Have great relationships with the people who matter most

When we think of building reputation, we often go straight for the marketing button or look to do something to attract positive media coverage and online buzz. It's easy to overlook the most important channel, which is right under our nose.

"Stakeholder relations" is a hackneyed term that doesn't sound terribly sexy - and it's meaning isn't very clear. (Someone recently commented that when he heard the word 'stakeholder' he imagined a person running around waving pieces of meat!) That aside, the intention behind stakeholder relations is actually pretty important.

It's about knowing the people and groups who can have the most impact on your business or organisation, and/or be impacted by what you do. And it's not just knowing who they are - it's also being very clear about what matters to them most, what their expectations are of you, and what you might expect them to do if those expectations are somehow not met.

Organisational leaders often initiate communication with the broader public or community, by directing their communication out to the horizon through big-picture channels. Those who can have the most impact on your reputation may well be overlooked if you only communicate on that level.

Take time to actively focus on building and maintaining great relationships with those who can have the most impact. I'm not talking about grovelling or buttering them up - but fostering a genuine relationship where you are honest, show respect for what they need and can tell them straight, even when something goes wrong.

Does that sound like your organisation? If not, here's what I suggest:

- Get some key staff together and have a brainstorming session, where you identify people, organisations and groups that can have the most impact on what you do, or are likely to bear the most impact of your actions (your 'key stakeholders' in bureaucratic language)

-Prioritise them from highest to lowest impact

-Come up with a plan to meet with those at the highest end of the list, and get to know more of their needs in relation to your business and organisation. And make them your first priority for communicating about what you do (after your staff, of course).

Here are same ways to gauge whether you're building reputation capital when it comes to the people who matter most. Can you agree wholeheartedly with these statements?

a. My organisation actively builds great relationships with its stakeholders

b. My organisation gets few complaints from stakeholders

c. My organisation tells the truth to stakeholders, even when it’s “bad news”

If you can't totally agree, it's time to take action to build better relationships. Your organisation's reputation may depend on it.