Category Archives: General Corporate
2012’s Reputation Winners
January 7, 2013
Here it is, our long awaited, completely unscientific review of the reputation winners and losers of 2012. I will admit, the losers list was much easier (OK, I’ll admit it, and more fun) to compile. But we will begin with the winners (in no particular order).
Occupy (fill in the blank) – The occupy movement proved it had staying power and relevance beyond the financial crisis with its entry into Hurricane Sandy relief. While they may not always use an Occupy hashtag, watch for business agendas disguised as social movements to emerge as the new approach to advancing an issue or cause. Fast Food Forward and the various movements for low wage workers are a great example.
N.J. Gov. Chris Christie – despite telling the world he smells like wet fleece, Gov. Christie has done some major reputation rehabilitation this year. While he still has a tendency to attack his opponents in what he likes to call, “Jersey style” – he has proven to be a leader who can put partisanship aside and put his constituents first. He made his Republican brethren none too happy when he praised President Obama just before the election, then topped it by outing Boehner for neglecting to put aid for Hurricane Sandy up for a vote.
Nate Silver – Sometimes you have to bet big to win big. The NYT FiveThirtyEight blogger bet the reputation farm with a bold and early prediction of an Obama victory and became the Fox News whipping boy. Until he was right. His books sales jumped 800 percent, and he is now the face of a new movement of bloggers and statisticians who are using data and heavily-researched mathematical models to make predictions in politics and numerous other fields, and thanks to him, elections will never be covered the same again.
Yahoo! – Scored Marissa Mayer for the top job, and a new “Celebrity CEO” was born.
Hillary Clinton – Does anyone even remember when she was the most hated woman in America? Madame Secretary has earned the respect for global diplomacy under the most difficult of circumstances, and is the presumed Presidential nominee.
Tim Tebow –His arrival to the Jets certainly didn’t live up to the hype…but he also never got much in the way of opportunity – so while the Jets went down in flames, Tebow, quite literally, remained on the sidelines.
Malala Yousufzai – for standing up to the Taliban to advocate for girls’ education, and living to tell about it.
President Obama – nothing proves reputation and respect more than winning a national election. Let’s see what this second term leader of the free world can accomplish when he takes that reputation out for a spin.
Big Bird – Our yellow feathered friend hasn’t seen this kind of pop culture relevance since Snuffy became real. Hopefully he can transfer some of this equity to his pal Elmo, who has surely seen better days.
Who were your reputation winners? Who did we miss? Come back tomorrow for our list of losers.
No Politics on My Pizza
December 19, 2012
There is an old adage that you should never discuss religion or politics outside of your doorstep and in the past few months not heeding this advice has tripped up a number of restaurant chains. Earlier this year it was Chick-fil-A, which was forced into crisis mode by anti-gay marriage comments from the chain’s president. The comments energized partisans on both sides of the debate and gave a range of politicos an opportunity to make hay. While some are trying to argue that the incident actually helped short-term sales at Chick-fil -A, it was certainly not the sort of publicity that helps build brands and burnish reputations.
In the weeks since the presidential election, Obamacare has been the blue plate special served up for controversy at places like Papa John’s, Denny’s and Applebee’s with the pizza chain’s head and franchisees at the other two restaurants decrying the healthcare law and threatening draconian staff cuts and price rises.
Now comes evidence of how this latest venture out of the kitchen and into the political scrum impacted perceptions of the aforementioned restaurant thanks to a study by YouGov Brandindex. The results show a quick and precipitous drop in Papa John’s and Applebee’s perceptions. Denny’s suffered a similar fate initially when a major franchisee added his voice to the anti-Obamacare chorus but perceptions bounced off the lows when the corporate CEO publicly apologized a few days later.
Reputations are fragile things which need much care and protection, particularly in the consumer marketplace. They take hard work and time to establish and preserve but as too often seen in recent months, can be cast asunder with a few intemperate words regarding subjects many don’t want the companies/brands they utilize to weigh in on. Interestingly, at a time when there is much discussion about the bounds of corporate speech, it is the people aligned with these companies who can damage reputations by exercising their own constitutional rights. Corporate communications professionals need to help their executives understand how airing views beyond the scope of company business can impact all stakeholders. The YouGov BrandIndex study provides a lesson worth learning.
When In Doubt, Blame Healthcare
November 26, 2012
I spent the early years of my career working with a large number of retailers, often distressed retailers. Every quarter, as they presented their results, they were always looking for something (anything?) to explain declines other than the fact that their business was broken. There was one fewer Saturday. Seven more rainy days. The calendar – and the weather – became a company’s best friends in the proverbial “blame game.”
Today, the game hasn’t changed much – but these friends have. Now, it seems the new trend is to blame healthcare for all that ails your business. Papa John’s cites healthcare for an increase in prices and a reduction in workforce. Opponents of Obamacare blame it for the national unemployment rate. Hostess and its major union’s dangerous game of corporate “chicken” began over a proposal to increase employees’ out-of-pocket costs for healthcare. The Verizon strike began the same way.
Don’t get me wrong – healthcare is a massive expense for employers. It has legitimate implications for financial results, and even product pricing. But proactively addressing costs – rather than blaming them – is something responsible leaders and employers must do if they want their businesses to remain
Part of the problem is the changing shift in attitudes of Americans about the role of healthcare in general. My parents’ generation viewed healthcare as protection from catastrophic illness. They were covered under traditional indemnity plans, and expected to pay a deductible and 20 percent of the costs on top of that. Then came managed care, and the notion of covering preventative and wellness care in order to reduce the incidents of catastrophic or chronic illness. The unfortunate side effect: Americans now expect a CAT scan to cost them less than a haircut. That’s just not realistic – and companies, both the health care providers and the employers themselves – can do a better job of setting expectations.
An interesting side effect: as the “blame healthcare” movement heats up, time will tell if it impacts insurers in a more dramatic way. Sure, there are always discussions about insurers being too profitable at a time when so many struggle to afford insurance at all. But as publicly traded companies, they have a primary responsibility to their investors to make a profit (which is why some in related businesses, like Nationwide Auto Insurance, even tout their privately held status as better for policy holders). So as the blame game intensifies, the insurers, many of whom boast market caps measured in billions, may be the next target.
Occupy healthcare, anyone?
Mission Critical: No Better Time to Get Naked
November 14, 2012
Storytelling is the foundation for every corporate public relations program. I spend a lot of time working with companies on developing and refining their core stories – or what we refer to as a company’s “master narrative.” Like all great stories, there needs to be a centrally defined focus – a purpose that brings together the main characters and the plot and makes the story all worth telling. The business equivalent is a company’s mission, the articulation of why an organization exists.
At a time when many corporate leaders are battling extreme global competition, evolving regulation and consolidation, articulating why the company is in business should be the easy part, right? Wrong. Surprisingly, I have found that the single biggest stumbling block executives have when thinking about their companies is agreeing on the very essence of what they do and why. Many have the most trouble getting back to the basics and stripping away superfluous language that can water down or even distort the mission.
So who is getting it right? Take a look at a few of my favorites:
Zappos: “Wow” philosophy “to provide the best customer service possible.”
JetBlue: “Bring humanity back to air travel”
Starbucks: “To inspire and nurture the human spirit – one person, one cup and one neighborhood at a time.”
McDonald’s: “To be our customers’ favorite place and way to eat.”
I list four very different businesses and four very different missions, yet they all have one thing in common: they get at the very essence of why they are in business, simply and cleanly. You don’t need a PhD to understand what they do, who they do it for and why they do it. You immediately get why their people come to work every day and while it’s not to cure cancer, abolish poverty or another of the world’s intractable problems, they are inspiring in their own right.
And why should a company care? Mission statements have been directly linked to greater returns on investment, and return on equity has been found to be more than double in companies with a written mission statement.
Telling your company’s story with a strong mission at the core has the ability to rally employees, inspire customers and keep the company on track when it verges on losing its way. When thinking about your own business, remember that a mission statement is more than words on paper, and often what’s not there is even more telling. Less can be more. Go ahead and bare all!
The Gifts of Hurricane Sandy: Leadership & Exceeded Expectations
November 5, 2012
While I recognize that Hurricane Sandy was entirely different, I look at the pictures of the devastation at the Jersey Shore and can’t help but being reminded of September 11. This time, the massive destruction was at the hands of Mother Nature, not terrorists. But the terror and the loss are just as real. And the extreme acts of common kindness and displays of leadership are equally inspiring.
Take for example, Governor Christie. Just a week ago, he was bashing President Obama in the most partisan ways imaginable. This week, we’ve seen a Governor who has put people ahead of politics, and his state ahead of his own ego. He has allowed us to see his humanity and his emotion, and he has graciously given the President credit where credit is due. So I will do the same: Governor Christie became a leader this week, instead of a bully.
I’ve also been inspired by stories of everyday people who’ve extended themselves to strangers as flood waters took their homes ; of first responders who put themselves in danger so that others can be saved. Neighbors are knocking on each other’s doors in a way we don’t see in this generation of organized play dates and neighbors who don’t know each other’s names.
Finally, I’ve been impressed by a change in PSEG’s approach to handling massive blackouts. I don’t actually know if they are doing anything different in their process, approach or timeframes for service recovery, but they are doing a much better job in communicating their preparedness, process and progress. As a result, I feel a lot more positive about how they are doing than I have in all of the other storms where I have been among those who’ve lost power for a week. This is proof that better communications = better optics, and better reputation.
In all three of these cases, the impact comes largely from a mismatch between what I expected, and what occurred. Granted, having negative expectations that re-exceeded isn’t the highest threshold, but it is a start. What would really make my day? If the social misfits known as the cast of the Jersey Shore would take some of their notoriety, and their millions earned from selling trash TV, to restore the shore. We all expected a Bruce Springsteen and Bon Jovi Restore the Shore Benefit concert. Let’s see if Snooki and Pauly D step up.
Can embracing simplicity improve your reputation?
October 22, 2012
I’m a typical 40-something working Mom. My calendar looks like 10 pounds of flour in a 5 pound sack. My days get longer and longer, yet my to do list never gets shorter. Perhaps that is why I am drawn to the notion of simplicity. Yup, I watch Ree Drummond being a Pioneer Woman, and find myself envious of her life. I read Real Simple magazine looking for the magic elixir of simplicity. Sometimes I even succeed. And I know I am not alone in this craving for simplicity.
Why, then, do companies make their communications as complex as humanly possible? Have you ever read your credit card agreement? Me neither. How about trying to make sense of those open enrollment benefits communications? An annual report or an earnings release?
Our founding fathers were able to create a nation in only 16 pages. Yet a typical business meeting includes a death by PowerPoint much longer than that. Employee handbooks, annual reports, CEO speeches, the U.S. Tax code – they all go on endlessly. And if they aren’t too long, they are often riddled with industry jargon and complex explanations designed to provide clarity. Yet they do the exact opposite. And when your stakeholders can’t understand you, it stands to reason that they won’t trust you, support you or act in the desired fashion.
We are experiencing a trust crisis in America. People don’t trust government, they don’t trust business, they don’t trust institutions. They trust each other, and the simple, straightforward information we share with each other in the short form of a Facebook post or a tweet. Imagine if corporate communications took a simple, straightforward approach – free from legal-ese and industry jargon. A simple concept, with big impact.
Thomas Jefferson said, “When the subject is strong, simplicity is the only way to treat it.”
Easy to say. Difficult to do. How do you preserve communications simplicity in an increasingly complex world? Share your stories with us. But please, keep them simple. Not convinced? Watch this Ted Talk – which prompted me to make the connection between simplicity, trust and reputation.
The Lance Armstrong Effect – Winners and Losers Following The Cyclist’s Announcement
October 19, 2012
Following the news of Lance Armstrong’s tumultuous week, MWW analyzed the changes in perception since Wednesday’s announcement. The results of the analysis are below. Who do you think will ultimately benefit and suffer from this week’s news? For more on the winners and losers of Lance’s announcement, read Carreen Winters’ thoughts from earlier this week.