I had heard of a new CEO listening tour but to me, this was a first. JCPenny is running a social media Apology tour. We’ve all heard CEOs apologize for one thing or another and we’ve all worked in companies where a new CEO visits different employee facilities to meet and greet and hear what is on people’s minds. But JCPenny now has a new campaign on TV that apologizes for letting customers down and thanks them for coming back. If you recall, the former CEO Ron Johnson from Apple fame was booted out when his plan failed, possibly because of the elimination of coupons which drove customers into the store. The former CEO, Myron Ullman, was asked to return and now they are in recovery mode. The two ads say:
“It’s no secret. Recently, J.C. Penney changed. Some changes you liked, and some you didn’t. But what matters with mistakes is what we learn. We learned a very simple thing: to listen to you. To hear what you need to make your life more beautiful. Come back to J.C. Penney. We heard you. Now we’d love to see you.”
“At J.C. Penney, we never stop being amazed by you. How you work so hard without looking like you do. How you make every dollar stretch so far and keep your family so close. So we brought back the things you like about J.C. Penney, gave you new things to explore and now, we’re happy to say, you’ve come back to us. We’re speechless, except for two little words. Thank you.”
But back to social media….using the hashtag #jcplistens, JCPenny is in response overdrive from what I saw on Twitter today. They are in constant contact with its Twitter-ites. Every customer or tweet seems to get a personal and speedy response asking to help out, mentioning they will share the feedback with the team if something was amiss and thanking customers for comments. As pointed out on Business Insider, they even told people when they were retiring for the evening. On its Facebook page, JCPenny is polling fans about their favorite brands that they want back after having been cut by the former CEO. And it looks like they are bringing back St. John’s Bay, a favorite. So they are listening hard.
You’ve got to hand to them. They’re trying. And social apology tours are a smart redemption move.
My good friend Bob Eccles, professor of management practice at Harvard Business School, wrote an article (The Performance Frontier) that just appeared in the Harvard Business Review. Here is a PDF. I’ve been extremely interested in his work on integrated reporting for awhile now. What is integrated reporting? Essentially it is One Report that combines financial and non-financial information interactively into one document. A good example of a company that has done this is Natura. Although integrated reporting is voluntary today, it is required of all companies on the Johannesburg Stock Exchange. But integrated reporting is much more than an online CSR showcase. When it is done right, it is an authentic and innovative two way conversation where a company convenes its stakeholders to discuss its progress meeting its financial and nonfinancial goals. For example, Natura does this through Natura Conecta where the public is invited to have a discussion on environmental and social issues related to the company. It is a living exchange, not a static one that is one-way and more push than pull.
Bob’s article has an interesting slant which he points out in the introductory sentence . . .”But a mishmash of sustainability tactics does not add up to a sustainable strategy.” He argues, along with his co-author George Serafeim also at Harvard Business School, that we need a solid framework for simultaneously boosting financial performance as well as doing good. Tactics alone won’t do the trick. They provide a model for identifying the most environmental, social and governance (ESG) factors that drive shareholder value so that both financial and ESG performance are enhanced, not just one. A company that focuses on sustainability without paying attention to the financial costs is not going to have a genuine sustainability strategy that meets everyone’s interests. Similarly, a company that focuses solely on financial performance to the exclusion of good ESG performance will lose out as well in terms of public opinion and support. A major component of reaching this perfect balance, according to them, is by identifying major innovations in products, processess and business models that achieve these improvements and accomplishes superior financial and sustainability performance. A good example is the one with Natura mentioned above. They also cite innovative business models from Dow and Hong Kong-based CLP Group. And then, of course, Bob argues that these activities are ideally communicated through integrated reporting.
What fired me up was the SASB (Sustainability Accouting Standards Board) Materiality Maps that have been created for 88 industries in 10 sectors. Each industry has its own map that prioritizes 43 ESG issues and ranks them in terms of materiality. Not all the maps are complete but take a good look at this one for the health care sector. It shows which ESG factors impact financial performance so that a company knows what to prioritize. It’s a great contribution to understanding ESG factors as well as what drives strong corporate reputation. Don’t miss it.
And congrats to Bob and George for raising an important question about how to better balance financial costs and sustainability costs so that they complement one another instead of taking away.
I know I should get out of the house (the sun is shining) but I was so excited to read in the Wall Street Journal about a reputation committee being formed at Goldman Sachs. The lead director James Schiro is heading this effort as the lead director on the board and is apparenlty VERY focused on reputation, according to his first letter to shareholders. Reason I am excited? Because I am a chief reputation strategist, I am always looking for trends and firmly believe that reputation committees are going to being popping up in more Fortune 500 companies than in years past. For a speech I gave before women-directors-to-be a few weeks ago, I mentioned two companies who had reputation committees but that was all I could easily find in a quick search. Board attention to reputation is long overdue. Reputation is a form of wealth, a type of equity that you get to dip into when your company is in trouble or facing issues. You need a good stockpile to weather the everyday assaults most companies are facing day in and day out. It is heartening to see reputation recognized for the worth it is. Here are a few quotes I pulled from the WSJ article that give me hope.
“He [Schiro] said the board clarified the duties of its governance committee to manage Goldman’s relationships with the outside, guard its reputation and review philanthropic and educational initiatives.”
“We continue to be very focused on the reputation of the firm,” Mr. Schiro said in his letter. A “public responsibilities” subcommittee of the board’s governance committee was formed to focus on reputation, chaired by William George, he said.”
It is that time of the year. Last day of 2012 and the start of a new 2013. I posted an article to Huffington Post on what I see ahead by looking backward at reputation trends bubbling up and trends on the vast horizon. Here is the post if you want to settle into the new year with a clear lenses on reputation possibilities.
Wishing you a happy new year!
In an article today on the academic dream team that consulted with President Obama’s team, a few lessons are shared that should be helpful for the public sector and CEOs or other executives. The group of behavioral scientists who were unpaid advised that voters focus on two characteristics in choosing a president or leader – competence and warmth. This is especially good advice for new CEOs coming into office to hear. The article states that Romney had the competence factor working for him but less so the emotional warmth factor, particularly with all the negative advertising that many people saw. Clearly, CEOs have to project both factors to gain support from their followers.
Another lesson to be learned that was shared in the article is useful for companies facing crises (who isn’t?). The social scientists that made up the dream team advised the Democrats running the Obama campaign that when it comes to neutralizing rumors, it is best not to deny the charge but to affirm a competing one. The example given was how the rumors about President Obama being a Muslim stuck over the long term but their advice (and probably well taken) was to counteract that rumor by asserting that Obama is a Christian. I do recall hearing that. Good advice that can apply to corporate leaders faced with hearsay and wanting to deflect innuendos.
Skins International Trading, maker of compression bodysuits for professional athletes, is suing the Union Cycliste International organization for harm to its brand reputation. They are saying that the UCI did not take the doping charges leveled at Lance Armstrong seriously enough and thereby tarnished the reputation of the sport and the brands that support the sport. This is a good example of how an individual with a damaged reputation can have a negative ripple effect on individual brands, events and sponsors that practically cripples an industry. Only time will tell how this ends. Hopefully a new generation of cyclists will emerge to remove the stain left by Armstrong.
I was recently interviewed in the Tennessean about how a hospital in Nashville, Saint Thomas Hospital, was handling the crisis related to the fungal meningitis outbreak. The question posed to me by the reporter was how this public health disaster caused by a New England compounding company would ultimately impact the hospital’s reputation. Like many people, I have been following the crisis but did not know much about how Saint Thomas Hospital specifically was dealing with the contamination and its aftermath. Of the nearly 17, 500 vials, 2,000 were sent to the St. Thomas Outpatient Neurosurgery Center. The Clinic is on the St. Thomas campus but not wholely affiliated with the hospital. Apparently the high number of people coming to the hospital’s emergency room is where the problems with the compounded steriod drug injected into people for back pain first came to light.
After the reporter contacted me, I immediately went to Google to learn more about how the hopsital was dealing with the crisis and found this interview with the CEO of St. Thomas Hospital, Dawn Rudolph. I was very impressed with the steps she took to lead the hospital through the crisis and it was apparent to me that she had taken her crisis preparation seriously and had good judgement. It is worth reading how she and her communications department prepared talking points for medical staff, worked with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and Tennessee Emergency Management Association, coordinated with the clinic to determine who would do what and let people do their jobs while she fiercely observed what was happening. Some of her actions that are worth noting when you want to recover your reputation post-crisis:
1. Stay out of the way of those who have a job to do such as the clinical care teams
2. Surround yourself with good people
3. Anticipate challenges
4. Make yourself available. Clear your calendar.
5. Plan for the short-term. Ask Rudolph’s question, “What am I missing?” and take answers from everyone.
6. Be prepared for misinformation that circulates in the media or online. (The crisis was incorrectly tied to a viral meningitis scare in the area)
7. Give your team talking points for them to explain what is happening to their families.
8. Watch your team carefully. The psychological effects can be tough to swallow.
9. Pointing fingers and trying to explain who is at fault is not going to be well understood when people’s lives are in danger. (The hospital and clinic are different entities but Rudolph did not spend her time making the distinctions for people who were worried about the health of their family members. Very civil and very impressive.)
The best part of the interview was what she said about what she wishes she had done, “I would have immediately grabbed an administrative person and had them pull a chronological list of what had occurred that day relating to the crisis. We did that in spots, but things evolve fast. I would have said, ‘you’re designated to be the record keeper and check in several times a day with team leads,’ because it was so multidimensional.’”
Faking reputation. Hard to believe! YELP knows so. The review site says that 20% of reviews never see the light of day. They are considered either suspect or fraudalent. Some businesses even try to commission people to write reviews or bribe product users to write something positive. You can solicit these reivewers-for-hire people on craigslist. What gets me, however, is that there is an entire cottage industry of reviewers-for-hire who will write bad reviews that knock a business’s competition. An article in Ad Age last week presented a slew of facts that makes me wonder where this will all end – a Gartner study reported that fake reviews would grow to to nearly 15% in the next two years. They even forecast that the FTC will be taking a few Fortune 500 companies to court for faking reviews within the next few years. These reputation fake outs will weaken credibility of review sites when they’ve never been so important.
Starting this past week, YELP is going to shame businesses that pay for fake reviews to shine up their reputations. Read this article to learn more. By setting up a sting operation (the stuff of spy novels), YELP is said to be exposing eight companies by placing the following consumer alert on their profiles: “We caught someone red-handed trying to buy reviews for this business.” (See above picture for the real deal) Potential customers will see the incriminating e-mails trying to hire a reviewer. And don’t expect these alerts to go away soon. Definitely a red-faced moment if caught.
This all makes me think again about how important reputation is in this information age where everything is accessible and disclosable. Reviews that lead to positive and negative reputation are their own form of currency and wealth. The lengths to which businesses will go to protect or heighten their reputations are endless (and sometimes deviant).
I can’t say I am surprised. Recent research we did on corporate reputation found that online reviews were nearly as important as word of mouth and recommendations from friends and family. I think that weeding out the fake outs is going to be a big business itself to maintain the credibility of reviewers.
I was pleased to be alerted to a copy of Reputation Review 2012 by Rory Knight, chairman of Oxford Metrica. Years ago I used some of their research in my book on CEOs and particularly on how CEOs can build their reputation or kill it when crisis strikes. Knight just completed his annual reputation review for AON, the global risk management, insurance and reinsurance company, and as I expected, the report has insightful and timely information for those seeking to better understand the impact of crisis on a company and its bottom line.
Knight reviews the top crises of 2011 such as TEPCO, Dexia, Olympus, Research in Motion, Sony, UBS and News Corp, among others. His company looks at the recovery of shareholder value following crisis. Among 10 crisis-ridden companies in 2011, only News Corp found itself in positive terrain afterwards. In fact, what they found was that 7 of the top 10 lost more than one third of their value. Two companies lost nearly 90% of their value. These companies clearly had to put big restoration processes in place afterwards and I would suspect paid good dollars to firms to restore their good names and overlooked other everyday business to move forward. Oxford Metrica says: “Managing the restoration and rebuilding of reputation equity is an essential part of the value recovery process following a crisis. Reputation equity is a significant source of value for many companies and a coherent reputation strategy can be the difference between recovery and failure.”
The big takeaway from the report, or at least what seems to resonant with me, is that there is an “80% chance of a company losing at least 20% of its value (over and above the market) in any single month, in a given five-year period.” Those odds are not good and as Knight says, screams for having a careful and well thought out reputation strategy in place before a minor event turns into a raging crisis and monopolizes headlines, offline and online. A solid reputation strategy will also help guide the reputation recovery process which is often too hurried. This is the kind of advice that I write about in my book on reputation recovery and underscores having a strategy so you do not find yourself in this situation in the first place. Additionally, Weber Shandwick’s stumble rate of 43% for the world’s most admired companies tracks with Knight’s high rate of expectant reputational downfalls. It is not good at either rate.
The report outlines a process for managing a company’s reputational equity. They are 1) Measure your reputation through benchmarking and vis a vis your peers; 2) Identify the drivers of your company’s reputation in order to allocate resources properly; 3) Prepare a strategy for recovering your company’s reputation; and 4) monitor your reputational equity often and respond accordingly when risk emerges.
The report analyzes the reputational losses of Olympus and Research in Motion after their reputation-damaging events. It is worth reviewing. It also takes a look at the financial results from TEPCO after the tsunami hit Japan. Apparently, 90% of TEPCO’s value was lost, over $US37 billion. Oxford Metrica estimates that events associated with mass fatalities have double the impact on shareholder value than do reputation crises in general. I believe they are right. BP’s Gulf of Mexico tragedy which involved over two dozen deaths wiped off substantial shareholder value off their books.
Where I wholeheartedly agree with Knight is when he talks in the report about the impact of senior management on crisis and the need for that management to lead with transparency and openness.
“For mass fatality events particularly, the sensitivity and compassion with which the Chief Executive responds to victims’ families, and the logistical care and efficiency with which response teams carry out their work, become paramount. Irrespective of the cause of a mass fatality event, a sensitive managerial response is critical to the maintenance and creation of shareholder value.” One of the takeaways from the report is that winners and losers, reputationally, can be determined by how the CEO responds to the crisis.
The report contains an article by Spencer Livermore, Director of Strategy, at Blue Rubicon, a reputation consultancy. He quotes a stat that is dear to my heart, “Oxford Metrica’s analysis shows that companies which open up more following a crisis and tell a richer, deeper story are valued more highly, increasing share price by 10 per cent on average over a year.” He calls it the communications dividend which comes from investing in communications. Years ago I wrote an article for Ernst & Young’s Center for Business Innovation called Communications Capital and the idea was similar – the right communications can increase market value and strengthen reputation. As Livermore says, “We can make communications worth hundreds of millions more simply by making them better understood.” Having the right compelling narrative built on a well thought out reputation strategy is worth its weight in gold today.
The New York Times had a very interesting article yesterday for a variety of reasons. But one reason that hit the spot was about how consumers make decisions and how the author went about choosing the right baby formula for his infant. After he and his wife researched every possible formula on the market and found that they were all basically the same, he came to this conclusion:
“Despite knowing this, I still insist on paying twice as much for Enfamil, which its maker claims is “scientifically designed.” (Aren’t they all?) I splurge because Mead Johnson is a 107-year-old company that has been promoting a single baby-formula brand for more than 50 years. I figure that it’s less likely to squander its name by skirting the rules or engaging in shoddy manufacturing than a company with less to lose. This peace of mind costs me about $7 per day.”
This is emblematic of our research on how the company behind the brand matters more than ever. The author was reassured in his purchase of Enfamil because he learned that the company behind it, Mead Johnson, had been around long enough that they were not going to risk their century-old reputation by messing around with the manufacturing and production of its baby formula. The parent company made a significant difference in a confirming to the writer that this was the better buy, even at a premium. And not only did this infant get to taste Enfamil but the writer blasted his choice around the world. There you go for serendipity public relations.
After reading this gem which was fairly upfront in the article, I kept reading. The Enfamil example led into the article’s main message which is that information overload is plaguing us all and making it increasingly hard to find what we are looking for unless we want to devote days to researching. ”Too much information, it turns out, is a lot like no information.” Therefore to deal with this information smog, people need guides orsherpas to guide their way through the data chaos. According to the author, “economists have a name for these cues that companies employ to convey their hidden strength: signaling.”
Reputation-building uses the strategy of signaling. Good reputations serve as a shorthand to identify whom you want to buy from. A company that is a best place to work for or most sustainable or trains its leaders best helps to narrow the choices between products. Do I want to buy my infant formula from a company that treats its people right? You bet. The thinking goes like this: if they treat their employees well,you can make the leap that they turn out safe products. In our research on parent brands, we had an open-ended question on why the parent company mattered when buying a product brand. Over and over, consumers mentioned that knowing the parent brand helped them sort out which products to buy. For example, one consumer said: “The integrity of a company will ultimately show in its products.”
The article also made me think about anniversary celebrations. Many companies make a big deal about how long they have been in busines — 50, 100 or 200 years. It turns out that it is good to do so in order to remind consumers and other stakeholders that there’s alot of reputational equity behind those promises.