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.
My Google Alert this morning told me about a Reputation Blacklist. I had to find out what that was and although I read the article, I must admit not understanding much beyond zoning off ”malicious” viruses that potentially damage computer networks. The article said, “One of the architects of the DNS, the naming system for the Internet, is building into the server software for the Internet a system to allow cooperating servers to share reputation data in order to block malicious domains.“ The concept of a Blacklist or Black List seems to be coming back from those days when people were blacklisted. Now companies and viruses are making the Blacklist comeback. In a previous post, I mentioned the Corporate Responsibility Black List which identified those companies with the worst track records when it comes to CSR.
On another topic, I continue to collect a list of different interesting ways that the word “reputation” is used these days. It appears everywhere I turn,I see reputation used. I went back to see if “reputation” has become ubiquitous or if I am singularly focused on the term. In 2005, “reputation” received 2, 460, 000 mentions. In 2009, it received 66,100,000 mentions in my Google search. That’s a big jump in just five years. I am sure that 2010 will be a doozy.
Have a good Sunday.
Two weeks ago I went to the Harvard Club in Cambridge to accept an award on behalf of Weber Shandwick for the best corporate responsibility advisory firm in CR magazine’s ranking of our category. No doubt about it…it was an honor. CR rated public relations agencies and advertising/marketing firms and we topped the list. The meeting in Cambridge was to honor CR’s 100 Best Corporate Citizens and to gather people together to discuss corproate responsibility. This was before the Horizon oil spill which would have undoubtedly dominated the discussion. The meeting was terrific by the way.
What surprised me the most was that one of the issues that was given out in addition to the issue devoted to 100 Best Corporate Citizens was CR‘s Black List.
This made me wonder whether there will be a bumper crop of Black Lists in the next few years. Should we brace ourselves for Black Lists of the worst companies to work for, least ethical companies, worst companies for working mothers, worst MBA programs, most terrible IT companies to apply for, meanest CEOs, etc. Actually there have been many Worst CEO lists — according to Google there are nearly 900,000 hits for Worst CEOs. No surprise. But the Black List sounded deadly to me and I cracked open the issue to learn why a publication would go this far. Below is what CR’s magazine’s editor Jay Whitehead had to say about why they published the list. He makes some good points (transparency builds credibility) and I was glad to see why they did not take this List so lightly. As noted, many of the companies were on the list because they did not disclose information on the factors that go into CR’s ranking. We will see what next year brings in terms of Black Lists but I can tell you one thing….Worst CEO lists will be here for eternity. As I always say (and I am sure someone else said it before me)….Just as CEOs get all the credit when things go right, they get all the blame when things go wrong.
“We have a confession. What we have not told you is that every year after we publish the “100 Best Corporate Citizens List,” someone reminds us that we also have an obligation to publish the bottom of the list. Up until now, we’ve ignored that reminder. But we cannot ignore it any more. The “Black List” is the result of recurring demands to see which companies are the most opaque among the Russell 1000.
In publishing the “Black List,” we do not take our responsibility lightly. Companies on the “Black List” represent the least-transparent companies in the Russell 1000, which is a tough place to be in the era of corporate responsibility and its ever-intensifying drive for transparency. We expect the companies on the “Black List” will be unhappy with us. We offer them one piece of solace. All a “Black List” company has to do is make a few CR-related data points about itself publicly available. Report a couple data points to the Carbon Disclosure Project. Put your employee benefits policies online. Publish some human rights information. Get a formal climate change policy, and put it online. Some of the actions required are the public company hygiene equivalent of washing your hands after visiting the rest room. Yet all the “Black List” companies have made the decision to skip that basic step.
While being a “100 Best Corporate Citizens List” company is a major accomplishment requiring considerable commitment and cost, indulging in just enough transparency to get your company out of the cellar is not that hard, nor that expensive. And one thing’s for certain: it’s less embarrassing than being on the “Black List.”
The “Black List” methodology is exactly the same as what we use for the “100 Best Corporate Citizens List.” Our population of companies is still the Russell 1000. We used the same 349 data points in 7 categories. We used the same data provider, IW Financial. We contacted each of the companies by email to request that they provide any data they have to help us correct their files. We got no replies from the 30 companies that appear on the “Black List.”
Where the “Black List” differs from the “Best” list is in the paucity of data. Where “100 Best” companies disclose hundreds of data points in Environment, Climate Change, Human Rights, Employee Relations, Finance, Governance and Philanthropy, “Black List” companies have disclosed virtually zero. In fact, all 30 of this year’s “Black List” companies tie for dead last in every category—with the exception of three-year total return, which varied a bit as you see on the Black List above. And the irony is that “Black List” companies significantly under-performed both the S&P 500 and the “100 Best Corporate Citizens List” companies in three-year total return.”
I thought this was an insightful statement about online reputation. It was mentioned in a post by Chris Abraham who was quoting Forget Publicists, All the Cool Kids Have Online Reputation Managers. Abraham says that “online reputation management is apparently the new black.” Sure seems that way to me too.
Goes back to that wonderful article in Wired by Clive Thompson about Google being a reputation management system, not a search engine.
To digress, I read in another article somewhere that corporate responsibility is the new India. I guess this phraseology is catchy. Perhaps I should say something clever like reputation recovery is the new green. Doesn’t have the same ring to it. Worth a try.
There has been much media coverage about the Pew Internet and American Life Project research (12.16.07) on Americans googling themselves for what I call reptuation checkups. I felt that I could not ignore it since it falls into what I also call my reputation bucket (all things reputation-related). Afterall, your “good name” is all we have.
Pew found that nearly one-half (47 percent) of Americans have searched for their own names to see whether they were receiving a thumbs up or thumbs down. This name-searching figure has dramatically doubled since 2002 when Pew found only 22 percent targeting themselves online. I can’t say I blame them. I have searched my own name several times since reputation is my middle name (just kidding). Interestingly, most Americans don’t search for their names online on a regular basis. Apparently they are not worried about what might be said about them. This bears out in the research — the majority (six out of ten Americans) are not worried about how much information is available about them online. I assume they believe they can manage their reputations well enough. Probably a mistake as privacy gets increasingly scarce.
Interesting tidbits in the Pew report include:
- Only 4 percent found disturbing or inaccurate information online associated with their name
- Most searches are innocuous — looking for someone’s contact info
- Those under 50 were more likely to be interested in their online reputations
As one of the co-author’s wrote: “Nostalgia seems to motivate quite a few Internet users. the most popular search target is someone from the past — an old friend, an old flame, or a former colleague.”
I imagine that name-searching is much higher among business executives who depend on their reputations for career opportunities and advancement and enhancing their own company reputations. My guess is that the figure would be closer to 85 percent vs. the 47 percent Pew found. Either way, reputation checkups are important and will probably soar when Pew does its next research in 2012 (five years from now!).