Published: 03/11/2005 Volume 115 No. 5980 Page 30

Claire Austin is former communications director of University Hospital Birmingham foundation trust and is now a freelance consultant.claireaustin1@ hotmail. com

Reputation management is becoming increasingly important for NHS organisations, especially as patient choice and payment by results start to affect the bottom line. But how do you manage your reputation?

Firstly you have to identify all your stakeholders. Think about everyone who comes into contact with your organisation - patients, staff, politicians, the media, suppliers, students, voluntary organisations, union representatives and the general public.

You need to work out how important each group is to you. Give them a ranking of one to four, with four the highest. There is no hard and fast rule about who should be in which group because different organisations will attach varying degrees of importance to each stakeholder.

Also, different stakeholders might move from one group to another as circumstances change. For instance, if you are building a new hospital, people living in the immediate vicinity will be in group three, but once the hospital is built they might drop to group two.

Those in group one are the ‘do minimal’ stakeholders - those you do not need to spend much time on.

You should keep group two informed and group three satisfied while group four will be your key players.

You should invest most energy on group four as they will have the most influence on your reputation.

Produce an annual communications matrix that identifies what tools you will use to communicate with each group and how often you will use them.

Audit your communications regularly to find out if they are as effective as you believe.