Archive for October, 2007
Déja vu today reading about CEO Stan O’Neil at Merrill Lynch whose job is in jeopardy due to spectacular losses and proposing a merger with Wachovia without board consent. The article hinted at how the Merrill culture rose up and rejected O’Neil. O’Neil ran the Merrill ship in a very transaction-oriented manner whereas the renown “Mother Merrill” culture was famously relationship-oriented. This description brought back memories of what was said about CEO Carly Fiorina’s ouster at HP. She too was said to have been rejected by the ingrained and long-standing HP Way. As I have heard some CEOs say, culture is the agenda. Don’t ever kid yourself. Changing cultures is like playing with fire.
Listened to a radio program (KQED) this afternoon on online reputation. It was about the light and dark side of online reputation today. There were several call-ins with disturbing examples of reputations ruined – telephone numbers endlessly listed on the Internet due to election campaign donations, unemployment due to criticisms about the accuracy of a school textbook, 1983 article in a college paper that was mis-edited, etc. While the positive side of online reputation such as ebay seller ratings and the ability to find out information on companies of all sizes and sectors, the increasing negative side of the Internet for managing reputation consumed much of the program. The advice given was quite sound: 1. Take the long view of anything you write today. 2. Google Early, Google Often.3. Take action (formally and informally) if there is something inflammatory written about you.4. Monitor yourself carefully. Even the innocent can become victims. Moderator Dave Iverson interviewed Professor Daniel Solove, law professor at George Washington School of Law, and author of a new book titled The Future of Reputation: Gossip, Rumor and Privacy on the Internet. Timely indeed. The other person interviewed was Michael Fertik, CEO of ReputationDefender, a service that helps individuals manage their online reputations. Enjoy.
Rebranding. It seems to be the newest trend among people with tarnished reputations. There is such a thing as personal redemption. Bill Clinton has done a masterful job of rebranding himself. The afterglow from his time in office is only getting hotter. His philanthropy, Clinton Global Initiative, partnership with President Bush’s father post-tsunami has all converged to present the new and improved brand
The New York Times reported today that Disney’s reputation has been significantly polished in France with the huge success of animated film “Ratatouille.” The wonderfully adventure film is about an endearing rat named Remy who dreams of becoming a great French chef. Ratatouille sold more than $60 million in tickets making it #1 at the French box office. It has performed better than Titanic!
Unusual but smart way of enhancing a company’s reputation.
This week I was at an engaging dinner in
What word best describes you?
What’s the secret of your success?
What’s your motto?
What did you want to be when you grew up?
What has been your greatest personal achievement?
What’s the most important lesson you’ve learned over the years?
- Who would you like to take to lunch, and why?
BusinessWeek points out that Apple’s reputation might be slightly bruised. Apparently the much touted University of Michigan Customer Satisfaction study recently reported that Apple slipped a few points from last year’s survey, its first decline since 2001. Mind you, Apple scores at the top of its industry. One of the reasons given is that Apple has broadened its customer use from die-hard advocates to mainstream users who are less fanatical and less invested in the brand. Some of the research we did at Weber Shandwick on Advocacy indicates that advocates are more willing to give brands more time to repair their image and manage themselves through crises than non-advocates. Have to agree with BusinessWeek writers that “the company has become a case study in the challenges of taking a cherished brand with a devoted (some would say cult) following into the mainstream.” When your core selling proposition expands beyond your biggest fans or highly intense advocates, companies must take precautions to manage their reputations and step gingerly.
There was an interesting letter to the editor in this week’s Wall Street Journal. The letter (October 3) was in response to an earlier article in the WSJ on how America’s largest mortgage lender Countrywide Financial and its chairman Angelo Mozilo were fighting back against the onslaught of bad publicity and deepening financial woes tarnishing its reputation. Countrywide’s embarked on a new strategy that includes a proactive internal program to galvanize employees in support of the besieged company. One of the internal initiatives involves providing employees with wristbands saying Protect our House and telling them that their integrity was being attacked and it was high time to fight back. Here is part of the letter written by Dr. Agnes Huff, president and CEO of Agnes Huff Communications Group, that a Weber Shandwick colleague sent me:
Countrywide chairman and CEO Angelo Mozilo’s street-fighting strategy (“Countrywide Tells Workers, ‘Protect Our House’,” Marketplace, Oct. 3) is adding fuel to the fire. If he thinks this will fix his reputation and that of Countrywide, he is being sadly led astray and will be a casualty of that effort. You can’t rebuild your corporate reputation in the midst of a crisis. While it may feel good now to divert internal management attention externally and blame the big, bad villains who are smearing your reputation, the public views it as corporate arrogance, victimization and defensiveness, qualities that Countrywide should attempt not to have associated with its name.Better to listen to sound advice: Keep your head down, let the crisis pass, work from the inside out to restore balance and demonstrate your focus on the business at hand, so that at the right time it can exemplify your corporate ethics and values.
I have blogged before about how individuals and companies are increasingly fighting back to safeguard their reputations. There is no denying that this is a major shift in the reputation landscape. Wal-Mart is another good example of a company that is not taking the blows sitting down. The truth is that Countrywide is not just starting the process of reputation-building as they find themselves in the spotlight. They have spent time, resources and money trying to build and understand the value of their reputation. However, as we know from watching other companies battle for their reputations, the facts sometimes get lost in media frenzy and it is hard to defend oneself under those circumstances. In addition, Mozilo’s compensation is a lightning rod that is hard to overlook when people are losing their homes.
I agree with Dr. Huff’s statement that you cannot rebuild your company reputation in the middle of a crisis. Yet, whether you started reputation-building before the crisis or in the middle of the crisis, you have to start somewhere and there is no better time than now.
Have to apologize for my lack of blog postings over the past few weeks. I have been traveling and working a lot and finding it hard to muse over reputation. But hope to get the juices flowing again. Last Sunday’s New York Times article by Eric Dash and Landon Thomas Jr. on the pressure facing Citigroup CEO Chuck Prince had a few illuminating comments on the “CEO premium.” This is what my friend and fellow CEO watcher Carol Ballock always calls it. Apparently the media is speculating about the length of Prince’s tenure as the headline seems to infer (“Man in Citi’s Hot Seat”). Sometimes the media makes the story bigger than it is. There seemed to be more Prince-supporters in the article than not. Not surprisingly, the writers compared Prince to JPMorgan Chase’s CEO Jamie Dimon. Every CEO seems to have its opposite number that he or she is frequently compared to. Reminds me of the Coke and Pepsi wars. Former Home Depot CEO Robert Nardelli will never seems to escape comparisons to Boeing CEO James McNearney (two former GE CEO contestants). Prince and Dimon are similar foils to one another in the media space. Getting back to my earlier comment about how CEOs matter and command a premium if they are really good: “Fairly or not on Wall Street, a large premium is placed on public leadership and raw personal style. James Dimon, the chairman and chief executive of JPMorgan Chase, has had his own struggles with his investment bank, and he is unlikely to emerge unscathed from the credit crisis. But he also enjoys a large dose of credibility — and forgiveness — on the Street because of his years in the managerial trenches. Although he, too, is a protégé of Mr. Weill and was known more as a deal maker and a cost-cutter before he arrived at JPMorgan, his track record and charisma have inoculated him against the criticisms that now plague his former colleague Mr. Prince.”Prince has lasted longer than the average CEO today. Imagine that he will survive these turbulent times in the sub-prime mortgage market. Am not too worried. He is just keeping the seat warm.
Spent a few days this past week in Kiev at a reputation conference. The gathering was organized by the Ukrainian division of the European PR Congress. Our distinguished colleagues at Weber Shandwick/PRP were involved in the conference and had extended the invitation to me to speak about Safeguarding Reputation.
It was reassuring to know that reputation management could fill an agenda for two days in
Many of the themes that I encounter in my work resonated throughout the conference:
- Business leadership is keyReality lags perception
- Communications people have to earn a seat at the table
- If reputation is only managed through the media, it is not adding value
- Do not focus on reputation management only when you need it
- Integrate communications with other internal functions
- Have both short term and long term reputation strategies
- Balance tactics with strategy
- There is no textbook on reputation management
- Communicate with your many stakeholders
- CEOs matter
One of my favorite thoughts came from Paul Holmes who covers the public relations and reputation management industry. He said that reputation is what stakeholders say about you when you leave the room. Well said. Could not agree more.