Archive for August, 2012
I have had China on my mind lately. Weber Shandwick just announced the launch of a new specialty called Emergent China. It advises China-based multinationals and their CEOs on strategic expansion into global markets, including North America, Latin America, Europe, Africa and the Middle East. So I have been more attentive than usual to how Chinese companies build their reputations outside China.
Ironically, as I was reading my Wall Street Journal this morning, I saw a paid advertisement taken from China Daily with the headline, “COSCO Enjoys Success.” The sub-head was “Chinese shipping titan earns respect and gratitude in U.S.” I read the China Daily article about the robust and successful development of COSCO shipping operations in the U.S.
Then I turned to the Marketplace Section of the WSJ and saw a fairly negative article about Cosco’s poorly timed expansion that was damaging its financial standing and its dominance.
Although my assumption is that Cosco tried to cushion the fallout from its reporting tomorrow on the first half’s earnings, the timing was unfortunate and not a good working reputation-building strategy. Reputation for emerging Chinese companies needs to be managed for the long-run and a better understanding of how the U.S. media works seems to be in order. I can’t help but think that better relations with journalists would have helped Cosco with getting a heads up that this criticism was about to appear. I could be very wrong but the two articles (one paid, one not) just screamed for REPUTATION MANAGEMENT.
I give them the benefit of the doubt because they seem fairly savvy. I had noticed two years ago that Cosco was using its Awards and Recognition effectively on their web site. When I was visiting China to talk about reputation, I used their site to show how Chinese companies were using these rankings wisely. So let’s see what happens as more Chinese companies make waves in the U.S. and communicate their positioning and initiatives.
Years ago when I wrote my book on reputation recovery, I told how disgraced Tyco International waited until they had proved themselves before launching a new advertising campaign. I wrote:
“When it was time to formally declare that the recovery process was officially in place, new CEO Breen initiated two noteworthy advertising campaigns. The first introduced Tyco’s brand-new 13-person leadership team that replaced the entire previous executive team. The advertising targeted to Wall Street, legislators, and employees featured the following statement accompanied by individual executive’s signatures: ‘‘We signed on because we believe Tyco has a bright future. We signed below to show you we mean it.’’ The signatures underscored the point that these executives had personally signed up for the mission. The campaign underscored how Tyco’s new leadership team was standing shoulder to shoulder behind Tyco’s improving reputation. The 13-person team portrait also communicated that new leadership was focused on the team, not the individual. According to Jim Harman, Tyco International’s vice president of advertising and branding, ‘‘The message behind this campaign was that Tyco had hired senior managers with the highest level of integrity from diverse manufacturing companies.’’
The advertising served as a reminder to influential stakeholders that Tyco was well on its way to rebuilding the reputation it lost.
AIG has now joined these ranks. If you recall, AIG was the recipient of the largest government bailout during the recent economic crisis and was on the short end of the stick when it came to public outrage. Since the new CEO, Robert Benmosche took over in 2009, AIG rebuilt its business and began paying back its loans to the US government. No one believed they would do it. And yet just yesterday, the government sold off what was left of AIG securities for a surprisingly big profit of nearly $18 billion in profit. Although they launched this new YouTube campaign about their comeback several weeks ago with the tag line, “Thank you, America. We’re proud to be keeping our promise to stand by you,” their timing is right and I dare say they hit the right notes in the campaign.
Terrific and thoughtful article in Forbes contributed by Giovanni Rodriguez who is the CEO and co-founder of SocialxDesign, a strategy consulting firm. He wrote the article with John Hagel (Deloite Consulting LLP) and Suketu Gandhi (Deloitte LLP). It is about the role of the CEO in a post-digital world. There have been several articles of late about the value of CEOs. I think this question is being raised increasingly often as crises and scandals are bringing our economies to our knees and CEOs are being caught unaware and mystified. Additionally, as the authors point out, CEOs are losing out to the appeal of the leaderless organization such as the Tea Party, Arab Spring and Occupy Movement. People are increasingly asking who needs CEOs when large groups are able to mobilize and effect change without anyone really in charge?
How did this happen in the first place? CEOs used to be the kings of commerce, the chieftains of business. Their reputations were guaranteed. Apparently no longer. The authors explain that CEOs have lost their midas touch because the world they now govern has grown exponentially complex, unrelenting in its pressure, and values short-termism over everything else. They also postulate that leaders can no longer predict when the next Black Swan of unpredictability will rise up and bite them. If they can’t predict the future, what good are they? In reality, who has the time to see beyond the horizon when all that matters is the next quarterly earnings call.
Their solution is of merit. They suggest that we rethink the bully pulpit and recognize that “the CEO as the great communicator – or at least one of the great communicators — is in great demand. What can leaders do to help make sense of their environments? They can harness the power of narrative.” This sure sounded familiar to me in that when I wrote CEO Capital several years ago, I wrote about CEOs as narrators and sense-makers. I wrote, “By motivating employees and instilling the company with a common purpose, the CEO further encourages a sense of community in the pursuit of worthwhile goals.” So I agree wholeheartedly that words, engagement and making sense of it all matter. CEOs can point us in the right direction and give employees a reason for doing. As the authors also say, “Armed with the right narrative, we can safely distinguish between meaningless surface events and what’s really important.” And in this post-digital world, the CEO narrative helps provide stability where instability seems to flourish. Compelling narratives can “motivate people to do awesome things.” They can “set big things in motion” and as the authors say, be “movement makers.”
Definitely an article worth reading and contemplating when someone tells you that CEOs don’t matter.
Boards continue to see reputation risk as their top concern. In the third annual study by EisnerAmperLLP among board members, two thirds (66%) see reputational risk at the top of their agendas for concern, ahead of regulatory issues (59%). In fact, reputational risk has grown while regulatory risk has remained stable year over year. Both IT risk and privacy risk showed increases from the last survey and reflect the many breeches in systems security that we’ve seen which inevitably led to attacks upon a company’s reputation. Similarly, according to the report, crisis management, is also an indicator of reputational concern.
What do board members really mean when they say they worry about reputational risk? In an open ended question, board members are most likely to be talking about product quality, liability and customer satisfaction (30% of all responses) followed by concerns about integrity, fraud, ethics and specifically the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, (24%). IT concerns fell in at about 12% and environmental concerns at 8%. It always surprises me how little attention is paid to environmental issues at the top.
How are risks assessed? About two in 10 get reports from executive management, discuss risk issues at board meetings and get help from professionals or outside experts. About one in 10 get information from the risk committee. That seems like an area ripe for assistance. The report interestingly mentions that recent years have not been kind to risk teams and that with all the recent issues and crises stealing headlines, boards are realizing that CFOs need greater support. In fact, the survey found that nearly two-thirds of boards are planning to enhance staff and increase audit coverage and about one in three are leaning towards hiring outside service providers.
I could have told them so. Research (noted by WSJ’s Leslie Kwoh) from Lehigh University found that shareholders do think CEOs matter. They analyzed shareholders’ reactions to the unexpected deaths of chief executives by measuring the stock performance the day after the announcement as well as at other intervals leading up to 30 trading days afterwards. There was a 5.6% swing in share price on the day after the announcement that the CEO unexpectedly died (i.e., heart attack, plane crash). The swing was even more pronounced one month later, at 14.6% on average. Interestingly, this swing has grown considerably since the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s. CEO reputation and the CEO’s impact on the company’s performance MATTERS. Decades ago, people believed that companies ran themselves pretty much. The CEO’s decision-making, strategic direction and ability to motivate employees and outbeat the competition is clearly understood today to have a profound effect on corporate performance and by extension, reputation. Good proof to add to my deck on why CEOs matter. Thanks to Lehigh’s Tim Quigley and researchers!
Social media risk is now a mainline risk according to U.S. executives surveyed by Deloitte in a study with Forbes Insights. The research, Aftershock: Adjusting to the new world of Risk Management, was conducted in the spring. As described in their executive survey, social media is now among the traditional risks we often read about in the risk management field such as the global economic climate, regulatory changes and government intervention. Social media ranks fourth because it can act as an “accelerant” to all the other risks. Just give it some air and it spreads like wildfire. In fact, Deloitte refers to it as the “wildfire” effect because social media can push a company’s reputation into a tailspin. They might also call it the gas pedal effect!
Which risk sources will be the most important over the next three years?
|Global economic environment||41%|
Source: Deloitte and Forbes Insights, 2012
Timing is everything when it comes to reputation. There are several articles today about how London’s reputation for financial integrity has been damaged by recent events in their banking system. What’s more interesting to me besides the three banks whose reputations have been undercut for rigged interest rates and money laundering is the timing of these crises. All three bank debacles occurred within weeks of each other which is a collective reputation-killer for the city of London and the sector. I always say that you can err once, misstep again but the third time and you’re out! I think that is a baseball cliche of sorts. But it is true that three is the magic number when it comes to reputation. Companies and leaders fall, often trip a second time as they institute change but on the third try, you definitely lose investor and customer patience. After a third attempt or three sequential mishaps, your reputation gets a scarlet R. I think that is what is happening to the U.K. banking system. Not that this has not happened to us in the U.S. We have had our fair share of 1-2-3 and 4+ reputational fouls. In fact, enough for a lifetime. The saving grace for the U.K.’s financial sector is that the Olympics are stealing the show and its summer holiday time. People are also very worried about the economies around the world and leadership changes in the U.S. and China. As they say, timing is everything and the U.K. banks picked a good time to stumble (if they had a choice, very unlikely).
There was a line in one article about this reputational meltdown for the City of London which made me read it twice: …”the U.K. government had launched a public inquiry into banking culture — even bringing in a bishop to offer a moral perspective.” I am curious what the Bishop shared.
There are plenty of companies with excellent ethical programs and cultures that could serve as best practices for these wronged companies. I’d turn to them too. We’ve got to get these ethical violations straightened out to restore trust once again in our financial centers. Let’s do more than keep our fingers crossed. And let’s make sure we listen to the stories from the other side in case we’re not hearing the full story. That’s been known to happen!
Some good points on how to protect reputation from Bloomberg BusinessWeek. The article reminded me of the piece I wrote for HBR, Reputation Warfare. My article made the point that companies no longer have to just sit there as their reputations get pummeled. There are strategies that can be deployed to get your side of the story on the record. Plus it always helps to respond in the same format (YouTube, Facebook, blogs, etc) as your opponents. This BusinessWeek article by Felix Gillette says: “If there’s any solace to shareholders, in the endless push-and-pull between company critics and corporate defenders, the media environment seems lately to have handed an unlikely advantage to brands.” Gillette makes the point that brands can create their own messages now and get them out in defense. So what can a company do to protect its reputation and get its point of view across as swiftly as their biggest critics. Here are a few pointers that are discussed in the article:
1. Craft Your Brand Image in Peace Time. Get your content ready to go during quiet times and push it out aggressively when the spotlight is on your company. “The idea of producing a bank of preemptive content—about how we produce our food, how we pay our employees, how we run our diversity policies—and then activating them with paid media at the moment that the controversy arrives is almost a prerequisite strategy for everyone now,” says a media buyer CEO.
2. Buy Ads & Keywords on Google that counteract boycotts or protests. If you search for BP oil spill on Google, you will come across a site from BP on their preparedness. Get those sites up and ready before you need them.
3. Do a vulnerability audit before crisis strikes. Plan ahead of time for your deficits and what you need to do to defuse the situation when it happens. Vet yourself. Most crises are self-inflicted and companies know ahead of time what their weak links are. There really should be no surprises.
4. Get your Advocates in order. This again is good old common sense. Make sure that you know who is likely to defend you in time of need. Keep in touch with your supporters. Today I saw the CEO of TDAmeritrade quoted saying a few good things about trading group Knight Capital who practically melted down this week when their computer system went amok executing trades.
5. Get your monitoring software in place. The article points out that having the right monitoring software in place can now help companies know how many people are actually expressing outrage over an event and whether the anger is rising or falling. As we all know, the news cycle is less than 12 hours today so maybe those 10 critics are going to move on to the next fiasco. If you can measure it, you can manage it.