Sunday, October 21, 2012

Reputation Management – Imagining a “New Morehouse”

Reputation Management is the process of repairing the public perception of a brand that has experienced some kind of reputation changing occurrence. Companies and persons who do not respond quickly to such incidents can suffer irreparable damage. Venerable old companies such as American Airlines, British Petroleum and Ford Motors have suffered reputation damaging scandals that have led to bankruptcy, the loss of millions of dollars and the discontinuation of popular product models. Currently, the U.S. Presidential election may be decided based on one candidate’s ability to reverse the negative perceptions caused by remarks that he made in a “leaked” video.
In some cases, a decline in the reputation of an organization can have consequences for the institution as well as other associated“stakeholders”. Scandals within such respected institutions as the Catholic Church, the Boy Scouts of America and Penn State University have produced consequences for the reputation and brand perception of the current members, past participants and even affect the perceived value of the degrees earned by the alumni of the respective school. In the case of one’s Alma Mater, the associated Brand Equity that is derived from the association of being an alumnus of certain institutions has a direct affect on your personal brand. When it comes to such positive associations, being know as a “Morehouse Man” is one of the strongest personal branding attributes one can possess next to being an “Ivy Leaguer”.
Since the founding of Morehouse College in 1867, it has been regarded as the standard of excellence with respect to educating Black men in America. Alumni of the college include Nobel Laureate Martin Luther King, Jr., former Republican Presidential Candidate Herman Cain and former U.S. Surgeon General David Satcher. While other predominantly Black colleges are facing the threat of closure and an ongoing conversation focused on their continued relevance, the Morehouse brand is still very highly regarded. Yet Morehouse is not immune from the economic and cultural threats facing other Historically Black Colleges and Universities (or HBCUs) as well as institutions of higher learning in general.
In 2009, Morehouse College introduced a dress code to be adhered to by current students in order to reinvigorate the image of a well dressed, well groomed, well mannered Morehouse student. These attributes had always been associated with the “Morehouse Mystique”. Although many people (alumni in particular) regarded this move as a positive one, many current students saw this as a threat to the expression of their individuality. Individual expression is also something that was a long held precept of the Renaissance man building tradition of the school. The administration took an alternative position, asserting that a “Morehouse Man” should want to differentiate himself from the prevailing “hip-hop” inspired fashion trends favored by other young men. To the contrary, many students asserted that given the hefty price tag that they pay for tuition, their sartorial expression should certainly be their own choice. Yet the dress code issue revealed an even more onerous issue that had long been bubbling below the surface and influenced the internal and external perception of Morehouse, current students and alumni.
In the October 2010 issue of Vibe Magazine an article appeared entitled “The Mean Girls of Morehouse”. In this article openly homosexual students asserted that the dress code issue was raised as a tacit ploy to restrict the civil liberties of gay students. Because Morehouse College is an all-male institution, the issue of homosexuality is one that has always impacted the school’s reputation and brand. Negative associations with homosexuality have changed over time with evolving cultural attitudes towards homosexuality, yet negative perceptions regarding homosexuality may never disappear completely. However, more disturbing than the idea that a group of students might be targeted for discrimination by the college, is the notion that any group of students may be the targets of civil rights inequities at the school regarded by some as the birthplace of the American “Civil Rights Movement”.
Alumni of Morehouse College were instrumental in the founding of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) as well as the election of the first Black mayor of the city of Atlanta, Maynard Jackson. A sense of obligation to fellow man, a sense of mission to improve society and a tradition of working for social justice have always been regarded as part of the Morehouse tradition. Since the issues of the dress code, gay rights, a less publicized Moody’s Investors Service debt downgrade and other issues have been raised, Morehouse has been “under the microscope”. The college finds itself in a position where another blow to the reputation of the school might prove fatal.
Earlier this year, a group of current and former students recognized the precarious situation of their beloved school and decided to make an organized response. They responded by penning a“Collective Statement” that was presented to the Board of Trustees of Morehouse College. This effort was spearheaded by alumnus Imar Hutchins. Hutchins states that he was motivated to take these actions because, “The current state of Morehouse is unsustainable and if present trends continue – societally, financially, educationally and organizationally – the College will fail to be viable one day.” The “Collective Statement” raises six (6) issues that they urged the board to address in terms of assuring the long-term viability of the institution: They are as follows:
1) A continued commitment to the core values of the organization
2) Defending the “value proposition” of the “brand”
3) The effective allocation of the current and future resources of the organization
4) Financial transparency of the organization
5) Assuring the quality of the product (academic rigor)
6) Demonstrating a commitment to diversity
All of these concerns represent the types of issues that internal and external stakeholders should always be concerned with in regard to maintaining the reputation and brand equity of any organization that they support. Hopefully over time and with hard work and cooperation between current students, alumni, supporters and the administration, all interested stakeholders can work together to do even more than just imagine a “New Morehouse”. Hopefully, they will soon be successful in bringing into being a stronger, more viable and eternally relevant Morehouse College that will endure for centuries to come.

Vince Rogers is a highly-skilled resource manager and communications consultant. He possesses many years of successful experience in financial asset and real estate wealth building. He is the publisher of the popular blog Disguised Limits, which is number two on Networked Top 22 Blogs in the Opportunities category. He is the principal change agent at Vince Rogers & Associates where he specializes in strategic branding and reputation management. Please contact him at this

Friday, October 12, 2012