Archive for January, 2012
We have been very busy this month. We also released a survey on where the most powerful women in business spoke in 2011. Using the Fortune Most Powerful Women in business list that includes U.S. and non-U.S. professional executives, we audited where they spoke to determine how much they were in demand and what podiums they were invited to. There were several interesting findings that are worth noting since one way to build professional reputation, get company messages across to important audiences as well as build corporate reputation is to leave those four walls of the C-suite. In fact, I was speaking to someone at Forbes the other day who confirmed to me that the executive conference business was booming. As it were, women are in great demand.
- These most powerful women spoke at 218 unique events in 2011.
- The leading speaking forums in 2011 for these top women executives included Fortune’s Most Powerful Women Summit, The World Economic Forum/Davos, India-US CEO Forum, Women Corporate Director’s Global Institute, the Paley Center for Media International Council Summit and the APEC Women and the Economy Summit.
- We also provided insights on what types of conference events they spoke at – from industry-specific events (e.g., World Food Prize Conference and FICCI-IBI Conference on Global Banking) and conferences geared toward job function (e.g., Techonomy and ANA Conference), followed by women’s leadership and academic forums.
- Our research also found that the digital category (e.g., Digital Life Design and South by Southwest) is starting to emerge and is crossing women business leaders’ radar screens.
We do this type of analysis every year and sometimes we analyze all CEOs and top level executives –men and women. However, we thought that looking at where executive women spoke was past due. So here we are.
Yesterday I was asked to talk about what I do at Weber Shandwick to our Crisis and Issues group in New York. It was an end of the week get together to take the edge off of all the long hours. I talked about reputational issues and answered several questions. It was a nice opportunity for me to reflect too.
I was asked where all the celebrity CEOs had gone which made me recall my first book on CEO reputation. The book was released at the height of the dot com boom when 22 year old CEOs were the norm and celebrity CEOs were plentiful. In my book, I tried to make the point that it was not CEO celebrity that mattered but CEO credibility. As I was answering this question, I realized that I hit on some of the right notes as to why CEO celebrity was not the same today but missed a few. In fact, I mentioned that being CEO today was not an easy job whatsoever. CEOs are much more embattled. Here are some of the reasons I talked about yesterday but others as well taken from an Economist article I was saving to post about.
- CEO tenure is shorter than it used to be (on average 6.6 years, according to Booz’s research). They usually come into office with great fanfare. They get approximately two years of grace when they start out (more like 18 months), 2 years to provide evidence that their strategy is working and two years to get pushed out. After six years like this, it’s best to be a CEO nobody.
- CEOs don’t have all the power anymore. Most CEOs now have separate chairmans that are looking over their shoulders and asking a lot of questions. Booz found that in 2002 48% of incoming CEOs were also chairmen. In 2009, that number dropped to 12%. Hard to be a celebrity when there is power sharing going on.
- CEO compensation is always a headline and increasingly links the CEO title to perceptions of greed. CEO compensation is actually declining.
- Shareholders and stakeholders are not sitting idle. They are much more aggressive. Some hedge funds are actively browbeating CEO and corporate decisions and in executives’ faces. The ridicule can get strenuous.
- Boards are more active too. They don’t want their reputations shamed either by poor CEO decisions or poor behavior. And according to Korn Ferry, new board members are more likely to be deep in international experience and have worked abroad. They are not necessarily golfing buddies like board members of yore. Angry birds maybe, but not necessarily tee time!
With all these barriers in place to curb the power of CEOs, celebrity CEOs can hardly flourish. Instead, we are looking at a new world of convening CEOs who communicate internally to employees, communicate online or through video to netizens, travel to speak to customers and influencers at forums they convene themselves (IBM‘s Smarter Planet method), partner with third parties and government to problem solve on today’s economic woes and so forth.
If you are interested in more discussion and thought on the company behind the brand and making sure that companies stand for something, check out this post I wrote that is featured on HBR’s blog network. I had the best time writing this and thinking about it so wanted to share. Am thankful that Weber Shandwick sponsored the research too. As I have mentioned, I am convinced this is the future where reputation and product brand intersect.
Thanks for sharing my interest.
In a piece I wrote for The HuffingtonPost for 2012, I forecasted that reputation blackmail would show its hand this year. Lo and behold, a front page article in yesterday’s paper headlined “Hackers-For-Hire Are Easy to Find.” The article had to do with two feuding brothers from Kuwaiti who were suing one another over business they held. One of the billionaire brothers found someone to hack into his brother’s account and post online all his brother’s personal emails including finances, legal affairs, pharmacy bills and everything else that you can imagine gets sent and received from one’s personal account. The cost: $400. Hackers to hire are that cheap and apparently easy to find. One of the reasons there has not been much on this topic where reputations can be easily lost is that people do not want to report this type of reputation blackmail and generate even more attention.
In this instance, the one brother hired Invisible Hacking Group located in China and here is how it works:
“It requested the target person’s email address, the names of friends or colleagues, and examples of topics that interest them. The hackers would then send an email to the target that sounded as if it came from an acquaintance, but which actually installed malicious software on the target’s computer. The software would let the hackers capture the target’s email password.”
You get the picture.
Reputation blackmail presents a very scary scenario. Not only is privacy damaged but reputations which take a long time to rebuild get decimated. Reputation protection can only go so far. Risk management and reputation warfare gets more complicated by the day.
While I am on the subject of the corporate brand, I thought I would mention another interesting group of findings from our research. We asked consumers several questions on what influences them when it comes to company perceptions. They report that among other things, the importance of awards/recognition (63% of consumers mention) as well as leadership communications (59% of consumers mention) are influential. As expected, word of mouth ranks at the top of the influence list, regardless of region. Clearly, despite the fire hose of information aimed at us every day, some things are getting across when it comes to distinguishing companies from one another and influencing our decisions to buy some products over others easier. Recognition of companies for doing good or just simply doing well is making a dent after all these years. And leadership communications seems to matter to consumers if CEOs are talking about something that matters. Figuring out what resonates with the public is the hard part for communicators although jobs and education would be two good starts. And a third good start would be the safety of our natural resources. One additional factoid to add for a Sunday in January: In Brazil, awards and leadership communications are even more influential than what consumers in the U.S., U.K. and China say in our study. Brazilian consumers seem to be more receptive to what leaders say in Brazil. Will have to figure out why. Perhaps the connection between the economy and business is more direct than in the U.S. and U.K and China while we are at it. More to come on this challenging subject of the interdependence between the corporate brand and product brand.
What do CEOs think about the importance of the corporate vs. product brand? Luckily we were able to discern the answer when we looked at this group in our recent survey on The Company Behind the Brand: In Reputation We Trust. 96% of CEOs said that the corporate or parent brand is as important as the product brand. That is nearly 100% agreement. Basically, they have little doubt of the corporate brands’ importance in this new age. Why would that be? Executives –across all four markets in our study– agreed that the primary impetus for the rising equality between corporate brand and product brand is the reputation halo that the parent company brings to its products. Some might call it the reputation premium. Notably, the CEOs in our study cite the bottom-line as their number one reason for equalizing corporate and product brand. They essentially say that there is greater efficiency in marketing and communicating one overall corporate brand rather than several different brands. The concept of an “enterprise” brand that communicates the company’s reputation and product brands’ reputation all at once gets underscored in our new study.
I have thought about the company behind the brand for at least a decade (maybe more?). Years ago, I was involved in a pilot test where we placed corporate and product ads for several companies from different sectors in a business publication to try to determine the right balance of corporate to product messages to generate awareness and interest to buy. Should a company run one corporate advertisement and 1, 2, 3, 6, or 10 product ads to gain notice? Should they alternate the order — three product ads, one corporate ad, three product ads in that order? Do they even need corporate ads? Over how many months would it take to generate the most interest for the company and the products being sold? This was in the days when companies were wondering if they should communicate what they stood for, who they were and if it really mattered. Obviously pre-Internet days. It was a huge research undertaking that involved printing presses and hand-inserted advertisements. I learned alot about rubber glue and washing sticky hands. But my interest in the company behind the brand has always remained with me and kept me wondering how important it was to consumers (and executives). Do they really care? Does anyone notice the face of a company and its character, its values, its narrative? What do people do if they don’t like the parent company but still want the product?
Luckily, we now have research on how important the corporate brand or parent company really is and why it matters to consumers and executives alike. We released the research today, The Company Behind the Brand: In Reputation We Trust, conducted with KRC Research. Some of the key findings are:
- 70 percent avoid buying a product if they don’t like the company behind the product (consumers)
- 67 percent are increasingly checking product labels to see what company is behind the product (consumers)
- 61 percent get annoyed when they can’t tell what company is behind a product (consumers)
- 56 percent do research to learn about the companies that make what they buy (consumers)
- 56 percent hesitate to buy products if they can’t tell who makes them (consumers)
- Executives estimate that, on average, 60 percent of their firms’ market value is attributable to its reputation.
- 86 percent of executives report that their companies increased their efforts to build reputation over the past few years
More to come. And it’s been a busy day getting the research out so will return shortly.
Have been reading about corporate brands and went back to my stash of articles. The IBM CMO C-Suite studies has solid information in their report, “From Stretched to Strengthened” which was conducted among the nearly 2,000 CMOs worldwide. Not the main focus of the research but they do report that it is no longer enough for a company to just markets its products and services. In fact, the report talks about how the character of the company is now on full display as “social media has exposed the bones beneath the skin.” Only 53% of CMOs report that their corporate character is understood in the marketplace and 57% say they have significant work ahead to get employees on board.
Here is the part that I liked best because it speaks to corporate reputation today. “For many decades, the CMO’s job was to market an organization’s products and services. Today, it begins with the marketing of the organization itself.” A fairly sizeable 61% said that one of the initiatives they have set for themselves ahead is to orchestrate a single view of the brand, something we call enterprise branding.
When people ask me what reputation means, I always say it is all about a company’s character. Glad CMOs agree.
1. The World Economic Forum released its report on the top risks facing the world in 2012. Social unrest and income inequity were at the top. Natural disasters such as the earthquake in Japan were also high on the risk list. And as pointed out, one risk affects another creating a domino effect. “The Internet, meanwhile, can magnify and spread the effects of a disaster in other ways. Rumors, even if incorrect, spread quickly on social networking sites — sometimes more rapidly than emergency services can communicate accurate information. As word of disasters like the terror attacks of Sept. 11 or the earthquake in Japan spreads globally, consumers hunker down in front of their computer screens or televisions, rather than going about their daily lives. This increases the economic effects of a crisis, even in areas far removed from the source.” Disasters such as the horrific earthquake, tragic 9-11, death-defying financial crisis, massive oil spills and nasty ash clouds coming from Iceland all heighten other risks in some way. And risk spells reputation damage depending on how a company or country responds and solves the problem.
2. The report from WEF also mentioned that risks are on the horizon as leadership transitions are in full force this year. It is not just the U.S. presidential election that poses risk and stirs up emotional angst. There are leadership transitions underway this year in France, Russia and China as well. Add to that the sudden transitions in the Arab world this past year and we see upheaval and uncertainty. When CEO transitions are underway, the first few months can be risky so as we see world leaders change, tighten your seatbelts. The public will be more socially active than ever. We’ve already seen that in Russia.
3. I’ve written here about rankings and so-called “worst of” lists where companies, CEOs and environmental records are put on notice that they are not making the grade. In most Januarys, TripAdvisor.com comes out with its “dirtiest hotels” in the world. No more. The CEO Stephen Kaufer says, “We want to stay more on the positive side, so we’ll continue to feature the best destinations, the top hotels. We’re slicing and dicing the ‘best of’ in different ways this year, more than focusing on the negative.” Although the article where I learned about this says there were potential legal considerations and competitive reasons for abandoning the January list, it also mentioned that the original “worst of” list was done for PR reasons and that TripAdvisor is less interested in that now. Perhaps there is a reputation-reason afoot here. There is so much negativity online on some of these sites and it is so easy to find what you are looking for that a list of the 10 worst may be hardly worth alienating visitors to your site. Everyone worries about the detractors and the praisers. Maybe it is time to just worry about the average site visitor who does not want snarky comments and lists, but just the plain old straight forward facts to plan a plain old relaxing get-away.
RHR International was mentioned today in an article in the WSJ about the recent revolving door for CEOs. Not that this is new. CEOs have been coming and going for some time now. But what was new was that among the 83 CEOs of publicly held companies surveyed, the board seemed to be a greater source of tension than it used to be. Nearly three quarters wish they were included more in board discussions of succession planning. And as one would expect, the top two threats to their tenure, according to CEOs, were the current economy (39%) and rapid industry change (22%). However, a third top threat to CEO tenure was strategy disagreements with the board (17%). As a watcher of CEO trends, I find it noteworthy that CEOs mentioned disagreements with boards and desire greater collaboration over transitioning. The disagreements over strategy (spin offs, shedding assets, etc) does seem to be a rising cause for CEO exits these days. Something has changed. I wonder if the new tension that is developing is because boards are more active now because of the criticism that they were no more than a rubber stamp on CEO activities or if the strategic choices facing boards today are infinitely more complex and disruptive. When no one knows the true answer, there is room for disagreement. CEOs and boards seem to be caught in this new tango.
Another finding which I liked seeing because it provides some hard numbers about something I have observed was that half of CEOs feel isolated and lonely. For this reason, CEOs should reach out to other CEOs in different industries, find mentors or retired CEOs to talk to. It can be debilitating so finding an ear to listen and advise is highly recommended.