The art and science of reputation: 3 reasons your organization needs a reputation management strategy

Reputation is who you are, what you stand for and how you act. For healthcare organizations, reputation needs to be carefully protected, because it affects the bottom line, according to Karen Strauss, chief of strategy, marketing and communications at Toledo, Ohio-based ProMedica.

"Reputation is important, but never more so than now, due to the speed your reputation can change," Ms. Strauss said. "If you are not able to respond within 15 minutes, you are already behind the eight ball."

That said, it's also never been a better time to build and manage reputation due to all the tools available and the speed with which they reach audiences, she noted. Healthcare organizations should consider developing a reputation management strategy for the following three reasons highlighted by Ms. Strauss during a May 7 session at Becker's Hospital Review 6th Annual Meeting in Chicago.

1. Responding to crisis. There are countless stories of reputation management gone wrong. Unfortunately, most of these cases occur while an organization is at its most vulnerable, and dealing with a crisis. For example, following the explosion of the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig that killed 11 people in 2010, when the infamous one liner, "I would like my life back," slipped between the lips of BP's CEO Tony Hayward, it cost the organization $43 billion in reputational rehab. Setting up a bulletproof reputational management strategy to use while responding to a crisis situation is essential for any organization.

2. Reducing the hangover effect. What an organization does and said reactively to a crisis is only part of the strategy. Another key reason to put a reputation strategy in place is to establish a protocol for proactive crisis management. Ms. Strauss highlighted two crises that occurred last year in ProMedica hospitals to illustrate this point. In one ProMedica-owned community hospital, an alleged rape occurred in a psych unit, she said. ProMedica immediately owned the issue, the president of the hospital apologized on camera and the hospital took immediate, aggressive action to make physical and procedural changes so a similar situation would not occur again. The news cycle was short and the impact was minimized, Ms. Strauss said.

Just two weeks after the rape, an employee at another ProMedica community hospital was caught stealing syringes from sharps containers and looking at patient records, likely to find the right kind of drugs. ProMedica took a less public, less aggressive response to this case as compared with the rape case, Ms. Strauss said, because it was namely a legal issue. However, they gravely underestimated the impact of timing. At this time last year, the Target data breach had heightened public tension on privacy and patients were incredibly upset. Even though the typical news cycle is six to eight weeks, Ms. Strauss said a year later consumers still associate ProMedica with the data breach. Healthcare systems can learn from this by taking a proactive approach to all potential crises. Another important piece of reducing what Ms. Strauss calls "the hangover effect," is by constantly maintaining relationships with the media. Invite them in to your facilities and work with media to help manage your reputation.

3. Building reputational capital. Outside of event-based reputation management, healthcare organizations should work on a daily basis to build reputational capital both internally and externally. Organizations should create platforms to share positive experiences surrounding themes of leadership, products and services, innovation, governance and citizenship. Interview stakeholders and conduct research in the community and with patients to find out what their values are and make sure to apply coverage to those values. Monitor the response to coverage and adjust it based on what resonates with the audience. This also becomes a key piece in attracting talent, according to Ms. Strauss. "Employees want to work for an organization that stands for something and means something," she said. Building reputational capital around core values is especially key in attracting and retaining millennials, who place significant value in working for mission-based organizations.

"Reputation is arguably an organization's most valuable asset," Ms. Strauss said. "There's an art and a science to it."

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