Shaping Your Company’s Public Image
The wisdom of Peter Engel, who passed on July 2010.
A corporate culture really has two components: internal and external. The internal involves how people within a company relate to each other, their clients, and how they collectively see the world. For example, FedEx employees are forever on the run because the company makes getting packages delivered on time a priority. They relate to each other and customers at a high-speed and frenetic pace. However, employees at companies like Prudential or Hartford interact with each other as concerned, responsible professional because they are dealing with serious issues like insurance, investments, and other financial matters.
The external culture is how the company presents itself to the world through advertising, image or public relations. Certain cultures, like Starbucks or Avis, treat their employees a certain way and this is then conveyed to the public through their image. But other companies, like The Body Shop, work carefully to groom their public image but reveal no clues about their internal culture. Most of us have no idea what really happens at corporate headquarters or if the employees believe in the values represented in their public image and advertising campaigns.
The Body Shop, an international chain of cosmetic boutiques, began in England. The culture its founder, Anita Roddick, created was a combination of no-nonsense products and “healing the world” altruism. To this end, The Body Shop claims to help protect the rain forests and not to use animal tests for its products. Its Web site states: “We never have and never will test on animals, not do we commission others to do so. We take action if we discover out suppliers test on animals the cosmetic ingredients that they sell to us.” The company also claims to be fighting the make all cosmetic animal testing illegal. As a result of this carefully maintained public image, The Body Shop is perceived as decent, kind, honest, and wholesome. And this image is reinforced by sensible shops selling high-quality products at fair prices, avoiding a lot of expensive unnecessary and environmentally incorrect packaging.
No doubt, The Body Shop’s altruistic feelings are genuine enough. However, there is also solid commercialism behind the stance. One reason to avoid expensive packaging is that products sold without the packaging, even at somewhat lower prices than those of competitors, push the gross profit considerably higher. As regards the refusal to use test animals, the desire not to mistreat any of God’s creatures is naturally laudable. But it is also efficient because the ingredients come from suppliers who have long ago finished bearing the costs of animal testing. When new ingredients become available, The Body Shop lets other do the pioneering work- including animal tests- and then purchases PETA-friendly versions of these ingredients once they are “tried and true” and require no further safety research. Because of this “no animal testing” stance, The Body Shop receives an extraordinary amount of free advertising.
Sometimes, a symbol such as the Energizer Bunny or Colonel Sander’s for KFC can embody the company’s public image so strongly that the symbol becomes its own public relations (and hence advertising) tool. Betty Crocker, for example, represents the corporate culture for General Mills.
A symbol, whether supported by advertising or not, should represent in some way what it is that you are trying to achieve. It should both spring from and augment your planned corporate culture. However, if a company chases after media attention and aligns itself with certain celebrities, sponsors or endorsers, it may rick becoming inextricably intertwined with that person, for good or bad.
You must think carefully about how you want to public, not just your loyal customers, to think about your company. The choices you make in regards to business practices, endorsements and symbols can greatly help or hurt your public image. (Think Tiger Woods: the glory years, and post scandal.)