CEO reputation is still incredibly important. As I have always said, it’s nice to say that it should not be so important or to say that it is should be more about the company than the CEO, but ultimately the CEO sets the tone, style and destiny of a company. A recent survey of top communications officres in Europe confirms the uber-importance of the CEO to a company’s success. What I found most interesting, however, were the findings on CEOs and communications. Considering that these are communications officers, the study has some good inside info on CEO activity:
- 83% said that their communications teams are working on positioning their CEO
- 67% are working on the CEO’s profile (probably online) and a CEO-focused communications strategy
One of the more interesting articles I have read recently describes how the conference business is surging and providing better outlets for CEOs and other executives to speak. All this “live media” or “live journalism” (what it is now being called since you can repurpose it, livestream it, twitter it, YouTube it, etc) is perfect for positioning CEOs (reflecting the findings above) and other top executives you want to shine a light on. Weber Shandwick has a thriving business run by Carol Ballock helping CEOs and top executives find the right platforms to speak at and helping shape content. Our research on the best conferences has finally put some metrics behind this burgeoning phenomenon. Here are a few examples if you don’t believe me. The Huffington Post is hosting three conferences of Arianna Huffington’s marvelous Third Metric idea, Atlantic Media now does over 200 events per year including exclusive dinners and week long conferences. The New York Times is convening 16 conferences in 2013, up from one last year. The Wall Street Journal is hosting its 6th CEO Council. Tina Brown left the Daily Beast to get into the conference business. Many of these conferences, including Fortune’s Most Powerful Women in Business, are expanding overseas too. Digital media companies are also hosting live events that help position executives, pundits and influencers. It is a gold rush. As the New York Times says, “Live events promote their brand” and “..conference centers are considered just another social platform with Twitter, Facebook and online video.”
There are many ways to rebuild reputation but one way that companies might consider when recovering from a crisis is developing a Compliments page where employees and non-employees can anonymously thank those front line or other employees for doing their jobs well and conscientiously. I spoke to a company a short while ago as they were dealing with a reputation crisis and suggested that they start a Compliments page where community members could thank those front line people they encounter frequently for doing a honest day’s work. It could help. Of course, the site would attract uncivil types but there must be a way to delete them if they stray too far from the site’s purpose and goals.
Some universities have being doing this for a while. It started at Queen’s University in Ontario because the founders wanted to find a way to counteract bullying. University of Pennsylvania has a Compliments Facebook page as does Penn State. On the U of P site, people thank others for returning their lost wallet, for the sense of accomplishment they feel after doing nonprofit work, to a capella group for their beautiful sound and send support to a fellow classmate struggling with pain. The U of P Compliments page has the goal of “learning to do good and spread good.” Penn State’s site says that it is a social project to spread happiness.
Compliments pages are a wonderful idea considering that incivility that can sometimes surround and engulf us. In Weber Shandwick’s Civility in America 2013 study, we found that 70 percent of Americans believe incivility has reached crisis proportions. With Americans encountering incivility more than twice a day on average (2.4 times per day), and 43 percent expecting to experience incivility in the next 24 hours, dealing with incivility has become a way of life for many. Maybe it is time to turn this tide of negativity.
Compliment sites can be contagious and make people feel good despite their company’s blemished reputation. It could give an employee that extra boost they need to be productive and positive when they find everything uncertain. Hearing a compliment might keep an employee loyal to his or her company and make them feel they are doing their part in getting their company’s reputation back on its feet. Companies might consider trying this and seeing what happens. Reputations get repaired in the oddest ways.
Fake commentary. This weekend I received constant fake commentary to my blog — every minute. I deleted over 1000 or more in the end. I just could not believe that anyone cares enough to assault my blog like that but apparently wordpress has been having these robo-attacks which affects its users. Very annoying.
On the subject of fakery and forging online reviews, this morning I read about the proliferation of fake reviews online. It is estimated that by 2014, nearly 10 to 15% of social media reviews will be fake. The problem with this is obvious to all — reputations are won and lost by such phony reviews. How many times have you turned away from a product because a review was scathing or negative? And how often has that bad review made you think less of the company behind the brand or anything else that company sells? This causes reputation doubt.
Some of our research at Weber Shandwick has found that online reviews were becoming nearly as important as professional reviews. For example,by more than a margin, consumers pay attention to consumer reviews over professional reviews for consumer electronics products (77% to 23%). They read 11 online reviews on average before purchasing products. Online reviews surely affect the bottom line. New York’s Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, who is leading a crackdown on companies in the business of creating false online reviews, gives good reasons as to why this is more than an annoyance: ”Harvard Business School found that increasing a restaurant’s review score by one star on Yelp.com could boost business up to 8 percent. Cornell researchers found an extra star on Travelocity or TripAdvisor could translate into an 11 percent increase in a room rate.” So there you go. Fake reviews destroy reputations and profitabilty.
Many of these firms hire people in other countries who get paid $1 up to $10 to write one negative review. Luckily, our attorney general in New York is trying to get rid of them and is giving out large fines to keep them from continuing this bad behavior. Reputations deserve better than this.
I was delighted to learn yesterday that The Holmes Report included me in its list of 25 Top PR Innovators. This new listing, the In2 Innovator 25, calls attention to the importance of innovation and ideas in the public relations field. The 25 of us were honored for breaking boundaries, challenging the industry and pushing PR onto the wider stage that it so deserves. Not bad.
One of the questions Holmes asked in a mini-survey of the Innovators was “Who most influences a brand’s PR/marketing innovations?” The top influences were CMO, receiving 10 votes, and CEO, which received 6 votes. I answered CEO. In my world, the CEO sets the guardrails for and shapes the corporate culture that allows ideas and experimentation to ferment and that also allows fear of failure to fade away. Without such a culture, imagination and risk-taking would never have enough air to breath so as to grow and flourish.
During my career I have benefited from just such an expanse of breathing space. My former agency CEO Chris Komisarjevsky encouraged me to ideate when I began one of my first research projects on CEO reputation. Today at Weber Shandwick, I have had the full support and encouragement of our CEO, Andy Polansky. Without Andy’s support, without the amazingly collaborative culture that he has fostered, I would have found it nearly impossible to think divergently and follow my instincts. I am fortunate and grateful that my boss and my colleagues have created an accepting, nurturing environment for ideas. My thanks to you all.
When I first heard this story last weekend about AOL CEO Tim Armstrong publically firing the Patch creative director on a conference call, I was not sure what to think. It was quite the uncivil thing to do. At Weber Shandwick, we had just released our annual survey on Civility in America and I was troubled by the finding that one in four Americans (26%) had quit their jobs because of an uncivil workplace. This figure was higher than it was in 2010 (20%). When I heard that the public firing before 1,000 people was recorded and leaked to a web site, making its way across the world wide web, I thought that too was uncivil. All in all, not good news for Armstrong’s reputation.
I was wondering how this would all shake out or when an apology or statement would come from above and here it is. Unfortunately, the reputation of the workplace is highly impacted by the actions of the CEO and especially by how a CEO behaves during tough times which Patch is experiencing as they prepare for layoffs at the end of this week. His taking responsibility, regardless of the situation, and acknowledging his accountability was the right thing to do to bring some equilibrium back to the situation. You cannot explain away incivilty when it comes to CEO leadership because most people will regard it as just an excuse. Therefore, Armstrong’s apology does not dwell too much on why he fired Lenz the way he did. Since apologies are increasingly common among CEOs and leaders, I thought I would post below in case anyone is looking for an example in the weeks and months to come.
I am writing you to acknowledge the mistake I made last Friday during the Patch all-hands meeting when I publicly fired Abel Lenz. It was an emotional response at the start of a difficult discussion dealing with many people’s careers and livelihoods. I am the CEO and leader of the organization, and I take that responsibility seriously. We talk a lot about accountability and I am accountable for the way I handled the situation, and at a human level it was unfair to Abel. I’ve communicated to him directly and apologized for the way the matter was handled at the meeting.
My action was driven by the desire to openly communicate with over a thousand Patch employees across the U.S. The meeting on Friday was the second all-hands we had run that week and people came to Friday’s meeting knowing we would be openly discussing some of the potential changes needed at Patch. As you know, I am a firm believer in open meetings, open Q&A, and this level of transparency requires trust across AOL. Internal meetings of a confidential nature should not be filmed or recorded so that our employees can feel free to discuss all topics openly. Abel had been told previously not to record a confidential meeting, and he repeated that behavior on Friday, which drove my actions.
We have been through many difficult situations in turning around AOL and I have done my best to make the best decisions in the long-term interest of the employees and the company. On Friday I acted too quickly and I learned a tremendous lesson and I wanted you to hear that directly from me.
We have tough decisions and work to do on Patch, but we’re doing them thoughtfully and as openly as we can. At AOL, we had strong earnings last week and we’re adding one of the best companies in the world to the team. AOL is in a great position, and we’ll keep moving forward.
I often get asked how entrenched CSR/corporate social responsibility is in America. Afterall, CSR activities and behavior are an important driver of reputation. From my travels, I used to think that CSR was more deeply embedded in European company thinking but over the past few years, I’ve come to think that CSR has taken a greater hold in U.S. companies. Therefore I was particularly interested in hearing how CFOs regard the importance of CSR, the ones who have to sign the checks for embarking on this critical reputation-building initiative. With CSR, once companies start the process, there is no turning back. We gladly saw during the financial collapse of the past few years, that companies did not abandon their CSR efforts. They may not have grown their efforts but they certainly held steady. This speaks to the power of the commitment from the top, including CFOs.
A survey by Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business and CFO Magazine Global Business among senior finance executives across six continents recently reported that U.S. CFOs regard the importance of CSR to a lesser extent than their global peers. Nearly half rate CSR/sustainability (51%) as important in their business strategies compared to their counterparts in Europe (63%), Asia (67%), LatAm (76%) and Africa (83%). When asked why they engage in CSR activities, the top reasons according to the sample of U.S. chief financial officers are:
- It’s the right thing to do (66%)
- To improve external reputation, brand or image (61%)
- To improve internal good will, employee morale, employee hiring/retention (49%)
- In response to legal/regulatory requirements 27%)
- To improve cost efficiencies (14%)
- It increases customer demand (13%)
- Helps drive innovation (11%)
- To improve the bottom line (10%)
Interestingly, doing well by doing good and corporate reputation are at the top. CFOs in the U.S. are surely getting CSR religion. They are finally seeing that helping the world is the right thing to do and improves company reputation and also helps drive the best talent your way. I was a bit surprised that CFOs did not realize the growing relationship between what customers are now demanding from companies in the way of sustainable behavior and their own CSR initiatives. As we have repeatedly pointed out at Weber Shandwick, the link between customer expectations of responsible companies and their willingness to buy those companies’ products and services is stronger than ever. I am confident, however, that the interdependence between corporate responsibility and customer purchase decision-making will only grow in the years ahead.
The ongoing Duke University research provides good fodder for realizing that U.S. CFOs have a ways to go in realizing the importance of CSR and how it positively improves the bottom line. That’s where the BIG divide exists.
Had a terrific visit to Weber Shandwick Toronto this week. My colleagues hosted a breakfast to discuss the new rules of engagement for employee engagement and reputation and I shared the platform with my colleague Kate. We met some terrific clients and had some very good questions afterwards, always a plus. Reputation and employee engagement are very much intertwined which made the two angles so easily compatible. We also met with some clients and had meaningful discussions about leadership, character and reputation. Afterwards I headed up to Muskoka for a conference among hydro distributors to talk about safeguarding reputation. Terrific conference put on by The MEARIE Group and to prepare, I learned alot about the challenges facing electricity distributors in Ontario. Of course, it was hard not to mention how Mayor Rob Ford of Toronto was negatively impacting the city’s reputation. On the day of the conference, the Mayor of Montreal resigned after being arrested.
At the breakfast meeting, I learned something that I aim to keep for posterity. Most probably, I will add it to our compendium on how to recover from a crisis. We have a master deck on how companies recover and build even better reputations and for me, it’s my team’s Bible. We catalogue all the recovery strategies we can because it always comes in helpful for the next client. But sometimes people have a way of saying something that just lights up your brain waves because it is so insightful and speaks so directly to a company’s character. This Canadian company had a crisis some years ago and one year later to the day, they ran full page ads reminding people of what happened and what they had done since the fateful event. The head of comms said to us while we were chatting at the breakfast that they ran the ad because…” ”We will be the first to remember, not the first to forget.” The company wholeheartedly owned the crisis and was not going to forget. Sage advice.
Who would have thought? Being a social CEO impacts company reputation! Well it’s true. There are true business results when CEOs participate in social media. We just launched our new Social CEO study this morning – The Social CEO: Executives Tell All, a survey of 600+ executives in 10 global markets with KRC Research about what they think about CEOs engaging online. Months ago we surveyed the landscape and saw that there really was little information about what executives inside organizations actually thought about their CEOs going social. We wanted to get a birds-eye view on how it actually makes executives (managers and up) feel to have a social CEO — does it make you feel good? nervous? embarrassed? ahead of the competition? inspired? We also were interested in uncovering how CEO sociability impacted the bottom line if at all.
Here’s a few findings to get you interested in downloading the report and infographic:
- The majority of global executives (76%) believe it is a GOOD IDEA for CEOs to actively participate in social media. The demand is there and it is not just in the United States.
- Executives recognize a multitude of returns when CEOs are social, including improved company reputation (78% say so) and employee engagement (75%). Clearly, CEO sociability is a competitive advantage and will only grow more so.
- CEO’s social media presence makes executives feel inspired (52%), technologically-advanced (46%) and proud (41%). Very few are nervous or embarrassed (6%). Nearly one in three (30%) find it amusing.
One of the more interesting tidbits was that executives are curious about what their CEOs are doing online. The majority (73%) search to see what their CEOs are saying in social media. CEOs are being watched carefully and social media now provides the opportunity to do so.
Most importantly, the time for social CEOs has come. The barriers are coming down and there is no one way to be social. Senior executives from around the globe envision big leaps in CEO sociability in their respective industries, projecting a 50% growth rate over the course of the next five years. Executives in financial services and business services expect the highest rate of CEO sociability growth over the next five years. As increasingly more companies, boards and leaders recognize that CEO sociability helps drive reputation, the more we will see CEOs stepping into social waters. The report discusses how CEOs can be social internally as well as externally. This is not just a social media game. CEO sociability can be driven from within. The point is that CEOs need to engage and using social means is their lifeline to starting a conversation with a broad portfolio of stakeholders.
More to come in my next post.
Johnson & Johnson has launched a new corporate brand campaign. As I’ve mentioned here before and based on our research, corporate reputations are becoming increasingly important in this see-thru world. Weber Shandwick’s research, The Company behind the Brand: In Reputation We Trust, found that 87% of executives think that the corporate brand is as important as the product brand. And 70% of consumers will turn away from a brand if they do not like the company behind the brand. Our research also found that 86% of executives were increasing their efforts to build reputation. Therefore, it makes perfect sense for J&J to rethink what their overall reputation stands for and reconnect with consumers, health professionals and other key stakeholders as trust in companies declines and it is harder to stand out than ever before.
Michael Sneed, the head of global corporate affairs told Forbes, “The reputation of J&J is very important to us. We take it very seriously. We have a lot of data that we look at, both externally and internally. I wouldn’t say there was any one thing that precipitated [the campaign], and we certainly don’t do these things just for rankings. Reputation is something that’s born out of actions. The reputation is a reflection of people’s perspective on the actions that we do take.”
The new campaign is based on “for all you love, Johnson & Johnson.” Again, the company choose to focus on who they are, what they stand for and why consumers should invest in them both emotionally and selectively when there is an abundance of choice today. Sneed mentions that they want to participate in the great social media conversation that is happening today. A new campaign such as this makes it easier to say who they are when people’s attention spans are fleeting. Interestingly, the tag line is only about 35 characters so it should travel well in the twitterverse as well.
Each year Fortune publishes the 100 Best Companies to Work For in the U.S. While the bulk of the company evaluation rests on a comprehensive employee survey, Fortune publishes a wealth of employer statistics about benefits, diversity and jobs. Weber Shandwick has been cataloguing this data since 2006, enabling us to look at how each factor is changing over time and how reputations can be shaped by being a best company to work for.
Most Best Company statistics for jobs, diversity and benefits were unchanged between 2012 and 2013. However, this leveling off could be taken as a sign of good news. 2010 and 2011 were mediocre years for jobs and the improvement in job and diversity statistics in 2012 suggested that the market was starting to strengthen and reputations are stabilitzing. Similar numbers in 2013 may signify that improvement is still underway.
Below are insights into these jobs, diversity and benefits trends:
Jobs: The Best Companies reported virtually the same job statistics in 2012 and 2013, including median job growth (6%) and median voluntary turnover (7%). In fact, with the exception of 2010 and 2011 which were poor years for jobs statistics, median job growth has maintained a steady rate since 2006, only fluctuating between 5% and 7%. Perhaps this job growth range is a Best Company standard.
Improvement in negative growth may be a sign of recovering job market. After hitting a low last year (11%), the number of companies experiencing negative job growth remained steady in 2013 (12%). This is a drastic improvement from 2011 when 45% of Best Companies reported negative job growth.
The rate of Americans quitting is on the rise, suggesting that people across the country are becoming more confident in leaving their jobs to find work elsewhere. Best Companies, however, maintained the same voluntary turnover rate between 2012 and 2013 (8%). The difference between these two trends may reflect the impact that a good reputation can have on retaining a company’s workforce.
Diversity: Diversity initiatives at Best Companies have also remained mostly unchanged. The average percentage of women and minorities working at Best Companies has been consistent since 2008. But with women already comprising, on average, nearly half the Best Companies’ workforces, it is very possible that we will see this trend continue into the coming years. 2013 was another solid year for gay-friendly policies and benefits. Nearly all Best Companies this year have gay-friendly policies (99%) and the number of those offering gay-friendly benefits has hit a record-high (93%).
Benefits: The most noticeable change in employee benefits offered by Best Companies since last year is the decrease in number of companies extending compressed workweeks (down from 80% in 2012 to 73% in 2013). Also taking a small hit is on-site childcare, which fell below 30% for the first time since 2008. The Fortune evaluation, however, does not look at companies that offer flexible workweeks, which could be taking the place of these two benefits. Best Companies could be giving employees the opportunity to better balance their work lives outside of a formal perk. We may be starting to see this trend happening at companies not on the best-of list too. For example, while Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer was recently in the media spotlight for banning working from home, it is possible that Yahoo employees have other options for work flexibility aside from telecommuting. The benefit with the greatest improvement is on-site gym, which hit a high this year (73%). All other perks remained largely unchanged from 2012.