I read with bemusement a recent Economist article on Matthew Freud and the future of the public relations industry (“Ego Goes Solo, “ Jan. 8, 2011). Mr. Freud’s not-so-novel insight that the future of PR lies in reputation management is evidence of his grounding in selling but not in science. Reputation cannot be managed much less measured, not credibly. It is a proxy of the PR industry’s constant search for euphemisms of a publicly less palatable purpose – influence for competitive advantage.

Among Page members, let’s be honest and fully transparent on this: To manage a client’s reputation is like me and my wife managing the love of our marriage – or hiring a consultant to do it for us. Both are abstract. Both mean different things to the involved parties. Both are a shared responsibility, not a problem to out-source. And both are derivative of other good works. That this escapes the attention of PR industry fathers is testimony to our mastery of hyperbole and malpractice of craft.

Before reputation management can become a valid pursuit, we must first know the most basic units of the so-called reputation manager’s work. Chemists have elements. Biologists have species. But reputation experts have nothing as rigorous. Since selling the assets of my public relations firm in 2003 to, ironically, a British publicity firm, I have pursued this question. My own answer comes in the form of a system of influence strategies that, like chemical elements and species, describe every ploy (both pointed and pleasing) of marketers, salespeople, advertisers and no less PR specialists.

Others may inspect their irreducibility, but it is a start to more fully understanding reputation. Until then, practitioners of this celebrated asset are modern-day alchemists, forever chasing the tail of the dog and, like Matthew Freud, buying back their old companies.

Alan Kelly
CEO & Founder, Playmaker Systems, LLC
Author, The Elements of Influence
Adjunct Professor, The George Washington University