The Arthur Page Society just issued a new report on The CEO View: The Impact of Communications on Corporate Character in a 24X7 Digital World. The 20 interviews with global CEOs reveals many insights on the evolving role of the CCO (corporate communications officer) in companies today. What is special about this report is that it provides a view from the very top, from the CEO himself or herself. In a section on what’s expected from CCOs in this brave new always-on world, one of the findings caught my interest because of the reputation angle. They refer to it as ”High-Resolution Measurement.” The report states:
Today, CEOs expect their CCO to deliver an accurate, data driven picture of their company’s reputation at a level of detail that is often very granular. Some CEOs report measuring as many as 30 different brand attributes as experienced by as many as 15 discrete stakeholder groups. While the levelof detail and timeliness demanded by CEOs vary, the new emphasis for 2013 is the demand for hard data.
It sounds to me like CEOs want it all because they now understand that the single employee loner or the most vocal customer detractor or the regulatory body in another country or the evolving patient group launching a new website or the members of a NGO group can easily harm the company’s reputation within seconds and make the damage last days, weeks or months. Instead of just worrying about how reputation is faring among a set portfolio of key stakeholders, CEOs now expect CCOs to be on top of those peripheral stakeholders that can rise up and reap havoc. Hard data has the potential to answer many of these questions. I always say that managing reputation by anecdote does not tell the whole story (or even some of it).
There are many more insights worth discovering in the report. Give it a read to understand how the role of the CCO is changing and how vital that position is to the company, the CEO and to the reputation universe.
A recent study just came out saying that CEOs think that marketers are losing sight of their jobs. In the survey from Fournaise Marketing Group, 70% of the CEOs surveyed said that marketers and communicators are disconnected from business results and are living “too much in their creative and social media bubble.” There did not appear to be a separation between marketing and communicators so I imagine that CEOs consider them one and the same. Although CEOs consider the marketing metrics of the day (Likes and Twitter followers) interesting, they do not consider them critical to advancing the business. The metrics CEOs were most interested in were market share, sell-in, sell-out and linking communications spending to gross profit and other tangible returns. As the CEO of Fournaise says, “They will have to transform themselves into true business-driven ROI marketers or forever remain in what 65% of CEOs told us they call ‘marketing la-la land.’” Quite the indictment.
This report on CEOs was in direct contrast to what we learned in our survey with Spencer Stuart on what is on the minds of CCOs (chief communications officers) around the world who believe that their senior management wants them to improve reputation and get their social media operations up to par. This made me wonder whether CEOs do not fully understand the impact that social media can have on their businesses and therefore consider it less than mission-critical today. Or whether marketing communications professionals were missing the boat altogether and picking up on the wrong signals. Like most things, I tend to think it is somewhere in-between. CEOs need to understand how the ground under their feet is shifting when any individual can harm a company’s reputation and bottom line and marketing communicators need not only beef up their business acumen but better explain the ROI on social media. The two studies provide a study in contrast, to say the least.
Every year, we at Weber Shandwick work with executive recruiter Spencer Stuart to survey worldwide CCOs (chief communciations officers) about the challenges and opportunities facing them. The survey is called The Rising CCO. It is a subject that I have always been very interested in. My interest does not stem solely from being in the public relations industry but in the complexity of the communications position today. How a company communications in good times and bad speaks volumes about the management, its values and its attention to the public trust. This year, as in other years, we asked about the impact of social media on CCO positions, what senior managment expects from them, how their effectiveness if measured, the number of board meetings they attend, the qualities needed to be successful, crisis management and a host of others. Here’s one fact for today that has to do with reputation. I will continue to discuss some others that are reputation-related.
We learned from CCOs that improving corporate reputation tops the list of senior management’s expectations for corporate communications this year, as reported by approximately two-thirds of global CCOs (65%). This focus on reputation was followed by obtaining positive media coverage (60%) and increased support of brand reputation/marketing (56%). This prominence for reputation is not surprising given that reputational crisis is practically a fact of life for large companies globally – nearly three-quarters of CCOs (71%) experienced a crisis threatening their reputation in the past two years. I was not surprised either by how important positive media coverage is although I know how difficult that is to secure enough of what will please a CEO. Quantity and quality always matter at the top.
More to come on other interesting feedback from the study.
Job descriptions for leaders today have to begin including public relations expertise. Just looking at this week’s headlines convinced me that CEOs have to be PR crisis experts to be qualified for the job. I was thinking about this when I read the oped in The New York Times from an investment bank’s employee and hearing the news about the Afghan killings by a U.S. military person. I also just read an indictment by a former Google employee about the oversized focus on advertising since Larry Page took the reins at the search giant. Whereas we used to enumerate the operational excellence of CEOs-to-be, today we should seriously consider whether they are crisis-seasoned enough. Bank CEOs, presidents and Internet champion CEOs have little time to respond when their organizations or countries are making breaking news. I hold my breath waiting for them to respond. Every word is dissected and critiqued. Not easy.
Years ago, I worked on a research project about how pr-savvy board members were. We looked at how many board members in the Fortune 500 had “any” communications experience. Sad to say, there were few. I used to wonder how these board discussions went when no one in the room knew how to deal with detractors. Now I realize that not only do boards need some practiced PR professionals among their board members but CEOs too need to also be PR- tested. Of course, corporate communications officers are there to work alongside CEOs experiencing a crisis but CEOs themselves need to be good at communicating their positions and steadying the troops (so to speak). Tone is sometimes everything.
Here are remarks from the highest offices of the US government in response to the Afghan rampage. Wonder what you think?
“And obviously what happened this weekend was absolutely tragic and heartbreaking. But when you look at what hundreds of thousands of our military personnel have achieved under enormous strain, you can’t help but be proud generally.” — President Obama
“This terrible incident does not change our steadfast dedication to protecting the Afghan people and to doing everything we can to build a strong and stable Afghanistan.” — Secretary of State Hillary Clinton
“Our thoughts and prayers are with the families and their entire community.” — Deputy American ambassador to Afghanistan, James Cunningham.
Lawyers and communications specialists seem at times to inhabit entirely different worlds. This is something that I’ve often thought about but has received little attention in the public relations and legal counsels’ worlds. So it’s time to think about this new trend in reputation managment that can help companies managing crises and issues better.
Consider this example I was told that has to do with the comments of one anxious general counsel reviewing his company’s first few Tweets. “Looks good but you have a typo at the end,” the in-house counsel warned the communications officer. The more socially-savvy communications person quickly replied that the so-called typo — a colon and closed parenthesis — was none other than that now nearly universal icon … the smiley face .
Of course, not all general counsels are so unfamiliar with standard and new social media customs and practices. However, companies can no longer afford a disconnect between legal and communications. In times of crisis, particularly, the general counsel (GC) and chief communications officer (CCO) represent two departments often at odds with one another. Lawyers typically urge minimal or even no public comment out of fear that admissions might damage a company’s case in a court of law, while communications professionals typically demand prompt public comment, even a CEO apology, to avoid further damage to a company’s reputation in the court of public opinion.
As the “information age” produces one corporate crisis after another and social media zingers multiply at alarming speed, everyone is responsible for keeping a watchful eye on defending company reputation as well as protecting against slander, libel and other legal difficulties. Despite decidedly different approaches, GCs and CCOs are now both finding themselves participating in the same “reputation management” strategy meetings and conference calls. They now have no choice but to trust and understand each other.
Here are three ways that these corporate officers can get on the same page:
- Socialize. Instead of dealing with problems incident by incident, start strengthening the relationship between GC and CCO by getting them to the table to jointly craft the company’s social media policy and guidelines. Only about one-third of companies have such policies which leaves plenty of seats left for the two departments to fill. Agreeing to and understanding the needs of the other and providing for thoughtful compromise ahead of time can only help protect against trade secret violations, adverse publicity, confidential leaks and inadvertent disclosures about employee departures and misbehavior. Companies with employees who know what’s allowable and not allowable on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and blogs because the GC and CCO have cooperated will save their companies sudden embarrassment and reinforce continued cooperation between the departments.
- Scenario Plan. The time to build mutual respect is before reputation risk knocks at the door. Best practice requires getting GCs and CCOs together with CEOs, HR, IT officers and others to rehearse various best and worst case scenarios, online and offline. After a few sessions of rapid response simulations (we have an online simulation crisis drill called Firebell to do exactly this), GCs and CCOs will have the opportunity to work out obstacles and craft prepared statements to hypothetical crises that will give them a head start should real crises occur.
- Value Set. Anchor both communications and legal concerns to the company’s core values. The values by which a company operates serves as the grease that reduces the natural friction between legal and communications best practices. Both departments need to consistently call up company values – for example, integrity, good governance and customer always comes first – as the standard by which any legal or communications decision is judged. Once the primacy of company values is accepted as the ground rule, cooperation between GCs and CCOs can be more easily facilitated.
An article on how CIOs need to get a seat at the table and boost their reputational status within the organization appeared in the WSJ this week. I read it on a plane but left myself a message to post about it (are CIOs really second-class citizens in the C-suite?). I am always interested in who is sitting at the table with the CEO and have over the years been particularly interested in the role of CCOs — Chief Communications Officers — and how they are increasingly sitting at that table as crises soar and reputations tumble. So naturally, this drew my attention.
As I went to find the article online, I stumbled upon another WSJ blog post about the article which had this quote or two from Brian Halligan, chief executive of Hubspot, who spoke at a panel by MIT’s CIO Symposium on the role of the CIO:
”Mr. Halligan also said CIOs are the logical choice to help chief executives master new communication tools like blogging, Facebook and Twitter. Many chief executives are either uncomfortable using those media, or hire professionals to stand in for them: Either way, their audiences can sense the lack of spontaneity. CIOs can help their CEOs “have a more authentic relationship with the market and vendors,” he said.
Since I have been carefully monitoring how CEOs become more social, I admit that I had not thought about this in the same way. In my world of communications, I think that CCOs are the natural teacher for showing CEOs how to use social media and video to communicate deep within the organization and to customers and other important stakeholders. I liked Halligan’s statement about how being more social might change perceptions of CEOs as stodgy, risk-adverse and uncommunicative. He is probably right.
Related to this topic, it is probably not a good idea to hire professionals to stand in for CEOs although I don’t doubt that it is done. CEO voices are hard to imitate and employees should be fairly adept at noticing counterfeit CEO-speak. So I would advise that if you are getting your CEO to blog (it does not have to be too often as we advise in our research) to get to know people and let them get to know the CEO, get them to do it themselves.