Alumni and Corporate Communications: Partners Protecting and Defending Your Reputation

by Scott McKenzie in Partners Last Edited: 12th March 2019

Alumni Communications are often overlooked and undervalued when considering corporate reputation. Scott McKenzie, from Montfort Communications, explores the value of building stronger relationships with your former employees.

I’m in my attic wading through old paperwork trying to make sense of my tax return. In among old payslips, pension documents and utility bills I spot a letter with my wife’s old University crest. It’s a cover note for a glossy brochure showcasing some of their investment in research and development facilities. All with the help of graduates of the University. Financial help that is. My wife is not a data scientist. This is a begging letter.

For many of us the relationship with our former University or school (and the people we met there) is the most sophisticated relationship we have with an ‘alumni network’. And apart from the odd boozy reunion it is often quite a transactional relationship.

The rise of LinkedIn has made it easier to stay in touch both with old university friends and ex-colleagues. But if you spend any time on LinkedIn it is often a slightly soul-less experience of people peddling their wares, looking for jobs or indulging in amateur philosophising.

There are alumni networks on LinkedIn, but they are rarely vibrant and active networks. Beyond LinkedIn many corporates pay little heed to their former employees – simply seeing them as ‘leavers’ with whom their only ongoing relationship might be the need to contribute to their Pension Fund.

And yet can you think of a stakeholder group (beyond current employees) who are as informed about the business? Ignoring them is a missed opportunity for companies to build and protect their corporate reputations.

I’m back down in the living room, organising my documents and filling in forms. In the background the cricket is on. England struggling (again). This time against the West Indies.

Alumni from the England cricket side commentate on what’s happening. The most recent convert from the dressing room to the media room is former England captain – Alastair Cook. His retirement at the end of last summer in which he scored a century in his final match was a fitting end to a glorious career. He was rightly praised and ultimately knighted for his efforts.

His approach to commentary is measured. He is calm, measured, constructive. His criticism of poor performance is, I suspect, affected by the close relationship he still has with his former team mates. Contrast this with Cook’s contemporary Kevin Pieterson whose retirement was far more controversial. He is far less sparing in his criticism – often taking to the media and to twitter to publicly criticise his former colleagues.

I make the parallel with the work we do here at Montfort helping companies manage their corporate reputation. We are often called in to help with a major reputational issue or crisis. It’s at times like these that companies need friends and allies.

The media will often speak to your former employees to build a picture, to gain insight, to create tension. If the last conversation you had with an influential ex-colleague was handing them their P45 then don’t be surprised if they are unwilling to defend you.

At the very least there is an opportunity to inform them about what’s happening at the firm. And creating formal and informal channels of communication (i.e. events, digital networks, social media, etc) that help to connect – or reconnect – your former employees won’t just help in a crisis.

It will help when you’re trying to find the best talent for key roles. It will help when you’re looking for people to trial new products and services. It will help when you are seeking to build goodwill in the communities in which you operate.

It is easy to forget about former employees. But there is latent value in that network. Your alumni can help build your brand and sell your products, and crucially, help protect and defend your reputation when you are under attack.

Scott McKenzie is head of change and employee engagement and Montfort Communications. If you are interested in any of the themes Scott touches upon in his article feel free to email him at mckenzie@montfort.london.

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