Category Archives: General Corporate

September 19, 2014 | cwinters | Tagged ,

Move the Chains: Roger Goodell’s Fumble Recovery

NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell News Conference

Just as the calls for his resignation reached a fever pitch, Roger Goodell pulled off a fumble recovery with his news conference today  (Although I’d throw a flag for the late start!). While the NFL, and Goodell, are far from being out of the woods, today marked an important first step in reputation recovery.

What did the NFL (finally) get right?

  1. Goodell Manned Up – he took responsibility for bad processes, bad decisions and bad outcomes.  And promised to do better.  Never underestimate the value of an apology.
  2. Prescriptive and immediate actions were unveiled – education and training for all personnel will begin this month.
  3. NFL shed the block and pivoted to how the NFL can be a force for good – supporting credible organizations to tackle the larger societal problem of domestic violence.  They didn’t do it as well as NFL sponsor (and MWW client) Verizon – which made a similar call to action before the NFL did, and has been supporting domestic violence for years.
  4. Brought his potential adversary under the tent – the NFLPA by stating that they both agree that “There is no room for violence in the NFL” while outlining the need for change to the personal conduct policies – something which requires the support of the NFLPA. If player reaction to Goodell’s speech is any indication, he is going to need the NFLPA’s help.
  5. Established a timeline – of sweeping policy change before the Super Bowl.

For now, Goodell gets to keep the ball, and the NFL continues its attempts to drive forward.  But they are far from the Red Zone.  Once he was forced to go off script, Goodell struggled with a number of questions – including the revelation that a FOIA request for records shows no evidence that the NFL ever requested the Ray Rice video tape.  With his credibility already in question, millions of fans will be watching to see if the NFL can deliver on this plan with consistency, transparency and accountability.

Football is a game of inches.  And that is how the NFL can restore its reputation – one hard fought inch at a time.

September 18, 2014 | admin | Tagged ,

The NFL in Crisis – How Can Its Reputation Be Saved?

The biggest news from the NFL over the first three weeks of the season has all been off the field with player arrests and suspensions relating to domestic and child abuse.

EVP Carreen Winters recently appeared on ESPN’s “Outside the Lines” to discuss what PR issues the NFL is facing and what the league needs to do to restore the trust in the shield.

See Carreen’s interview here.

September 9, 2014 | dlauer | Tagged , , ,

Becoming a lifestyle brand, the Apple way

top-10-brands-on-socialcam-eef22540ddI’ve led corporate branding and narrative development for companies in every industry, from start-ups to the Fortune 100.  At one point in each and every audit, when asking executives who they most want to emulate or be aligned with, they all say the same thing: “I want to be Apple.”

It has happened so often that I have had to specifically re-engineer my question to include a caveat – Apple doesn’t count.  Nor does Nike or Starbucks.

These are the go-to brands that transcend their categories. Their very names have become known as widely-accepted verbs by everyone from Wall Street Analysts to Main Street Millennials.  These companies have created such strong emotional connections with their customers that they now serve to validate their identities and customers reciprocate by voluntarily tattooing their cars, computers and even bodies.  Because for their audiences, they are not corporations, they are a lifestyle.

Lifestyle brands do more than achieve cult-like status among their followers. They successfully break away from the commodity space.  They command a price and loyalty premium unavailable to competitors.

And the secret sauce? After researching and following so many of these brands, including those that have had success on a humbler stage, such as Harley-Davidson, Whole Foods and Ralph Lauren, it has become apparent that there is none.  No amount of imitation in the way these companies look, talk or act can transform an everyday organization into a lifestyle brand. However, several major themes have consistently emerged in the way these companies operate market and think about their businesses that are worth putting into practice:

Stand for something specific

Have a defined identity and corporate narrative that your employees can strive to exemplify and customers and investors can believe in.  Invest in the time and resources to really understand what your company stands for and where it is headed, as well as what drives your stakeholders to action.  Building authentic and ownable thought leadership platforms from that narrative can help get your story told by the influencers, but then you need to reinforce that mission consistently by creating the same experience in everything you do: in store and out, online and in person, on Main Street and on Wall Street.

Tell Stories

Everyone loves a good story. We connect and learn through them; they can help humanize even the most esoteric of topics. However, how you tell yours and who tells it means the difference between empty noise and building authentic relationships with key audiences.  Take Nike for instance:  its 1977 ad campaign was revolutionary for its time, many called it “risky,” even “crazy.” The first of its kind, it featured zero actual Nike products, and it was all centered around the art of storytelling and creating an emotional connection with its audience around hope for what they could accomplish – as athletes and as people, punctuated by the “Just Do It” tagline that has become an iconic, cultural mantra of motivation for everything from climbing Mount Everest to climbing the corporate ladder.

The key is to think about what people want to hear, what motivates them and shape your communications strategically around that.

Are you shuttling people from point A to point B or are you enabling a great travel experience? Are you selling technology that brings Wi-Fi to a stadium or are you making it possible for hundreds of thousands of people to stay connected no matter where they are?

Every corporate story starts with a mission. Find ways to get people excited about yours.

Nobody wins by following the crowd

Don’t be afraid to be unconventional – culturally or otherwise. Distinguish your company from competitors by encourage new standards and “best practices” by looking outside the industry – who does it well in general?  Where are all the thought leaders on topic X, Y or Z convening?  Thinking beyond the category can help employees focus on excelling in key areas like customer service and innovation no matter what gadget or offering they’re supporting. It will also help to reshape the way you think about and approach strategies fornew products, experiences and communications that build your reputation as a leader.

Stay true. If it deviates, don’t do it

Because all associations echo your brand and can have a significant impact on your corporate reputation, mandate a laser-focus on associating yourproducts, partnerships, services and offerings with thesocial and cultural aspirations of your targetaudiences. You can only do this by making understanding the wants and needs of your stakeholders a corporate priority.  Building new products, services and innovations around insights will provide a framework for all decision-making.

September 7, 2014 | cwinters | Tagged ,

“Reputational foul…inconsistent messaging…on the commissioner…15 yards”

RogerGoodell-NFL-commissioner_originalAs one of the world’s largest non-profit trade organizations, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell plays the role of CEO and as chief executive, it is crucial to have consistent messaging from the brand’s voice. And right now, the NFL has a messaging problem.

Before the first 1:00 p.m. kickoff of 2014 this Sunday, the league has already created plenty of offseason noise to rival any stadium setting. Let’s recount some of the major news events across the field:

  • This summer, Cleveland Browns wide receiver Josh Brown went through an appeals process to overturn his season-long ban with the league for his second failed drug test. The league recently upheld their decision and the public made it clear they were not happy with the decision.
  • Through a similar time window, on July 24, the NFL suspended Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice two regular season games for violating the league’s personal conduct policy for his offseason arrest of domestic abuse; video surveillance shows Rice dragging his unconscious fiancé from an Atlantic City hotel elevator back in February after an altercation between the two.
  • On August 28, Goodell publicly stated his wrongdoing in mishandling the Rice case, more than a month after the initial announcement, as well as changing the NFL’s policy on domestic abuse – six games for a first offense, a full season for the second.
  • On August 31, San Francisco defensive lineman Ray McDonald was arrested for domestic violence and faces the new penalty of the revised NFL policy; Consequently, ESPN NFL Insider Adam Schefter tweeted out these choice words:




As if there was ever good timing for domestic abuse

Even with these unfortunate events occurring over the last two months, the NFL utilizes a defense strategy that’s so maddeningly simple to deflect long-term scrutiny: football will continue to be played, generating enough revenue and attention to detract from its internal issues.  Even if the most popular sport in the U.S. continues to expand its fan base and wallet, what are the commissioner’s, and the league’s, message to its stakeholders (specifically its growing female fan base) about its ethics?

Good on Goodell for admitting that he got it wrong the first time around, but it’s still a sack on the league’s reputation, especially as a voice against domestic abuse, that could’ve been avoided through timelier action. As a “CEO,” he not only needs to penalize such egregious activity, but he also needs to create a league culture where this type of behavior is simply unacceptable.

The scoreboard still favors the NFL in the eyes of its rabid fans, but its reputational score could use some strategic play-calling from its commissioner in setting its message straight on doing what’s right.

August 14, 2014 | cwinters | Tagged , ,

The Art of Communications: When To Be Quiet

When you work in the public relations business, you learn to work the news cycle for your clients.  Bright ambitious professionals diligently track breaking news, and get creative about how to fit their clients into the trend.   A celebrity loses a ton of weight on your client’s diet program.  A prominent attorney comments on a verdict.  A CEO gives advice to college grads, or shares lessons learned from his Father on Father’s Day.  All in a day’s work.

But there are some news cycles that you should just sit out.  And some in our profession just don’t learn.  I remember UPromise getting hammered when a well meaning, presumably very junior PR person pitched reporters on the “other tragedy of the day” -  lack of college savings -  shortly after the terrorists struck the World Trade Center on 9/11.  Rarely are the offenses so extreme, but it is these kinds of events that damage the reputation of the public relations profession.

The most recent example comes from a major agency that tried to capitalize on the tragic suicide of Robin Williams by critiquing the mental health organizations who hadn’t engaged in social media, and reminding everyone that they are “in the business of helping clients create or join conversation.”

Simple rule of thumb: if it doesn’t pass the cringe test, don’t say it or do it.  How can we expect clients to get it right when the PR counselors get it wrong?

July 21, 2014 | cwinters | Tagged ,

GM CEO Mary Barra Stays the Course of Transparency Showing Action at Congressional Hearing

General Motors CEO Mary Barra Testifies Before Senate Committee About GM's RecallsIn her third appearance before Congress on Thursday, GM CEO Mary Barra held steadfast to her strategy of transparency and action. Her testimony showed accountability and company changes since the first recalls were announced in February, and it was clear she won over the Congressional panel, with Senator Claire McCaskill (D-MS) going so far as to say “some see the record number of recalls at General Motors as a problem. I see it as a good sign.”

Building on my assessment of Barra’s previous Congressional testimony in June, she did two things exceptionally well this time around to further her strategy and demonstrated that she has acted on her convictions.

1. Showed empathy and solutions for the victims

Empathy is a crucial element to restoring a reputation after a major blow. Barra hit this on the head, addressing the victims and the families who’ve lost loved ones at the start of her testimony. She immediately connected with them by offering her “deepest sympathies” and reassuring them that GM will rectify the situation with “compassion, decency, and fairness” through a no-cap compensation fund.

The hiring of outside consultant, Ken Feinberg, is the proof point that demonstrates this compensation will take place the way she publicly outlined.

2. Proved safety is front and center at GM

Barra made it clear—GM’s mission is to do all it can to make sure nothing like this ever happens again. And she reported five major company changes that include the newly-created VP of Global Safety’s direct line to her, greater information sharing among legal staff and other business units, and a Speak Up for Safety program that recognizes employees who report safety issues quickly. These changes have already had a direct impact—a total of 18 recalls on vehicle populations of 1,000 or less have been conducted. Moreover, she made it clear GM employees are behind her and are “all in” to make the company better. It’s evident that a cultural shift is taking place and the “new GM” is starting to take shape.

Being called to testify before Congress is rarely a positive thing for a company’s reputation, and GM certainly has work to do to restore trust in the company and its products.  But Barra gets high marks from me for effectively leveraging her position as a new CEO and agent of change, readily acknowledging fault when appropriate, but also defending people and processes that deserve it, such as her efforts to restore confidence in GM’s general counsel Michael Millikin, who has been cast as a “bad actor” in this scene, publicly calling him “a man of integrity” and the “person she needs on her team” in the face of brutal calls for his job by Congress.

Barra gets a thumbs up for now, but the more important issue to watch will be whether or not this ultimately damages GM as a brand and consumers start to vote with their wallets.

July 17, 2014 | cwinters | Tagged , , , ,

King James’ Return to Cleveland – A “Rebound on Reputation”?

lebron cavsLast Friday afternoon, NBA superstar LeBron James announced his return to the Cleveland Cavaliers, his original team, after a four-year stint with the Miami Heat through an exclusive essay conducted by Sports Illustrated. James, an Ohio native, stirred controversy throughout America’s sports fan base in 2010 by publicly announcing his long-awaited free agency decision (aka “The Decision”) on a live ESPN special, with the message “I’m taking my talents to South Beach”resonating in villainous fashion.

For those who don’t know, the reputational domino effect on James ensued shortly after, with Cavaliers’ owner Dan Gilbert penning a blistering open letter to fans calling out James for leaving. This followed with countless No.23 jerseys burned or banished, and a chorus of “boos” directed at The King in every corner of the country.

No matter the timing or his sincerity in the letter, was this enough to repair King James’ reputation?  After the 2010 decision, I looked at James’ reputation though a branding lens: a personal brand that caters to his advocates and ignores his detractors through an extremely narrow view of his stakeholders. From the grandiose television spectacle to the “What Should I Do” commercial that took a victimized approach in his decision, LeBron’s reputation has been anything but all-star caliber.

In a king-like manner, James wants to have his cake and eat it too with his recent announcement to return to Cleveland. James wanted his cake – an NBA championship – and didn’t care what it took it to get it; even if it meant ditching the Cavaliers’ castle that’s starving for its first title. Now with two titles under his belt, James has deemed it appropriate to return home without retribution while proclaiming the words, “I’m not promising a championship.” This begs me to wonder, if he had not won in Miami during his four-year stay, would he be back as a Cav this upcoming season?

In the world of sports where memories are short and winning is everything, James does score some major reputational points this time around for a sound, operational announcement.  However, when the book is written on James’ legacy, his blunders of the past will not be forgotten. I’m not sipping from the Lebron Kool-Aid, or should I say Sprite 6 Mix, just yet.

July 3, 2014 | seis | Tagged , , ,

The Power of a Diverse Workplace

diversegrouplargeLess than a month after Google disclosed its disappointing diversity numbers, Facebook followed suit with a nearly identical diversity report. At Google and Facebook, men make up 70 percent and 69 percent of both companies’ respective workforces, and combined, Caucasians and Asians represent a staggering figure of over 90 percent of both companies’ labor pools. These figures are representative of a troubling trend among far too many companies and are out of line with a U.S. workforce in which people of color make up nearly a third of the total labor force. This lack of diversity is simply inconsistent with the type of business strategy America’s most innovative companies should pursue and the message they should be communicating.

While the days of “othering” are gone, there’s growing societal emphasis placed on acceptance and inclusion, creating a diverse workplace is not only a moral imperative; it’s a smart business strategy. Deloitte’s 2014 Human Capital Trends survey describes a diverse and inclusive workforce as “a company’s lifeblood.” Numerous studies from organizations such as Deloitte,  McKinsey & Company, and The Center for American Progress have proven the various benefits diversity has for a company.  From helping to understand customers’ differing needs and cultivating relationships with new customers, to increasing employee retention rates and inspiring new ideas through varying backgrounds and viewpoints, a diverse workforce leads to more opportunities and ultimately, positive bottom line impact.

Creating a diverse workplace is critical from the standpoint of both the employee and the employer. According to Cone Millennial Cause group, in a sample of 1,800 13-25-year-olds, 80 percent said they wanted to work for a company that cares about how it impacts and contributes to society, and over half said they would refuse to work for an irresponsible corporation.  A 2011 survey by PricewaterhouseCoopers showed that while Millennials believe companies talk about diversity, they are not taking tangible action to create equal opportunities. As Millennials continue to pour into the workforce and companies increasingly seek to engage a global, diverse audience, creating an inclusive, accepting culture is the key to attracting and retaining talent.

Given its influence over employee retention and acquisition, its power to foster creativity, and increase productivity and efficiency, having a diverse workforce can mean the difference between stagnation and innovation…and outwardly communicating this diverse culture is just as critical. By taking tangible steps to transcend tolerance and shift towards embracing differences at every decision, at every level of an organization, businesses can increase their competitiveness in a dynamic global economy.

July 2, 2014 | cwinters | Tagged , , ,

When Values-Based Organizations Go Wrong: Why Hypocrisy is the Enemy of Reputation

hobby lobbyFree speech is alive and well – at least on social media – and it has never been more evident than it is with the Hobby Lobby SCOTUS decision.  Placing religious freedom, personal liberty and other Constitutional arguments aside, watching this situation unfold begs the question about the reputation implications of being an organization that is “values-based.”

Most organizations are built on core values – some through a purposeful design of mission and vision statements, followed by the core values the organization espouses.  Others have been less orchestrated – but not less meaningful – often derived from the personal values system of the founders – maybe even religious values. Some of the greatest, most iconic companies in America were built on a religious foundation.  The Hersey Chocolate Company was certainly influenced by Milton Hershey’s Mennonite values.  Marriott’s commitment to The Mormon Way is well documented, as is its refusal to offer pay-per-view pornography in its hotels.  Tyson provides Chaplains of multiple faiths for its employees and believes in spirituality in the workplace.  And Timberland’s CEO credits his Jewish faith for his commitment to treating all people with dignity, and severing ties with Chinese factories for human rights violations.

So why the backlash against self-proclaimed Christian companies like Hobby Lobby and Chick-fil-A?

While the issue is very complex, the answer is simple.

  1. When a company proclaims a set of values – there is an expectation that those values will be applied consistently – not in a cherry picked fashion.   This piece about Hobby Lobby’s extensive sourcing from China sums it up nicely.  Consumers won’t tolerate hypocrisy – such as Forever 21 selling skimpy clothing to young girls, while printing bible verses on your shopping bags.  Or Chick-fil-A’s proclamation as an advocate for families (and closing on Sundays) but rampant disrespect for gay families.
  2. When your organization’s values benefit your employees and protect your customers– such as Tyson’s Chaplain program, or Starbucks banning weapons in their stores – this is a good thing for your reputation.  When your values are used as a blunt instrument to restrict or deny your employees – that is something else.  (And yes, I understand that some believe that restricting weapons is impeding the personal liberty of the lawful gun owners who believe in their right to bear arms…but that is a topic for another blog, another day.  I don’t think ordering a Venti Frappuccino requires being armed.)

So should you just forget about being a values-based organization?  Absolutely not.  But before you proclaim those values, remember that we live in a complex world, and that hypocrisy is the enemy of building and preserving your reputation.  You’ve got to walk the talk.

June 19, 2014 | cwinters | Tagged , ,

GM’s CEO Mary Barra Smartly Sticks with Strategy of Transparency in Congressional Hearing

GM CEO Mary Barra’s testimony to Congress Wednesday was a demonstration of true integrity. Too often, we find leaders giving empty apologies. But Barra offers a new way forward for leaders who find their institutions (in this case, and in others, themselves) under the microscope, and learn the raw, honest truth – they are deeply flawed. Barra’s strategy of transparency around the mistakes made by previous leaders is admirable, and her continued self-criticism and forward-looking, specific recommendation for change are critical in order to rally support around the “new GM” she is trying to create. Her decision to act on all of the Valukas Report’s recommendations is evidence that she’s not just talking; she’s really making an actionable commitment to turning the company’s reputation, business and culture around.

The Valukas report was indeed, as Barra herself puts it, “extremely thorough, brutally tough and deeply troubling.” However, Barra’s acknowledgement of the realities of the report and moreover, her suggestions to proactively address the issues raised shows that she is not afraid to rise to the occasion – her communication externally, if matched internally with a “we rise and fall together” mantra will serve her well.

The verdict is still out on how Barra’s communication strategy will pan out, and will rely on how well Barra acts on her convictions and ensures this doesn’t happen again.

Here’s what media and consumers have to say so far.