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Silse Martell


Why reputation strategies matter – whatever the size of your company

Published 23 October 2023 in Strategy • 5 min read

Silse Martell, founder of the Brazilian-based Smart Group of agencies, shares how big corporations should emulate startups by creating reputation strategies with sales growth in mind. 

Startups should be feared for more reasons than just being lean and stealing customers. The best ones build their companies while meticulously strategizing about their reputation  ̶  from their digital presence to the optimization of their websites to accelerate sales. The result? They not only win over customers, but also investors, journalists, and influencers, and attract the employees that every company wants to hire. 

Twenty years ago, to the dismay of my parents, who thought having a director position at a global company was the pinnacle of a woman’s career, I left a comfortable corporate job to start a boutique PR agency in Sao Paulo, Brazil. My dream for the business was to create the ultimate work experience for agency executives, with an international culture that promotes constant learning in a safe environment.  

Our purpose became the inspiration for what is now the Smart Group of agencies, which helps businesses grow by closely managing their reputation. This involves creating strategic narratives, helping them get positive media coverage, and working on employer branding, digital marketing, and CRM technology. Without legacy systems, startup founders can quickly adopt all these strategies to build their reputation and win customers. 

A tale of two businesses 

Consider a health tech startup founder, I’ll call him Mark. He is 29 and has a background in investment banking and an interest in healthcare for underprivileged children in emerging markets. On a whim, and before coming up with his big idea, Mark attended an executive education program and armed himself with the latest in market trends, leadership, and strategy. 

Bootstrapped to the last penny, he convinces two of his best friends from college to invest their savings in his idea. Laura has just been named the youngest and first female CTO for a digital bank. Christine is a pediatrician.

Together, they define their purpose and business model, ESG principles, and work culture. They agree to invest 80% of their meager funds in technology and operations, and 20% in a reputation and growth strategy. 

On the flip side, meet Anders, he is a marketing manager for a traditional conglomerate of hospitals, launching a pediatric health tech insurance business. 

With deep marketing pockets, the company has a confusing corporate narrative, the management team has no interest in being visible on LinkedIn, the company was recently in the media accused of racism in a scandal involving a doctor, and its Glassdoor rating has been below 3 for months. The new health tech website has 2,000 SEO errors, 40 pages with indexing issues, and only 10 healthy pages.

Which of these two imaginary companies is better equipped to become a Unicorn – that is, a private company valued at more than $1 billion – in the next 12 months? 

If you ask any executive working for the Smart Group of agencies, they will quickly say the first one.  

Considering the obvious differences between the two companies – one starting fresh, and the other with legacy issues – what did Mark, Laura, and Christine do differently? 

  1. The founders took the time to learn and create a strategic narrative about their business. 
  2. The management team was personally and deeply involved in planning and managing their reputation. 
  3. They focused on three areas every company needs to grow: company reputation, employer brand reputation, and digital marketing combined with sales acceleration. 

When I see companies adopt these strategies, I feel proud of what I’ve accomplished over the past 20 years. I used to feel embarrassed when I was celebrated as a woman entrepreneur because that was never on my mind. I just did it. As maturity settles in, I accept my audacity and my courage and I’m grateful for every comment about me as a woman entrepreneur. 

Running a company in Brazil, one of the most complex business environments in the world, is not for the faint of heart. In addition to our own economic and political upheaval, we have to contend with budget cuts whenever there is a downturn in the global economy, and uncertainty abounds. 

However, the joy of hiring, developing, and watching hundreds of people grow personally and professionally over the years has made it all worth it. The best is always yet to come. 

Six steps to build your company’s reputation

To succeed in a digital world there is no place for silos. PR, marketing, sales, and HR need to work closely together and make sure their strategies are aligned, and this is our aim at the Smart Group of agencies. Here are six steps one global finance company took to establish and manage its reputation:

Developed a compelling strategic narrative that included the company’s vision, business strategy, core values, and customer and employer value propositions.
Trained the C-suite to effectively communicate their strategic narrative, including regularly posting on LinkedIn.
Launched an employee influencer program where employees promote your brand on their own social media accounts.
Implemented a strategic internal communications program. 
Placed targeted stories in influential media. 
Aligned reputation-focused social content with customer acquisition and sales acceleration strategy.
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Silse Martell

founder of Smart Group of agencies

Silse Martell founded her first PR agency in 2002. Since then, she has created two more agencies, co-founded the executive mentor platform Collective Brains, and became an investor in health tech. She is currently pursuing IMD’s Board Certification.  


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