Tag Archives: Reputation Management
Reputation Begins At Home: Why Companies with “Top Reputations” Stay There, Despite Major Crises
June 9, 2011
What does that mean?
First, when it comes to lists and rankings, perception lags reality – good or bad. It takes time for the lists to reflect recent events. It also suggests that there is merit to the schools of thought around goodwill banks, and my personal POV that how you respond to the crisis can have more significance than the crisis itself. But there are some other interesting learnings here:
1. Reputation begins at home. A key driver of Google’s performance on this reputation score was their workplace culture, governance and citizenship. Perhaps Google.org wasn’t a bust after all. To be considered for the list, companies had to rank high in their home market as a “table stakes” for consideration.
2. The Art of Storytelling – a quick breeze through the Top 10 suggests that the ability to tell a great story – to stand for something beyond just your products or services…whether it is innovation and design (Apple), family, fun and entertainment (Disney) or the Volkswagen lifestyle.
3. You’ve got to be relevant to consumers, even if you don’t sell directly to consumers – It is no surprise the big winners on this list are consumer brands, but it isn’t a requirement. Intel, No. 9 on the list, doesn’t sell anything to consumer directly. But they’ve done a great job making “Intel Inside” relevant to an audience far beyond the decision maker at Dell, for example.
The Reputation Institute also points out a key fact – the leaders on this list don’t treat Reputation as a brand imperative – they treat it as a business imperative – ingrained into their policies, business practices and operations.
Does the Term “Public Relations” Have a Reputation Problem? Three things that can change the reputation of PR for the better.
April 26, 2011
Shakespeare said a rose by any other name would smell as sweet. Can the same be true for the term public relations? If you follow the industry blogs at all, over the past few days there has been some interesting conversation about the term public relations v. the term communications – which one is narrower? Which one is broader? Which one better describes what we do? Most of the pundits seem to agree that public relations, when done well, is more than communications – communications is one just one facet of public relations. Others advocate for a different term entirely – like reputation management.
The fact that there is this much debate suggests that the term public relations – too often cast as “spin” and suggestive of manipulation or downright dishonesty – has a reputation problem. And that problem is usually based on a bad experience someone has had with a PR firm. Like every relationship, agency-client relationships begin with baggage – of the agencies that pulled a bait and switch, or failed to deliver – of the clients who put their team in a compromising position with a journalist or an industry association. This isn’t something that can be changed by changing our vernacular.
So what’s the solution?
1. Know your client’s baggage and their organizational attitudes about PR. If offering a communications strategy (vs. a PR Plan) is the path to building consensus, securing budget and getting the opportunity to demonstrate the value of PR, so be it.
2. Practice your profession with integrity. Provide your best advice. Be honest and transparent in all you do for your client, and on your client’s behalf.
3. Think holistically, broadly and strategically. Provide integrated programs that meet your client’s business needs. Sometimes that means partnering (and sharing your budget) with a third party.
Earn your clients’ trust, and the reputation of PR will surely follow – one client and one company at a time.
For as long as I’ve been in the PR business, we’ve been counseling our clients to tell their story….and helping them craft the messaging, the platforms and the proof points to do so. I’ve done this for almost 20 years….and I’ve often found myself telling clients that we can’t tell their whole story….that certain items and issues are too inside baseball, too granular or simply not newsworthy or noteworthy enough.
However, it seems that those of us in the reputation business need to ask a new question…
Is this the whole story?
Today’s NYT has a front page story about SmithKline Beecham’s failure to disclose that a new drug for diabetes had a risk of cardiac problems.
It also has a story about BP’s relentless pursuit of growth at all costs prohibiting them from learning from their mistakes.
The Toyota crisis will go into the text books as a classic case of trying to minimize or cover up an issue, making it worse.
When I started in this business, no one talked about transparency…they just did it. Today, there is a lot of talk about transparency, and seemingly less of it than ever before.
There is a difference between putting your best foot forward and hiding material information that tells a completely different story…and counseling clients today is more about being their Jiminy Cricket than their “Spin Doctor.”
The Importance of Context
January 20, 2010
The New York Post is reporting that Goldman Sachs is delaying its bonus announcement until after it reports earnings – and after the other big banks report theirs. The official party line is this:
“It’s important to have context of earnings before we start communicating compensation.”
Ahhhhh, the elusive but all important context.
In the area of reputation management, we talk about context, and things like benchmarking, a lot. In fact, we often counsel clients that when handling an important issue, context is king. Stakeholders need to understand what to think about your news, and how it stacks up to others, and where it fits into the bigger story of your reputation. The notion of context is pervasive and accepted — we see performance relative to peers reflected in share price valuation, teachers who grade on a curve, and even employee performance evaluations.
But in this case, the idea of waiting for context feels like a parlor trick designed to allow Goldman’s peers to take the lion’s share of public reaction to the fact that the banks are giving bonuses at all. This storm started brewing 2009 when the banks accepted TARP funds, and as coincidentally began repaying them as discussion of Wall Street bonuses in Washington heated up, in what some would describe as another parlor trick – repay the money to avoid government intervention and public backlash.
In a time when 10% of Americans are out of work, home foreclosures are at a record high and consumer fear about their economic futures is palpable, the banking industry takes great reputation risk in doling out checks to their executives.
No doubt the decision makers at Goldman are thinking that reporting good results will give them the permission – I mean context – to award those bonuses. But what they fail to recognize is that the perception by everyone except perhaps their shareholders (and presumably their bonus eligible employees) will be that those profits, in this environment, are hardly a badge of honor. Big healthcare companies will face the same dilemma and the correlating reputational risks.
Herein lies the dilemma. While our capitalistic society rewards initiative, success and profits are good (in theory) – there are certain industries that can be dinged for being too successful, and too profitable – particularly when it can be perceived as coming on the backs of the average working person on Main Street USA. So when those profits coincide with people losing their homes, foregoing their prescriptions or medical care, and an increasing number of unemployed and uninsured, the very things that can build reputation can also diminish it.
Just a generation ago, achieving home ownership was the American Dream….it is now an expectation. In America, healthcare is viewed as a right, not a privilege. When Americans find these things out of reach, it is easy to demonize the big corporate machines for “putting profits ahead of people” – regardless of the fact that the fundamental principles of our system that fuel that American Dream require it.
Noticeably absent from all of this discussion is the role that companies like Goldman Sachs and other large corporations play in creating good jobs, support community and philanthropic initiatives that would otherwise go unfunded, and improving lives. These things are true, and they are important. Just not in this context. After all, context is king.
Carreen Winters can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Does "We're Sorry" Cut It?
January 13, 2010
Corporate apologies after big screw-ups are a real raw nerve for me. This is because, though they rarely succeed in accomplishing what people think they should, namely engendering forgiveness and understanding and thus restoring credibility and trust, we somehow insist on them.
We insist on them, knowing we will get a heavily sanitized pseudo-apology, then declare them not good enough or too little too late. It’s a predictable pattern.
The New York Times takes on the subject in the context of today’s hearing of the Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission, with the chieftains of Wall Street appearing before it to endure another (richly deserved) public flogging and offer, as the article puts it, “the art of nuanced regret – admitting mistakes without accepting blame.”
Don’t get me wrong – these guys owe a lot of people genuine apologies to start, and some have tried, albeit they were the typically hollow, non-specific kind. It would be just one of the many right things they could do to show respect for the public that bailed them out.
But here is the key line, and communications challenge to weigh, in the story:
“Of course, corporate chieftains worry that apologies may be red meat for shareholder lawsuits.”
And they are right to worry. Winning in actual court is better than winning in public-opinion court.
In precarious times, being liked and winning favor shouldn’t be the communications short-term goal. Wall Street is never liked, even in the best of times, only tolerated. And it will return to tolerable after time and with the right moves. But facing such an overwhelming storm, the best they can hope for right now is to simply find shelter.
So the bottom line on corporate apologies? It, like most things, depends. I certainly wouldn’t say an apology is never appropriate. And I disagree with some experts who say that when people are unhappy, you should always apologize. But if you are going to apologize, do it with meaning.
In this instance, I wouldn’t recommend it as a communications counselor. But when circumstance preclude a proper apology – genuine, and light on corporate speak – you can substitute action. Do something to demonstrate your remorse, that you’ve learned and are trying to make it right, even if you can’t say so explicitly. What’s the phrase? Something about actions and words, and their respective volume. And corporate apologies are too often just words.
Mike Sacks can be reached at email@example.com.
AT&T in Need of a Reputation Repair App
December 30, 2009
Perhaps no company, even including the harangued money center banks, will be happier to see 2009 end than AT&T. In December, Consumer Reports ranked the company last in cellular customer satisfaction, capping a year where dropped call issues for the iPhone achieved folklore status among the online community and even generated an SNL skit. To further exacerbate things, AT&T’s executives and media representatives have repeatedly pointed to excessive data use by iPhone owners as a key to the problem. Yet this was just one of a host of AT&T miscues that showed a tin ear for public opinion with audiences from consumers to investors.
Early in December, AT&T dropped a lawsuit it had filed against Verizon over ads touting the coverage areas of the providers’ respective networks. AT&T took offense with Verizon’s snarky ‘There’s a Map for That’ commercials which purported to show that AT&T’s nationwide coverage paled in comparison to Verizon. AT&T’s response was to run to the courthouse and cry foul, beseeching a judge to have the Verizon ads pulled. The judge refused and AT&T retreated, dropping its lawsuit and engendering another round of scathing commentary from the online community and many traditional media. See the take of the Atlantic’s Dan Indivigilio: http://business.theatlantic.com/2009/12/att_drops_verizon_map_ad_lawsuit.php
The stunning cap to the ignoble year for AT&T came this past weekend when a number of blogs announced that the iPhone was unavailable for purchase by New Yorkers through the company’s website. According to the reports, users with a NYC zip code were told to choose another phone.
Customer service reps acknowledged the situation with scant explanation and AT&T issued a brief statement after the weekend saying that “we periodically modify our promotion and distribution channels” without further explanation of the NYC incident.
This flurry of negative stories about AT&T, many self-inflicted and others with the flames fanned by tepid, terse and generally off-note responses, has many from the tech community to Wall Street asking what AT&T is doing, what it was thinking and how it can repair the damage in 2010. The questions include the future of its relationship with Apple and, just as concerning, its long-term relationship with the consumers who use its wireless services. The New Year provides a fitting time for AT&T to start anew, to effectively address the missteps of 2009 and to put in place an effective program that helps it think and act more strategically as a company and a communicator. The company’s business and reputation may depend on it.
Richard Tauberman can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
When Advertising Dumbs Down a Reputation
December 28, 2009
The Cleveland Clinic is typically ranked number one on the US News and World Report’s rankings of hospitals for heart surgery. Its physicians are world renowned and, when its reputation was slightly tarnished in 2005-2006 for potential conflict of interest related to physicians on its roster accepting honoraria from industry, they were the first to disclose such relationships and argue for greater transparency. Its experts are consulted by Washington policymakers and its researchers are at the front lines of cutting edge science.
The Cleveland Clinic is, without a doubt, a sterling example of an organization that has taken great pains with its reputation and, as such, stands out from its peers as a model for excellence in reputation management – never mind, excellence in healthcare.
That’s why it was especially disappointing to see the incredibly “of the pack” and mundane reputation advertising the Cleveland Clinic chose to run in the “Lives They Lived” issue of the New York Times Magazine. Pastel backgrounds reveal simple statements that position the Cleveland Clinic as offering electronic health records ahead of their time, laparoscopic surgery with teeny incisions and statements about the fact that lots of other physicians refer patients to them.
So? The same could be said for many hospitals. In fact, I thought the Cleveland Clinic was above all that…the advertising felt more like what I would expect from my community hospital than from a world class research and teaching institution at the front lines of setting policy.
The advertising doesn’t do the institution justice. In fact, it diminishes what I know about the institution and its reputation. It almost feels as if the hospital doesn’t trust its own place in the world and as such, it tells us the same things we expect to hear from everyone else in their space.
It’s a tough time for hospitals – no question. But, if you have the academic excellence, experience, physician roster and yes…reputation of a Cleveland Clinic, you might be best off leaving well enough alone.
Ame Wadler can be reached at email@example.com.
Third Party Endorsements and the End of an Era
November 24, 2009
If I had a dollar for every prospective client who wanted to be on Oprah, I would be lying on the beach rather than sitting at my desk writing this blog.
Oprah is truly a phenomenon…
She revived the publishing industry, almost destroyed the beef industry, and has become the Holy Grail for PR programs of all kinds – every new product wants to be on her “favorite things” show, every cause wants to be connected with her. And executives want to be on lists and panels with her, hoping her reputation rubs off on them; hoping that conferred upon them is the good-will that she engenders.
Heck, I’ve even had an IR client ask if we could get Oprah to invest in them.
Oprah is the ultimate example of the power and influence of third party endorsements and the impact on reputation. She can make or break. For those who dismiss her as simply purveyor of daytime fluff, remember her tough interview with James Frey – whom she made a household name with her endorsement for her book club – after his use of fiction in a memoir came to light. His reputation never recovered. He who underestimates Oprah does so at his own peril. (Though one could argue that the controversy simply sold more books, so perhaps that was a trip to the proverbial woodshed Mr. Frey was only too willing to take.)
But Oprah wasn’t always Oprah. Remember big haired Oprah who clutched her microphone as she took questions by phone with a demanding “Caller, you say what?” I remember a time when Oprah was just a talk show host, not a market maker, industry savior or philanthropist extraordinaire.
When did Oprah become Oprah?
Was it when she unveiled her size 8 self with the wagon of fat, achieving the nearly impossible and inspiring people everywhere? When she gained it back and became just a little bit more like the rest of us?
Did Oprah become Oprah when she started a book club and reading became fashionable again? When she swore by Uggs, Spanx and a properly fitted bra? When she discovered Dr Phil? Or when she challenged us to pay it forward?
Oprah is the quintessential American success story – a modern day Horatio Algers. Even if you don’t like her, you can’t help but admire her. She survived what can only be described as a horrific childhood, beat the odds in an industry where everyone told her she had no chance. And became the richest, most successful woman in America. Through it all she has stuck by her friends – like Gayle and Stedman; given generously (and no one seems to notice that as generous as she is, she is giving from her abundance of riches, and could hardly even miss it.) and become part of the fabric of our
With the clock ticking down, PR professionals around the globe are pondering…who will be the next Oprah? And how do I get my clients in on the ground floor?
I am not sure we can identify the next Oprah, because I’m not sure even Oprah anticipated being the Oprah she became. Perhaps this is a formula that can’t be replicated. Maybe it is just the end of an era.
Carreen Winters can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org