Reputation and Public Affairs in Brussels: where to start?

I’m running a session on reputation this week at the Public Affairs Action Day and although it’s a subject I’ve been dealing with for years, I’m always slightly unsure of how to approach it in a Brussels context.

Meaning what?

The starting point, we can all agree upon: companies’ and industries’ reputation beyond Brussels is increasingly having an impact on what happens within the bubble.

That’s easy enough, yet the Brussels-based PA professional faces 1 of 3 fairly different scenarios:

  • Scenario 1: Poor company/industry reputation but reputation is owned and done (if at all) by someone far from Brussels (and the 2-person Brussels team is overworked as it is)
  • Scenario 2: Poor company/industry reputation but Brussels owns (or is a major player) in how reputation is defined and managed
  • Scenario 3: Good company/industry reputation to harness in Brussels

Clearly, there are multiple nuances within each scenario e.g. a company can have a better reputation than its industry or vice-versa. Alternatively, a company can have a great reputation full stop, while others have a sound commercial reputation yet are unpopular among regulators (think certain tech giants).

Although there’s always plenty of overlap, each scenario necessitates a different emphasis by PA pros:

  • Scenario 1: Here you’re not really doing reputation management in the traditional sense, but rather, tackling reputational issues in your Public Affairs work
  • Scenario 2: Is the nuts and bolts of reputation management i.e. ambitious, involving multiple stakeholders and multi-disciplinary (communications and beyond, ideally right to the core of how a business operates)
  • Scenario 3: Will centre on strategies that “translate” a great reputation into a narrative that carries weight with decision-makers and will likely involve mobilising or at least harnessing the people that have meant a company/industry has a good reputation in the first place

The conundrum is: do I do all 3 or just focus on scenario 1, which is the most common? My current thinking is probably doing all 3 but with more emphasis on 1.


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