I recently had the privilege of giving a talk completely unplanned.

More accurately, I volunteered my services as a last-minute stand-in speaker with only a few hours’ notice. This meant no prepared slides, live and unplanned.

I love doing stuff like this. It’s like being a jazz musician, except I have no discernible talents.

My challenge from the organisers of FinTech North was to come up with something that was relevant to everyone in the room, and for me it had to be easy enough to maintain a train of thought without structure or preparation.Here’s what I came up with: three simple words that defy anyone to deny their importance: Reputation, Risk and Ownership. Here’s why.

Reputation

To this particular audience, but equally to every client I’ve ever had from education to engineering, the principle of reputation is the paramount reason for PR.

If you’re starting up, your biggest barrier will be that your markets won’t know or care who you are. If you’re established, you’ll have bigger and more complex obstacles. Either way, you need to think about how you’re perceived by all stakeholders – be they regulators, consumers, peers, competitors, referral channel and so on.

Once you have an idea of how you’re perceived, you need to take some control of this. Make sure your messages are communicated first hand, in a relevant and timely way that will get noticed and make people act how you want them to.

And be consistent and persistent. If you use good PR to make a name for yourself, then run out of steam and go quiet, the world will assume you’ve shut up shop.

Risk

This is the fun part of working in a PR agency – dealing with risk. As soon as you have a reputation, it’s at risk. Particularly if you’re doing anything innovative, disruptive or new (and if you’re not, what’s the point?).

If you’re doing it right, you’re going to piss people off. And they are going to fire shots. Your reputation will be called into question – anything from snide accusations or whispered insinuations to all-out declarations of war.

So you need to be ready to defend yourself. When your competitors try to threaten your reputation – or indeed if the worst happens and something goes wrong – you need to be loud, clear and consistent to maintain the high ground. As above, the minute you go quiet the world assumes you’re in the wrong.

Ownership

Building and protecting a reputation hinges on “owning” a territory. I’ve always said I’d far rather Galibier be known for being the best in the world at one thing than try to be alright at a lot of things.

You need your name to be readily associated with something – which means your PR strategy should be to position yourself as the de facto spokesperson on that thing. Share your research findings, insight and experience. Offer your comments and expertise. Hammer home the message that when it comes to this one thing, you are the number one name.

To demonstrate this, as we all know, it’s not necessarily the technically superior competitor that wins the day. Often the leader that emerges is simply the one with the best PR: they convince the market that they are the one, and it becomes so. Perception becomes reality.