Look Beyond the Leprechauns to see an Exercise in Reputation Management

By Karina Dooley


St Patrick’s Day is the one day of the year when everyone is a little bit Irish.

Last week, the globe turned green in honour of Ireland’s national holiday. Iconic sites including The Great Wall of China, Rome’s Colesseum, and even Reykjavik Opera House, became illuminated beacons of Irishness.

Each year, parades and revelry in the name of St. Patrick ensue worldwide - far beyond the shores of the Emerald Isle. Amongst the shamrocks and pints of Guinness lies a desire to celebrate Irish culture. The biggest celebration is undoubtedly the New York City Parade, which lasts over six hours and this year saw over 120,000 participants.

Here in Ireland, this year’s week-long celebration is expected to generate over €120 million for the Irish economy. Hotels were packed to capacity with visitors from around the world and thousands lined our streets in a sparkling sea of green.

So how did the feast day of a small country become such an all-singing all-dancing global phenomenon?

The annual celebration first began as a way for those who that had left these shores to celebrate their heritage and national pride.  Throughout history, Irish people have emigrated, resulting in a world filled with O’Briens and Fitzpatricks. People around the globe go to great lengths to claim Irish ancestry, and it was our American friends who first realised the commercial value of the holiday and led the way in creating the global celebration we know today.

Every year, members of the Irish Government are dispatched to key countries to share Irish culture, and raise Ireland’s profile for trade and tourism, essentially managing Ireland’s reputation internationally. This direct engagement seems to work, as according to the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, almost €5 million in new business for exporters was announced or secured during the St Patrick’s Day visits in 2014.

While, Ireland is traditionally known for its green fields, ‘the gift of the gab,’ and of course, Tayto crisps - its status as a shrewd reputation manager is maybe less well known.

The truth of the matter is that building a solid reputation is much more than business strategy and operational savvy, it’s about building a culture that inspires and engages.  The focus is not just on punching numbers and meeting financial targets but on building trust with stakeholders and working together for continued success.

Of course, very few countries, let alone businesses, enjoy such a spotlight to promote themselves on the global stage. Nonetheless, St. Patrick’s Day highlights that our reputation is influenced by its multiple stakeholder groups, both at home and abroad. Despite Ireland’s challenging economic circumstances in recent years, we are reminded that having strong stakeholder relationships is critical to survive a crisis.

Strolling through the streets of Dublin last week, I saw hundreds of people celebrating Ireland, as a country, as a culture, and as a brand. To be able to build such strong connections with stakeholders and share a message is a powerful thing.

And in the end, isn’t that what reputation is all about?

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