Get To Know Kylie Wright-Ford – MAHA’s New Advisor

What led you to the reputation industry?

I first came into the industry because I was intrigued by what was going on in the world associated with corporate reputation. It was 2018 and societal expectations were changing for companies.  An example of this was seen with the MeToo movement which was at its peak. At the same time a record number of CEOs had lost their roles – a number of them stemming from transgressions/misconduct at their companies. ESG was a nascent idea but increasing in importance. So, a confluence of events were going on at the same time I was building a career centered around helping leaders make good decisions. I could see the value in deep analytics and structured ways to think about reputation, so I stepped into the role as CEO of The Reputation Institute (now called The RepTrak Company) which is an insights company focused on corporate reputation.

Prior to the reputation industry, I helped build the world’s largest expert network at GLG (Gerson Lehrman Group) and worked at World 50, an executive community business for global C-Suite leaders in Fortune 500 companies, as their Chief Operating Officer. The common thread across my career is building companies, products and services to help executives get aligned and to make more informed decisions to protect and grow their companies.

Can you tell us more about your background?

With a particular focus on tech-enabled services, I provide human capital and contemporary governance advice to companies facing disruption. My expertise includes growth leadership and reputation management, and in 2017 I co-authored a book with McGraw Hill called “The Leadership Mind Switch.”  Our book was inspired by my experiences leading multi-generational teams in fast-paced environments.

As for some additional background, I started my career in finance, spanning a 10 year period, and I’m a trained economist. After finance, I got my MBA at Oxford and moved into an operational role shortly thereafter. My passion is bringing out the best in people and helping companies grow in highly ethical ways. Ethics and good business management is where my heart lies. The way companies make decisions and share knowledge is where I’ve carved out a career.

What are your big picture thoughts about reputation management?

Kylie Wright-Ford

Companies generally have C-level executives that care deeply about their company’s reputation, but they all have different ideas about metrics and the quantification of it. Therefore, aligning on measurement is often the biggest challenge. At every organization, there’s someone (or a team of people) responsible for collecting the data and they often try to evangelize it to other executives. Then there’s executive leadership that often have different levels of comfort with embracing data and thinking in mathematical terms as well as varying views about how to influence reputation. So, with the advent of big data sets that companies are now expected to utilize, you’ve got this proliferation of business intelligence tools that need to be integrated, and I think MAHA has a really interesting lens on that problem as it helps reputation teams harness large volumes of data to unify and extract meaningful insights from diverse sources spanning multiple stakeholders.

What prompted you to join MAHA in an advisory capacity?

I was attracted to MAHA based on the art and science they brought to a space I was already extremely interested in and committed to. When I joined the reputation industry back in 2018, I was deeply familiar with all the offerings available to reputation teams. Fast forward several years when MAHA launched Darwin, I was impressed with what they created in terms of a flexible system to unify all the disparate data sources that companies now use to get a good handle on their perception and the media’s view of their company. Furthermore, the addition of financial press analytics was important to me when I was looking to align with a company in this space. What sets MAHA’s Darwin platform apart is that it unifies stakeholder perception and enterprise performance, and it offers up forward-looking analysis grounded in AI and science – making it possible for reputation teams to evaluate risk and prioritize future reputational opportunities.

As for measurement, why do you think it’s particularly important for reputation teams to invest in data and why should companies consider pivoting from what they normally use (sentiment analysis – e.g., polling, surveys, etc.) to a unified platform, such as Darwin?

In this day and age, no one gets a pass on making good data-backed decisions!

Why does it matter? Organizations have a mosaic of stakeholders that they need to communicate with, but more importantly, reputation leaders need to do the work to protect their companies and unlock opportunities. But that’s very difficult without good data. Obtaining good data has always been really important to making well informed business decisions. However, the pivot that needs to be made is away from a single source of data or taking a singular view. What I mean by this is, you need to do your primary research and get a broad-brush perspective on what the general population thinks of you, but that’s not enough.  Current reputation management solutions that rely exclusively on sentiment data are limited because they do not take into account facts linked to corporate behavior.

As companies are all looking for better ways to reach and influence those who matter most, the reality is that persuasion rarely works, instead, a much more powerful approach is to lead with facts followed by action. You need to think about who matters the most for what you’re trying to achieve as a company and how what you do affects the communities around you and your employees.

What’s new and exciting are innovative approaches like MAHA’s Darwin that unifies multi-stakeholder sentiment and corporate behavior as well as competitive and financial analytics. This gives a comprehensive view that makes it possible for management teams to isolate the reputational attributes that impact performance and drive the greatest risk. Then they can shift perception of their company faster.

What do you think it takes for companies to build trust with key stakeholders?

Building more trust with key stakeholders is a long game. Therefore, reputation measurement and management as well as good communication (centered around a company’s actions and ethics) needs to be part of a long-term plan. It shouldn’t be a one and done project or a one-time solution…that won’t work. Trust isn’t built when you test the market and take a single action. A good reputation framework is the ultimate alignment tool for companies. It allows you to build trust with stakeholders in a thoughtful way with context and precision.

Honest and brief communication is also important. Nobody has time to read formal and long briefs anymore. Anything too corporate will create suspicion. Meanwhile, reference points and communication from customers, communities and trusted influencers will work better than company-sponsored communication in many cases.

How can a reputation intelligence platform help guide reputation teams/board of directors?

The great thing about corporate reputation frameworks is that no executive, board member or employee is going to disagree that a good one is helpful to their business.

When companies and boards are doing risk assessments, or when they’re thinking about what the future may hold and/or trying to analyze investment opportunities, they really need to think about and prioritize their impact on the world. That’s a complicated concept. The explosion of data has made it more confusing, but in the long run it’s a good thing.

Reputation frameworks used to be either intuitive or anecdotal, however, shining some light on those conversations with data, trends and predictive analysis is what’s needed at this point in time. It also used to be the domain of the Chief Communication Officer whereas now a broader set of executives need to be well-informed on reputation management.

What are your top tips for companies interested in managing their reputation?

Make reputation a priority and be clear on who owns it as well as who should contribute to it, taking a comprehensive approach. It shouldn’t be one person in the company, rather, like I said, it’s the ultimate alignment tool, so get others involved. And make sure it’s used for good – don’t just use it for risk management. Because there’s a lot of opportunity to get new customers, new employees, new shareholders – and most importantly, influence communities that interact with your products/services. Additionally, get granular, there’s a lot of good data out there, keep drilling down and make sure to think about it in a sophisticated way. There’s an explosion of data used to do just that, so make sure you have a good process in place for synthesizing all that valuable information.

Where do you see AI heading in the reputation management world?

I’m on the optimistic end of the spectrum in relation to AI. The awakening we’ve had over the last couple of years has been profound. We’ve been embracing AI in our personal lives and now our professional lives. I believe more good than bad will come out of it in our professional lives. Specifically, it will help communicators reach audiences in more customized and fast ways. AI tools don’t have emotions so we still need a human layer, but the potential to be more communicative than ever and serve customers better using AI tools is real. This will solve a number of recurring reputation issues around the public not understanding what companies stand for.