18 IMMUTABLE Laws of Place Reputation

Glass, china and reputation are easily cracked, and never well mended.

Quote attributed to Benjamin Franklin


A location’s reputation can be its most valuable asset. Understanding how to create, protect and repair a reputation is the subject of the book entitled “18 Immutable Laws of Corporate Reputation” authored by Ronald Alsop in 2004. The book provides a great overview of how some of the most respected corporations in America proactively manage their public perception. In this blog post, I’ve taken the liberty to reinterpret Ron’s laws for application in place branding.

After you read the laws, it would be great if you would take a minute and share your perspective on the importance of a positive place reputation in economic development by posting a comment.  The real value of the post will be from the experience reflected in the comments readers, like you, provide.

18 Laws

LAW 1. Maximize Your Most Powerful Asset – Your location develops a reputation that is based on people’s perception over time. Gaining and sustaining a positive reputation is everybody’s business in your location. Executives and citizens need to understand the value of a strong reputation for economic development and the payoff generated by this intangible asset. Reputation is as valuable to a location as capital. Nurtured it pays dividends and helps offset competitive advantages in close negotiations. Left unattended, a reputation can be lost quickly and when lost it is costly and difficult to recover.

LAW 2. Know Thyself – Measure Your Reputation – See your location through the eyes of your target audience. You need to measure what potential capital investors think about your location. It is very important to keep score and to work on finding ways to strengthen your location’s reputation. Understanding over time how your reputation is shifting will help you course correct to ensure your reputation remains a strong and competitive asset.

LAW 3. Learn to Play to Many Audiences – Your location has many important stakeholders from political leaders to private sector leaders to citizens. It is important you understand what each constituency sees as the reasons for rating your place above realistically competitive location choices. These are the attributes you need to ensure are evergreen. They represent the core underpinning of your location’s reputation and need to be sustained.

LAW 4. Live Your Values and Ethics – Every community has a unique culture that reflects the values of its citizens. It is important to describe these values as a set of guiding principles that can be used to help make important, difficult decisions. If your location’s private and public sector leadership can make principle based investment decisions, then your reputation will be enhanced. Consistent application of principles help clear define what a location stands for.

LAW 5. Be a Model Citizen – Actions speak louder than money. Your location is a complex system of many constituents with interdependent needs and relationships. Communicating clearly and walking the talk is critically important to maintaining integrity with your citizens and community leaders. When promises are made and under delivered, a withdrawal is made from your reputation bank account. Too many withdrawals and you location earns a vote of no confidence.

LAW 6. Convey a Compelling Vision – It is important to establish a direction of how your location will remain relevant and competitive in the future. It is also important the leaders and citizens of your location understand the vision and their role in it. Progress toward a desired future promotes collaboration, optimism and clarity of purpose. Investment decisions are easier and more transparent because they are evaluated against a plan of action. A clearly articulated vision establishes an environment of transparency that promotes productive problem solving behavior and will attract capital investment.

LAW 7. Create Emotional Appeal – Emotional appeal isn’t easy to define, but when a place has it there is a magnetic vibe that makes people want to belong to the community. It is important to not only capture the imagination of your constituency. You have to engage their hearts. Successful places do this through effective communication of their core brand promise.

LAW 8. Recognize Your Shortcomings – No location is perfect. In part, it is because your location is always in transition adjusting to changes in the global economy. It is important understand the points of negative difference between your location and the competition, and to have a plan to productively address them. This could include acknowledging that there may be nothing you can do to make them go away. Not every location is going to be able to deep water navigation or 200+ days of sunshine. Commit to proactively address what you can to effectively neutralize your location’s competitive shortcomings and focus on strengthening your strengths.

LAW 9. Stay Vigilant to Ever-Present Perils – Your location’s reputation is under constant threat of damage. It is important to have a proactive and effective sensing system in place to alert you to potential threats before they materialize as a crisis. Three classic areas of threat include negative news coverage, unethical behavior and natural disasters. Anticipating these threats and having a solid plan of action in place if one should materialize will go a long way to protect your location’s reputation.

LAW 10. Make Your Citizens Your Reputation Champions – Nobody knows your location better than the people who live and work there. These are either your strongest and most credible advocates or detractors. It is important you listen to them and address any misperceptions or complaints they may have in a timely and respectful way. The more engaged citizens are, the more vibrant the community. But, the greater the expectation that their voice matters and is heard. Participatory government demands genuine respect and caring. Done well, your citizens become ambassadors of good will and the strongest advocates for your place.

LAW 11. Control the Internet Before it Controls You – Information travels instantaneously in today’s wired world. Social media presents an opportunity to cost effectively reach millions of people. Your location’s reputation can be enhanced through an effective interactive media plan. There is an excellent chance that many of your citizens are online and tweeting or posting comments about your place using social tools like FaceBook or MySpace. Join in the conversation, understand what is being said, become a productive part of the discussion.

LAW 12. Speak with a Single Voice – Consistency and clarity of delivering your place brand promise helps ensure a clear understanding of what your place stands for. Because your story is told by so many people in so many different venues, it is difficult to ensure a disciplined delivery. But, conflicting messages create a cacophony of noise. Encouraging delivery of similar messages creates a concerto. While total message control is highly unlikely, you can achieve continued improvement. Progress will always be amplified.

LAW 13. Beware the Dangers of Reputation Rub-off – The cost of effective place branding is rising as the economy gets even more global. Partnerships are an important strategy to deliver adequate reach and frequency of messaging. But, partnering carries risk. Guilt by association can be a real concern so it is important to partner wisely. Protect your location reputation by only partnering on projects that make economic development sense. Do not lend your reputation capital without having a clear understanding of what the expected return on investment will be. Every association is a reflection on your location reputation. Ensure it is a reaffirming one.

LAW 14. Manage Crises with Finesse – Crises are inevitable no matter how hard you work to manage your reputation. How you react is more important than the circumstances. All locations are vulnerable. Timing in handling a crisis is key. Crises are not like fine wine, they do not improve with age. A strong and trusting relationship with the media can go a long way in helping ensure a balanced treatment of the facts. Your response to a crisis must be rapid but never rash. Crises can be managed, but not controlled. During a crisis it is more important than ever to remain in contact with your citizens to understand their thoughts and concerns. Effective management of crises remains principle based, authentic and credible.

LAW 15. Fix it Right the First Time – Branding your location is an exercise that should be adequately resourced so it is done well and can be sustained. Too many place branding exercises are done on a limited budget with an over focus on creating a logo and tag line. A brand is a promise. It sets an expectation of what people will realize if they invest in your location. Your ability to consistently deliver the promise day in and day out establishes your lasting reputation. Invest in hiring a professional to guide any branding exercise you do for your location. Getting it right the first time helps ensure your long-term economic vitality. Having to revisit the exercise creates frustration and a loss of confidence in your location’s strategic plan and direction.

LAW 16. Never Underestimate the Public’s Cynicism – Bad reputations die hard. It takes a lot of time and money. People expect spin and are constantly on the look out for it. It is important for a location to understand how to harness the influence of thought leaders to help repair any damage to their reputation a crisis may have caused. When things go wrong, credible messengers are key.

LAW 17. Remember – Being Defensive is Offensive – Apologies are good for a location’s reputation. When something goes wrong admit it. When something doesn’t work as well as expected, share the reasons why and what has been learned to avoid making the same mistake twice. The best way to avoid being on the defensive is to get on the offensive.

LAW 18. If All Else Fails, Change Your Leadership

“Perception is everything, and reputation is certainly as important to places as it is to companies and other organizations. Just as a company’s reputation affects people’s purchasing and investment choices, so does a location’s reputation influence development decisions.”

Ronald Alsop
Author of the 18 Immutable Laws of Corporate Reputation

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9 Comments so far

  1. Don Iannone

    March 19, 2009


    Your new website looks great. My congratulations to you and your new company.

    You asked me for my view of things. Here is the abridged version.

    America stands at a confusing and threatening crossroads. America’s brand is in serious question, both at home and abroad. More precisely, the value proposition underlying that brand and the way we create economic value for ourselves and the rest of the world are in question. We have eaten our seed corn and resorted to building wealth the easy way; that is at the expense of others.

    Capitalism, as an economic system, as been evolving over the past many years. We are in store for a quantum evolutionary step in the next 5-10 years. I call it the move to “Responsible Capitalism,” which means we must commit our economic resources to building a future economy that truly matters to people and the world. What we currently have is a hodgepodge of this and that, which is basically designed to support the consumer spending machine.

    The current economic crisis is a reminder of our growing interconnectedness across all geographic, economic and political levels. Faltering U.S. and global economies go hand in hand. Ohio’s economic future will be increasingly driven by what happens nationally and globally. This is true for all states.

    What kind of economy do we want and need to build a prosperous, yet benevolent America? When was the last time we seriously asked this question? Then how will we create this economy guided by sound ethical values and our best scientific knowledge?

    As a nation of people and institutions, we have lived far beyond our means, over-relied on consumer spending and all the industries to which it has given rise fro economic growth, and encouraged counterproductive special interest politics on all levels. The systems of checks and balances in our corporate and government worlds have failed us and given rise to unconscionable corruption, greed and self-serving leadership.

    Economies are not ends in themselves, despite what many believe. Instead, they are vehicles for building responsibly prosperous societies. Looking at our home state, how can Ohio rebuild its economy with this overall goal in mind and serve as a role model to others?

  2. Kimberly Ratcliff

    March 29, 2009


    I like your application of Alsop’s laws to place branding. It’s interesting to think of the Ohio reputation from an historical perspective, with our important role in the Northwest Territory and early statehood. We’ve always been a state where getting things done is more important than basking in the glory of the accomplishment. Our reputation is firmly rooted in determination and teamwork, and a tirelessly positive attitude.

    My family has been in Ohio since the late 1700s, being among the earlier settlers here. Among the Ratcliffs and Browns there is a strong oral history, which includes family folklore set against the backdrop of Ross and Vinton counties in SE Ohio, chiefly in the locales of Londonderry, Richmond Dale and Eagle Township. I grew up hearing these stories, which painted in my mind from an early age the wonders of Ohio. Some of the characters in my family’s Ohio story are Paul Bunyan-esque, larger than life. Others are normal people who lived simply in Quaker communities, slowly building small farms into thousand-acre ventures.

    Every Buckeye has a good Ohio story to tell, even if they just moved here. My hope is that more will choose to step forward and share their stories about why Ohio means home. This is not a boring place, in terms of business or pleasure. It is populated by hardworking people not afraid to get their hands dirty, people who are critical thinkers by nature but fiercely loyal once given just cause.

    There’s a reason why our public libraries win so many awards, our sports teams are consistent champions and our parks systems are models for other state and metro parks. We value learning and teamwork, as well as the beauty and productivity of our vast natural resources. These are the underpinnings of “our “inventive past and innovative future.”

  3. Ed Roach

    April 3, 2009

    There are two perspectives playing out in the laws of place branding. Perception and reality. As the owner of “place” you have to be very attentive to realities. You and your place, must be authentic. It is one thing to tout all the wonderful attributes of your place, but at the end of the day it must be true. Nothing kills a reputation faster than a lie.

    On the other hand, the audience on the outside are observant of perception. They can only judge your place by what they “understand” it to be. It you are burdened by a sorry reputation and have essentially done nothing over the years to resolve it, it will be very difficult to change, without some very bold moves.

    To re-invigorate your place brand, you will have to fundamentally change the things that inspire a bad perception to enjoy the benefits of a new reality.

    These 18 laws are a great start!

    Number 18, is my favorite. In speaking to a colleague of mine in Florida, we both agreed that this one is very important. Your brand will never be authentic when hitched to a political agenda. Great leaders form teams that develop great brands.

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  7. John Woods

    January 24, 2013

    Can I advocate for number 19? While it might be implied or assumed in the whole process, I didn’t pick up on the obvious element that we need to speak up. I have found that a systematic program of issuing press releases to the news media and relevant online media can have a huge impact on the image of a place. Likewise, connecting with civic groups through presentations and participation at networking meetings can help a place stay relevant to the community.

    When things happen in a place, when improvements are made and when users of place see success, tell people about it.

  8. Kathryn Rice

    January 25, 2013

    Ed, Thank you for sharing and posting the 18 laws. They all make sense because they’re common sense. You don’t really appreciate them until your place encounters a crisis and you lose some or all of your reputation.

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