Posts Tagged ‘PR’
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.
CSR is definitely a key factor in reputation building. However, the public remains cynical and skeptical about whether it is a pure public relations play (as research from INITIALS says, not me) and nothing more. A survey from INITIALS Marketing in the U.K. found that 68% of consumers will not buy from a company with a bad reputation and nearly one-third (31%) regard company corporate citizenship as no more than a stunt. They are suspicious of corporate citizenship that does not jive with the company’s reputation. The dissonance keeps them from buying certain company’s products and services and remaining uncertain about selecting brands. Despite this skepticism and reticence, shoppers in the U.K. expect companies to be good citizens and give to their communities. Nearly one-half (46%) understand that companies are needed to help support local community projects, despite their cynicism. Sounds like the classic catch-22. The simple answer is to build authentic programs that serve the needs of both the community at large and businesses as well as the economy.
What kind of company initiative do consumers in the U.K. like best? Sponsorships top the list as the most effective form of CSR (72% say so). Also important is helping people get apprenticeships (60%). I agree especially with the latter. Companies can do better at training less advantaged individuals with internships. Building reputation by helping others learn a trade and join the workforce is a smart reputation-building agenda because it fits a clear need and benefits everyone.
I just learned about the Ladders for London program led by the London Evening Standard. Here is the honor roll of companies participating. The idea is to help unemployed young adults get training in the workplace through paid apprenticeships. The campaign which is working with City Gateway, a charity, is going gangbusters. In 10 weeks from its launch last fall, 200+ organizations signed up and nearly 600 apprentices were hired. The program also works with six universities to provide certification and training skills. Prince Andrew endorsed the campaign as well. They are now on course to get 1,000 young people into jobs in 2013. This is a CSR program that can only build trust and support among consumers.
Bill Keller wrote this fascinating piece in The New York Times about how the Catholic Church could repair its reputation. As he points out, the Church operates just like a business with more than one million workers, one billion or more customers, more outlets than Starbucks, more real estate than Trump and a powerful lobbying arm. And like many companies today, it just lost its CEO and has the opportunity to reset its reputation and restore its luster now.
Keller asked several consultants how they would go about advising the Church to repair its reputation as they name a new Pope and move forward. Here are their suggestions:
1. Find the right new pope. One with drive and charisma who is communications savvy. One who is more than a caretaker. A Pope who is dynamic as well as a road warrior with unending energy to persuade customers back into the fold.
2. Manage the culprits out. Out with those who have sullied the Church’s reputation. Or as they say, “managing out” the ones responsible for the abuses of recent years. This would include full disclosure behind how predatory priests were allowed to stay within the institution. And third, hire a highly-regarded compliance or ethics officer who would have full support from the top. Keller quotes Wharton’s Michael Useem and his experiences helping to clean up the Tyco mess of years past.
3. Understand the past but look ahead towards the future. One consultant suggested a big time summit or strategic review that would be responsible for developing a new and improved Church strategy, mission and values with a plan to execute accordingly.
4. Adopt a global/local point of view. The article describes one consultant’s idea to let its 220,000 parishes make their own decisions attuned to local customs and preferences. “Rome could encourage the parishes to be laboratories of worship.” Interesting idea. Beta labs full of women participating, gays welcomed, local music.
5. Go social. Bring the Church into the digital age…fast. I did not realize this until Keller pointed it out but Pope Benedict tweeted as @Pontifex but only 35 times despite having 1.5 million followers. A social media strategy would go far in encouraging meet ups and spreading news and information to the committed. I have just the right document for him too….our research on social CEOs. Perhaps the Church could get some lessons from President Obama’s social media machine.
6. Get PR support. Interesting since that’s the business I am in. Keller rightfully states: “Its stock response to criticism from without or dissent from within has been to been to drop into a defensive crouch, stonewall or go negative. That can come across as bullying and arrogant — in other words, not very Christian.” Media training and message development would definitely be high on the list here.
What would I add to this list..
7. Build a solid crisis plan that raises red flags when early warning signs show up and design rapid response mechanisms. Figure out how to stop the leaks and understand how it happened in the first place so it does not happen again.
8. Measure the Church’s reputation now when it is at its most challenged so that the Church could mark progress as a new Pope begins and reform makes it to the agenda in the year(s) ahead.
9. Commit to a strategic internal communiations plan that engages its customers and followers. Get everyone on the same page. Start by going on a listening tour and asking what needs to change and what can stay the same. Feed back that information and describe how the Church will tackle its greatest problems and improve on its strengths.
10. Build a reputation advisory council that can help restore the Church’s reputation for the long-term. This is serious business.
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.
I came across an article on the growing importance of PR in time of crisis. It was in the London Evening Standard. No surprise why I read it. The title was “Who does a CEO call first in crisis? PR Men.” It first caught my eye because it has to do with CEOs and the rising importance of PR counsel. The reason I took a second look was the headline about CEOs calling PR Men. Please! There must be some women to call. It is 2010 after all. Let’s move on.
The author describes how CEOs used to call their financial advisor or legal counsel when crisis first struck. Now they call their PR head. Research that we at Weber Shandwick have done with Spencer Stuart over the past two years among global Fortune 500 corporate communications officers (The Rising CCO) found an increase in the importance of crisis experience on the job. Additionally, more CCOs now report to the CEO (58% last year), reflecting the rising importance of that position.
“PR has certainly moved up the food chain in the last five years,” says UK PRWeek’s Danny Rogers. “Reputation is your biggest asset in the modern world. Media and public scrutiny of corporations, brands and individuals has increased. Your reputation can be destroyed so quickly now because it is so global.”
PR should have a seat at the table in good times and bad times. How a company or organization communicates its vision and values matters 24/7 in this transparent and see-thru world. Reputations can be toppled overnight and sometimes due to rumor and innuendo. Companies must be vigilant in monitoring and defending their reputations. PR deserves to be valued finally.
Where do I start? Several people sent me a copy of the recent McKinsey Quarterly article on Rebuilding Corporate Reputations. Its sub-headline read, “A perfect storm has hit the standing of big business. Companies must step up their reputation-management efforts in response.” Sounded like a home-run article to me. It was already in my inbox because I subscribe but I had not had a chance to read it. My heart sank thinking that McKinsey had come up with the perfect strategy for rebuilding reputations and that all my advice and research in this area was for naught. I Twittered the article on my ReputationRx Twitter saying that here’s an article that had to be read. After all it was from McKinsey which I greatly admire and religiously read. Soon enough I began reading the article. I stopped in my tracks. I deleted my Twitter instantly.
There are two major problems with this article.
First, the authors misunderstand the business of public relations. A few select quotes from the article reflect a misunderstanding about the business of public relations when it comes to reputation-building.
“Now more than ever, it will be action—not spin—that builds strong reputations. Organizations need to enhance their listening skills so that they are sufficiently aware of emerging issues; to reinvigorate their understanding of, and relationships with, critical stakeholders; and to go beyond traditional PR by activating a network of supporters who can influence key constituencies.”
“Moreover, traditional PR spin can’t deal with many NGO concerns, which must often be addressed by changing business operations and conducting two-way conversations.”
“Reputations are built on a foundation not only of communications but also of deeds: stakeholders can see through PR that isn’t supported by real and consistent business activity. Consumers, our research indicates, feel that companies rely too much on lobbying and PR unsupported by action.”
Authors’ Sheila Bonini, David Court and Alberto Marchi are under the general impression that PR practitioners actually believe that reputations can be built on words, not deeds or action. This could not be farther from the truth. In addition, the authors imply in several sentences that PR is only about the one-way conversation, not the two-way dialogue. Again, far from the truth. Public relations has always been about the art of conversation with and perceptions of one-to-one or one-to-many stakeholders. The business has always been about developing relationships with many publics, no matter how small, how large or how hard-to-reach.
The second argument I have with the article’s direction is its premise that there are three new ways to manage reputational threats in uncertain times. They are 1) understanding key stakeholders and what matters to them (e.g., benchmarking competitors, quantitative research); 2) being transparent and action-oriented (e.g., more business activities, less lobbying); and, 3) engaging a wider portfolio of influencers through a variety of means to spread word of mouth (e.g., grassroots, partnerships with NGOs). These are good strategies for advising companies and their leaders about restoring and rebuilding reputation. No doubt about it.
These practices, however, are all commonplace in the public relations domain and have been for many years now. In fact, I would argue that this has always been the business of public relations – understanding a company or organization’s many publics, researching stakeholders on perceptions and concerns, getting the true story out, changing corporate behavior by doing the right thing, and engaging influentials in conversations that lead to deeper understanding. These recommendations are part of the everyday toolbox employed by most PR professionals working now (and for decades). And in fact, PR professionals greatly expanded on these three recommendations years ago, particularly in the general public, corporate responsibility and social media space.
Today’s Financial Times had an article on business’ role in restoring reputation and mentioned the McKinsey article. The author seens to agree with me. Whew. Michael Skapinker wrote “This is all sensible but it strikes me as yesterday’s advice.”
Moving on….I do agree wholeheartedly with McKinsey’s conclusion that CEOs should lead a company’s reputation strategy. I have always said that CEOs are the guardians of company reputation. My first book on CEO reputation, CEO Capital (2003), argued exactly this point, as I am sure many others have too.
After letting off some steam here, it occurred to me that PR firms have clearly not done a good enough job communicating what we do for clients or McKinsey’s authors would have known that their recommendations are core to PR engagements today. When I first joined the PR field from Fortune, I too had a limited understanding of what the industry did. Now that I have been in the field for nearly a decade, I recognize that PR is often misunderstood and we are partly to blame.
In short, it seems that McKinsey has succumbed to the stereotype of PR as an industry of spin doctors and no more. This is not true. And probably has never been true. McKinsey’s recommendations are not new and the best of them have been used by PR for some time now. What is needed is not as McKinsey proclaims, less PR but probably more PR.