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The rhetoric of reputation: Vision not visibility

Author(s): Anne Surma

Journal: PRism Online PR Journal
ISSN 1448-4404

Volume: 4;
Issue: 1;
Date: 2006;
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Keywords: public relations | reputation management | visibility | corporate responsibility | textual rhetoric

This paper offers a critique of conventional approaches to so-called ‘reputation management’: the business function concerned with influencing, often through diverse communication practices, stakeholders’ perceptions and estimation of an organisation’s economic and social practices. Reputation is frequently described and valued (from management as well as from conventional public relations perspectives) in terms of an organisation’s visibility: its capacity to be seen to be (doing) good through various textual media including corporate responsibility reports, speeches and presentations, news media reports, and so on. Hence there is a significant connection between rhetorical practices and reputation management. Drawing on cultural theorist Vivian Sobchack’s (2004) work, I suggest that textual rhetoric can and should be more than a form of visibility. Rather, it can also be a crucial form of social and ethical practice, the meaning and value of which are dialogically negotiated by organisations and stakeholders. To this end, I argue that texts cannot simply manufacture or reflect reputation.Like language, reputation is not an objective entity, but is envisioned by ongoing practices and their negotiated and subjective evaluation by an organisation and its stakeholders. I draw on selected texts (including Nike’s most recent corporate responsibility report) to support the discussion.
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