Category Archives: General Corporate

June 5, 2014 | cwinters | Tagged ,

Top Ten Quotes From the Reputation Management Institute Conference

As the Reputation Management Institute’s Annual Conference wraps up, my notes are peppered with some great quotes and food for thought about reputation – how to build it, protect it and measure it. In no particular order, my Top 10 quotes:

“If you aren’t out there talking, someone will do it for you. And you probably won’t like it.” – Jake Siewert, Global Head of Corporate Communications, Goldman Sachs

“Effective management of an issue that impacts reputation requires structure, and messaging. Not just messaging.” – Chuck Saia, Chief Risk, Reputation and Crisis Officer, Deloitte

“If you try to be a secret, you get recognition for the bad news, and not the good news. Even private companies need to engage externally.” – Charlese Wheeless, Principal Vice President, Global Corporate Affairs, Bechtel

“Reputation management isn’t about firefighting. It is about putting up smoke detectors.” – Kasper Nielson, Reputation Institute

“We want employees to support corporate strategy, but we don’t ask them what they want in exchange” – Cees van Reel, Author of the Alignment Factor

“To improve your reputation, be bold. Allstate will refund the premium for any policy holder who has an auto claim and isn’t satisfied with the outcome. Less than one percent will do it, but 100 percent will view you positively for offering it.” – David Woolwine, Allstate

“Reputation and brand aren’t the same thing. Reputation is an indicator of how your stakeholders view your actual performance, and communications is part of that. To influence reputation, corporate narratives need to be clear and consistent”. – Nick Adams, VP Corporate Branding, Novo Nordisk

“Culture eats strategy for lunch. Recruit for talent, create skills based roles, invest in your people and you will achieve growth”. – Gerard Van Grinsvan, CEO, Cancer Treatment Centers of America

“Too much success is a reputational risk, because it can make an organization stop listening (to stakeholders)” – Majken Schultz, Copenhagen Business School

“When a CEO’s compensation includes reputation metrics, you can be sure that those priorities trickle down.” – Bob Calamari, SVP Enterprise Marketing Research, Bank of America

June 4, 2014 | cwinters | Tagged ,

From Hotels to Healthcare – It’s All About Reputation

I’m at the Reputation Management Institute’s annual conference listening to great speakers talk about how to embed reputation considerations into business strategy and decision-making in order to achieve competitive advantage in the marketplace.

This morning’s panelist had me at “Hello.” Gerard van Grinsven is the CEO of Cancer Treatment Centers of America, but ironically, he isn’t a healthcare guy. He is a former hotel executive, now running cancer treatment hospitals and outpatient clinics. With that unique background, he had some great insights to share on reputation management:

1. Every business is a customer service business, including healthcare. The customers own your reputation, and we need to deliver what they value most.

2. Don’t spend so much energy focusing on your competitors. It distracts from your mission, and managing your reputation with a “relative to your peers” approach is a guaranteed race to the bottom.

3. Reputation is built from the inside out. Employees need to understand and embrace your vision before anyone else will.

4. Reputation leaders decline to smell their own perfume. Every stakeholder needs a high level of emotional engagement from you. If they aren’t willing to rate you at the top of the chart, that means they’re likely to go looking for something better and “have an affair” with one of your competitors.

5. Reputation leaders value speed to market. They move fast. Bureaucracy is the enemy of speed. To do this, you stay focused on what the customer values, and everything else is a waste of your energy.

If a healthcare CEO whose customers only come to him when they’ve received a devastating cancer diagnosis can live by these standards, there’s no reason we can’t all operate the same way.

May 8, 2014 | dlauer | Tagged ,

Fields’ First 100 Days Starts Now

It’s official. Mark Fields will soon take the helm of one of America’s most iconic corporations of all time. And just as it is for any new chief executive, the pressure is on. All eyes will be on Fields’ every move, ears hanging on every last word, interpreting the hidden, strategic connection to layoffs, cuts, sluggish sales, or whatever the anxious situation du jour may be. The “first 100 days” – often thought of as the most critical period with the ability to make or break the reputation of a new CEO – has already started, even before his first cup of coffee in the corner office.

Once thought of as a CEO’s “honeymoon period”, the first 100 days has become nothing short of a test, and unfortunately, easing into it is not an option. In fact, now more than ever, the first two months leading up to the official start date plays a more integral role in the perceived success or failure of a new CEO’s reputation tenure. For Fields specifically, this is a time for strategy and planning…not necessarily for Ford, but for his own, personal leadership approach.

So what should he be doing starting today?

CREATE AN AMBASSADOR NETWORK. This is the time to ensure relationships are shored up where they will be needed most. It can be lonely at the top, and Fields or any chief decision maker needs a trusted inner circle consisting of confidants in marketing and communications, legal, HR and especially the Board of Directors. Getting to know now what motivates employees, developing a shared vision for the brand and understanding the expectations of the Board and its preferences in terms of communicating and working together will be invaluable to building long-term equity with these influential groups.

LISTEN, AND LISTEN SOME MORE. There will be plenty of time when Fields will be expected by the public (investors, customers, pundits, industry influencers) to speak his mind – on everything from sales in Canada to production forecasts on the new F-150 pick-up – but this is a rare moment where Fields can actually do more listening than talking and not be criticized for it. I suggest he continue to do more of what he and CFO Shanks are already doing – conducting field visits around the Ford map to talk with employees, customers and ask questions. Listen to the answers and leverage them to inform the long-term strategy everyone will be so eagerly waiting to hear when the time is right.

HONE YOUR LEADERSHIP STYLE. Fields has won the recognition and respect (and now vote of confidence from his peers) that he is capable of penning the next chapter in Ford’s history. As accomplished and proven as Fields’ contributions as COO have been to the Ford Company, he still has some very big visionary shoes to fill upon Alan Mulally’s departure. Being a great leader is more than great execution. Inspiration has just become a significant part of Fields’ job description. A dynamic CEO can build trust and equity for the brand, and now is the time for Fields to consider the legacy he wishes to leave at Ford. This begins with a deep and thoughtful dive into the platforms Fields wants to be associated with, the areas of the job he feels most passionate about, and, ultimately, the point of view and messaging that will both authenticate and differentiate him.

We’ll be rooting for Fields as he transitions into his new role. The good news is he’s embarking on a well-paved path, thanks to Mulally’s successful turnaround. He’s a long-time Blue Oval veteran, he understands and lives the culture and for many new CEOs, this is half the battle. The question we’ll all wait to see answered is … what will Fields’ legacy be?


May 5, 2014 | cwinters | Tagged ,

Opening a Window of Goodwill

One of the cardinal rules of PR is that the status of your reputation will determine people’s initial response to any situation. If you’ve worked hard to build a good reputation, then people will be more inclined to give you the benefit of the doubt when things go wrong, which buys you a magical window of time to right the ship before things get too ugly. By stockpiling goodwill among your stakeholders when times are good, you can even lengthen the amount of time that window is open.

On the other hand, if you haven’t spent the time to enhance your reputation or stockpile goodwill, then that valuable window of time is most likely shut tight, and righting the ship becomes an even bigger challenge in the onslaught of public scrutiny.

A perfect example occurred recently when the Treasury Department Inspector General for Tax Administration released a report outlining how the IRS distributed over $2.8 million in bonuses over the last two years to employees who had been disciplined for various offenses, including giving $1 million in bonuses to over 1,100 employees who hadn’t adequately paid their own taxes.

For an organization that rates as the least popular federal entity, it’s clear the IRS does not have a good reputation and has not banked much goodwill among the public. As the media continues to swarm all over the story and members of Congress begin demanding answers, it is also clear that the window of opportunity to prevent this report from becoming yet another PR disaster is already closed, if it was ever actually open to begin with.

This case provides a valuable reminder that, regardless of your industry, goodwill and a solid reputation can work wonders to smooth over the occasional negative headline. The American public can be very understanding when they choose to be. Unfortunately, for the IRS, the taxman never gets the benefit of the doubt.

Of course, another cardinal rule of PR is that facts trump communications. The fundamental facts of your situation will ultimately carry the day. In the case of the IRS, no amount of crisis communications can gloss over the glaring hypocrisy of paying bonuses to tax collectors who haven’t paid their taxes.

May 1, 2014 | cwinters | Tagged , , ,

When it comes to corporate reputation, trust begins at home

It’s always fun, and OK, even a bit vindicating, when you find actual data to support something you’ve always believed. Like the notion that reputation and trust begin at home, with your organization’s employees. If you haven’t seen this little tidbit here on this blog, perhaps a study featured in HBR will convince you.

You may have seen the headline that a quarter of employees don’t trust their employers. But what is more interesting than the headline, is the deeper dive into why and what that means. MWW friends, colleagues and clients may recognize a few of these tidbits:

  • Communication is key to trust….but what you do is more important than what you say
  • Two-way dialogue is more important that top-down communication
  • Telling people how and why is more important than the “what” or factual information

And for those among us who are challenged with managing multiple generations in the workplace (spoiler alert: we are going to talk about Millennials here) – workplace stress is defined very differently by the generations. And what your parents described as “knowing your place” Millennials describe as a major source of workplace stress: lack of participation in decision-making.

HBR is full of great information – too much for most of us to fit into our reading list. But this one is worth the read.

April 30, 2014 | cwinters | Tagged ,

Buffet Backtrack on CEO Pay: Reputation Buster, or Just Buffet Being Buffet?

The Oracle of Omaha has spoken, or in this case, not spoken. After boldly pronouncing large shareholders as the last line of defense on CEO pay just a few years ago, Buffet declined to vote against the Coca-Cola compensation packages he termed excessive. In fact, he declined to vote at all.

Is abstaining a cop out, or sending a signal, as Buffet suggests? And will his apparent lapse in backbone damage his reputation as the tough-talking, common sense billionaire who makes headlines any time he issues a pronouncement?

Buffet has built a reputation as being a contrarian voice, with results that consistently outperform the market. And that is his secret sauce: performance. So long as he continues to perform, any perceived “flip flops” in position will likely be chalked up to eccentric billionaire behavior. But should that performance wane…then we may see Buffet’s reputation decline like an OTC stock.

April 29, 2014 | cwinters | Tagged ,

Can you monetize your reputation? Ask Vernon Davis

Reputations are often described as “priceless” – particularly among those who’ve earned a stellar one. But the latest Fantex IPO of Vernon Davis suggests that reputation can be quantified, and even monetized.

If you haven’t been following, Vernon Davis is the world’s first publicly traded NFL player – offering fans an opportunity to “buy in” to his future earnings – which are presumably one part athletic performance (and contract payments) + one part endorsements (presumably the biggest upside is here). For sure, securing top dollar endorsement deals is about performance and exposure – and a trip to the Super Bowl sure wouldn’t hurt. But nothing kills endorsements quicker than a reputational problem. Ask Oscar Pistorius.

Arguments are raging about whether or not “buying in” to an athlete is a clever new investment opportunity, or a scheme to bilk fans of their hard earned money. As to the question of whether his personal reputation will impact the value of that investment – the answer is pretty clear.

This notion takes the practice of personal reputation management – whether for CEOs, athletes, musicians or elected officials to a whole new level. And goodwill banks will be more literally – banks, measured in dollars and cents, giving the notion of Return on Reputation a whole new meaning. And at least for today, Vernon’s stock is up.

April 7, 2014 | cwinters | Tagged ,

Reputation Bracketology: JCPenney v. JPMorgan Chase

And it all comes down to this: the final game of the tournament. The winner takes home the trophy, and the loser just takes the bus. In this matchup, we have two strong teams squaring off after two bruising rounds of competition. Here’s where things currently stand:



JCPenney came into the tournament as a serious underdog. They’ve been down before – way down – and rebuilding a championship-worthy team for a second time simply seemed like too much of a long shot. Just don’t tell head coach CEO Mike Ullman. He took on Toyota in the first round and General Motors in the second, handily beating both as the two automakers continued to struggle to overcome their own demons.

Coach Ullman has reignited the “Retailers” and their fans with a consistent emphasis on the fundamentals and a light touch of modernization – all while maintaining the iconic retail tradition that Americans love to love. By returning to discount pricing and coupons, loyal fans are returning, and with a fresh focus on online sale, particularly home sales, new customers are starting to take notice, as well.

When it comes to March Madness, a true Cinderella story is born when the underdog defies expectations and captures the hearts and minds of tournament fans everywhere. JCPenney has been serving the American public for over 100 years, and its brand loyalty puts them in good stead now when they need it the most. It remains to be seen if the “Retailers” will have a fairy tale ending, but if they can keep their heads in the game and avoid any additional setbacks, this will be a very close game indeed.

JPMorgan Chase


After easily defeating Carnival Cruise Lines in Round 1, JPMorgan squared off in Round 2 against a tougher opponent but the “Bankers” held their own with strong performances centered on transparency and accountability. A few missteps led to a tighter contest than many had predicted, but head coach CEO Jamie Dimon rallied his team and they pulled out the win.

In the championship game, the “Bankers” will need more than just a strong track record. Coach Dimon has once again showed his willingness to make bold moves that strengthen his team, including the recent shakeup to the office responsible for the London Whale trading scandal by combining the Chief Information Office with the bank’s treasury department. This should lead to greater visibility and transparency across the units with responsibility for JPMorgan’s own finances and prevent another high-stakes failure.

Despite making all the right moves to get his team back on track, things are still far from over for the embattled “Bankers.” We still don’t know the full repercussions of the judge’s ruling in favor of shareholders who lost value in the London Whale scandal. As it continues to play out, it prevents JPMorgan from closing the book on this chapter of its history and truly focusing all the company’s efforts on the championship game at hand. A team distracted by outside events is quite unpredictable in these high pressure circumstances.

Winner: The winner of 2014 Reputation Bracketology is… JCPenney. In a hard fought contest that came down to who has moved farther away from their troubled past, the “Retailers” proved they truly are a Cinderella story. Despite the lead changing hands several times, Coach Ullman and his team proved they may be down, but they’re never out.

April 5, 2014 | cwinters | Tagged ,

Reputation Bracketology: JCPenney v. General Motors


In the first round, JCPenney proved that returning head coach CEO Mike Ullman was onto something when the “Retailers” defeated Toyota to advance to the Final Four. When Ullman returned to the helm of the iconic American brand, he had his work cut out for him. The previous coaching staff had essentially run the program into the ground with new strategies that were poorly suited for its loyal fans.

By bringing the focus back to fundamentals, JCPenney is reviving the winning strategy that made it an American success story from the start. It all centers on building confidence in players, fans and stakeholders, through a steady commitment to customer service, cultivating talent and online retail. While it’s too early to tell whether loyal “Retailers” fans will renew their season tickets, a 25 percent jump in share price immediately following the release of the quarterly earnings report in late February indicates that something in Coach Ullman’s playbook is working.

If JCPenney and Coach Ullman can continue to shift the focus away from the disastrous decisions of the past and stay centered on the opportunity for change, growth and innovation, the “Retailers” could easily take home the trophy.

General Motors:

GM easily pulled off the first round victory on the strength of head coach CEO Marry Barra’s strategy of transparency around the mistakes made by the previous coaching staff and the institution of a new culture of accountability.

Unfortunately for the “Motors”, things have gone from bad to worse. After announcing the recall of another 1.3 million vehicles, Coach Barra made two appearances on Capitol Hill this week to testify about documents that show previous coaching staff were aware of faulty ignition switches, but deliberately chose not to fix them citing that “none of the solutions represents an acceptable business case.” Continuing her winning strategy, Barra apologized for the failure and announced two new additions to the roster – former U.S. attorney Tony Valukas, who will lead an internal investigation and disaster compensation specialist Kenneth Feinberg, who will evaluate options for payments to the families of accident victims. Both of these moves indicate that the “Motors” came to play, and Barra will not shy away from the increasing pressure of her new role.

While GM has been very effective thus far in rising to the occasion and making all the right moves, any team would be hard pressed to overcome the continuous drip of negative information. The hits just keep on coming, and it is unclear if we’ve heard the last of it. Will the momentum and goodwill built up to this point be enough for Coach Barra and the “Motors” to overcome the mess they’ve inherited, or will the consistently negative coverage break the spirit of this iconic team?

Winner: In this clash of the iconic brand titans, we give the edge to JCPenney. The veteran coach using proven methods to emerge from crisis and bring back his team’s glory days is just too much for the smart rookie coach still dealing with a continuously unraveling legacy she inherited. We see a promising future for head coach CEO Mary Barra, but there’s light at the end of JCPenney’s tunnel and in the madness of March, having the worst behind you is always a winner.

Up Next: Our championship matchup between JPMorgan Chase and JCPenney

Here is our updated bracket:

April 4, 2014 | pwalotsky | Tagged , ,

Throwing in the Towel: How to Build Reputation in a No-Win Scenario

Last week, while most fans of college athletics were glued to their television screens as the March Madness Tournament pressed into the Sweet Sixteen, a much more dramatic event with long-term impacts for college athletics occurred in Chicago.

On March 26, a National Labor Relations Board regional office recognized Northwestern University football players as university employees capable of forming a union – not student-athletes who are exempt from organizing rights. This ruling sent chills down the spine of athletic directors and NCAA officials across the nation, and may be looked upon years from now as a seminal moment in amateur sports, comparable to Curtis Flood’s suit against the MLB’s reserve clause in 1969 which set the foundation for free agency in professional sports.

While a formal ruling that would allow college athletes to form a national union and collectively bargain for all college athletes is likely years off due to extensive appeals and litigation, between this instance, the ongoing O’Bannon case against the NCAA that is scheduled to see the inside of a courtroom this summer, and the recent anti-trust suit against the NCAA by star sports lawyer Jeffrey Kessler, the fundamental business model in college athletics is headed towards dramatic change over the next decade barring a dramatic collapse in momentum of the student-athlete rights movement.

On its face, the requests of these Northwestern college athletes who were recognized by the NLRB are exceedingly reasonable. These include: no loss of scholarship as a result of injury, healthcare coverage for injuries in practice and games, independent experts on sidelines to assess concussions, forming an educational trust to help former players graduate once their eligibility has expired, and “due process” for students who are removed from scholarship by coaches. Notably, the only talk around compensation is a nominal per-game stipend to cover reasonable expenses – something that most major conferences and even the NCAA’s President already support.

Furthermore, aside from this assault by litigation on all fronts, in the court of public opinion, we’ve reached a tipping point. Just this past week, major institutional media figures ranging from legendary sports writer Frank DeFord to New York Times business columnist Joe Nocera have celebrated the NLRB ruling and unionization for athletes. A year earlier saw a blistering cover story in the Atlantic Monthly that accused the NCAA of being a “colonial” institution and a PBS Frontline investigative report that exposed the double-standards and hypocrisy of the March Madness tournament with impoverish athletes enriching outlandishly paid coaches and administrators. Even President Obama has remarked that he’d like to see the NCAA do more to protect the health of athletes.

While the NCAA and universities are still aggressively trying to make their case – as the President of the University of Delaware attempted to on The New York Times op-ed page on Wednesday – the die has been cast. The remaining holdouts against NCAA reform are sentimentalists and those whose paychecks are tied to the current business model. The latest round of opposition – the idea that a union for college athletes is impossible to administer and impractical – has been dismissed by prominent labor law experts in academia like Peter Frampton of UC-Berkley. If there were strong and credible arguments left, one would think they would have been articulated by now.

While it may not happen today or tomorrow, change is coming, and from the NCAA and university perspective, none of the options are good ones. So, what to do when confronted with this type of no-win scenario?

In many cases – and this instance is no exception – opportunity in a no-win situation may be found through building reputation and good will in the long-term. Presently, the question that the NCAA and major universities are asking themselves is just how much negative press and litigation they are willing to endure to maintain the status quo. Do they proactively change and earn some good will, or do they hang on as long as they can until they’re forced to change by regulators or legislation?

Since the core of the NCAA’s business model is at stake, it’s likely they will fight aggressively to the very end to preserve revenue streams and keep their business model in place. After all, organizations that no longer exist have no further reputation to lose.

But major universities themselves will exist long after a decision is made. At a certain point, they will need to choose: do they proactively offer concessions to athletes? Or will they continue to pursue the status quo despite the writing on the wall?

The obvious, but painful decision is for universities to announce their support for making concessions proactively, and to make these pronouncements soon. While athletic departments will resist change aggressively, ripping the band-aid now prevents the long, slow drip of criticism and litigation. Furthermore, they have a seat at the table in making the rules, rather than leaving it to regulators or legislators.

Finally, I would be remiss not to mention the first-mover’s advantage. It does not apply in this instance because first-mover schools that act on their own could be punished by the NCAA and excluded from their sanctioned events. However, when an entire industry is faced with a no-win scenario and the path forward is apparent, being the first to break from the pack can have substantial reputational benefits. If you ever find yourself in a situation that’s seemingly without hope, consider your long-term reputation as a way to find opportunity and a light at the end of the tunnel. And if you have the chance, act before your competitors to earn the greatest amount of reputational benefit.