepping into her newly appointed role as President of the United States, as the producers distance themselves from any trace of Spacey.

The trailer, which aptly proclaims ‘Happy Independence day…to me’ is a mark of genius. Not only is it is a nod to Claire Underwood declaring her independence from her husband Frank, but also a sly reminder of Netflix’s dismissal of Spacey last November. It also alludes to the industry-wide Me Too movement, in which women are now proudly establishing a voice against injustice and abuse.

One could also say that the timing is that much sweeter given that it emerged this week that Scotland Yard is investigating new sexual allegations against Spacey.

The trailer is a bold move by Netflix, which makes a very clear statement. It works because it perfectly aligns with not only the programme’s backstory but also the tone of the show and the perceptions of back door politics – the mud slinging and sly remarks that politicians say behind each other’s backs.

You can afford to be brave with statements in times of crisis when you know your audience and you know the tone of voice of your brand. The value of a solid, collaborative working partnership between client and agency, for example, and the trust that comes from it. The critical importance of listening – brand listening to consumer, agency listing to brand, and brand listening to agency. And the over-arching force for good (and, if managed poorly, bad) that reputation can be.

Back in the days before the internet, brands were successful or not based on how they were perceived in their marketplace, and consumers mostly relied on word-of-mouth. For this reason, a brand’s relationship with the outside world was managed via two disciplines – media relations (nurturing the right relationship to ensure the best perceptions are created for and conveyed by the media) and public relations (doing the same, but to optimise public perceptions).

With the advent of digital, however, brand reputation management took on a different slant with new platforms for consumers to share their opinions requiring brands to more proactively counter negative and magnify positive online comment. This, in turn, led to the emergence of so-called online reputation management and reputation marketing – the strategic use of consumer comment to order to achieve tangible goals.

No longer is brand reputation ‘just’ a public relations function, it is a multi-dimensional marketing tool which generates customers though listening, establishing trust and building credibility. In today’s marketplace, it is just as important for a band to listen to and monitor conversations taking place about it as it is to broadcast its key message. And it is in closely integrated brand owning organizations - in which not just corporate communications and marketing but also other disciplines, such as corporate social responsibility, no longer sit in separate silos – that positive brand reputation can best be achieved.

Consider Rolex, Lego and Hallmark – three of the five ‘most reputable’ companies in North America thanks to a combination of nostalgia, corporate responsibility and a willingness to focus on reputation strength, according to one recent survey. Or, indeed, Vodafone, HSBC, Shell and BT – the four British brands to make it into the 2018 BrandZ Top 100 Most Valuable Global Brands report, recently published by Millward Brown, due to their innovations in and focus on how they interact with consumers on a day-to-day basis.

Moving forward, then, should all marketing be approached and implemented as reputational marketing? The answer, I believe, is and should be: yes. In fact, every business – not just the largest, most famous brands, should be concerned about what their customers are saying about them and so have in place a reputation strategy.

To reap the rewards will take time and also depend on all people within an organisation buying into this. And there are some other principles, too, which will also be key.

As a brand owner, ensuring every consumer interaction is part of a consistent and quality service that delights from start to finish should be key. As should openness and transparency, and responsiveness – ensuring you react quickly to any customer (or supplier) approach. And, finally, demonstrate awareness you are part of a community, which brings with it the corporate social responsibility to give back.

Henry Ford once said: “You can’t build a reputation on what you’re going to do”. It was a warning against being lured into a false sense of security based on good intentions so, instead, just do it. He wasn’t wrong.

Delilah Pollard is lifestyle director at Kazoo Communications. She tweets at @KazooPR.

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