Posts Tagged ‘reputation risk’
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.
Totally fascinating to me that China releases a list of its wealthiest citizens, similar to the Forbes 400. The list, Hurun Report, had some amazing facts worth sharing and which I learned about reading The Economist. The leading source of wealth came from individuals making their living off of manufacturing and not real estate as it was one year ago. There were also interesting correlations between wealth and zodiac signs with those born in the year of the Rabbit outranking those born in the year of the Snake (2nd) and year of the Dragon (3rd). At the bottom of China’s wealthiest 1000 individuals are those born in the year of the Ox. The reputation of the Ox is in danger.
But most interesting was the downfall of some of those who make the Hurun or the Forbes Wealthiest people list. There is greater scrutiny from tax collectors, regulators and the public. There is even a book titled “The Curse of Forbes” which describes the problems that surface when being lauded as one of the nation’s richest. In a report that the article cites, researchers found that those companies headed by entrepreneurs who make the list find that their market value declines sharply three years afterwards. Clearly, being on a rich list in China brings the bad with the good and puts reputations in jeopardy. The Economist title was “To Get Rich Is Not Always Glorious.” An apt headline.
Boards continue to see reputation risk as their top concern. In the third annual study by EisnerAmperLLP among board members, two thirds (66%) see reputational risk at the top of their agendas for concern, ahead of regulatory issues (59%). In fact, reputational risk has grown while regulatory risk has remained stable year over year. Both IT risk and privacy risk showed increases from the last survey and reflect the many breeches in systems security that we’ve seen which inevitably led to attacks upon a company’s reputation. Similarly, according to the report, crisis management, is also an indicator of reputational concern.
What do board members really mean when they say they worry about reputational risk? In an open ended question, board members are most likely to be talking about product quality, liability and customer satisfaction (30% of all responses) followed by concerns about integrity, fraud, ethics and specifically the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, (24%). IT concerns fell in at about 12% and environmental concerns at 8%. It always surprises me how little attention is paid to environmental issues at the top.
How are risks assessed? About two in 10 get reports from executive management, discuss risk issues at board meetings and get help from professionals or outside experts. About one in 10 get information from the risk committee. That seems like an area ripe for assistance. The report interestingly mentions that recent years have not been kind to risk teams and that with all the recent issues and crises stealing headlines, boards are realizing that CFOs need greater support. In fact, the survey found that nearly two-thirds of boards are planning to enhance staff and increase audit coverage and about one in three are leaning towards hiring outside service providers.
1. The World Economic Forum released its report on the top risks facing the world in 2012. Social unrest and income inequity were at the top. Natural disasters such as the earthquake in Japan were also high on the risk list. And as pointed out, one risk affects another creating a domino effect. “The Internet, meanwhile, can magnify and spread the effects of a disaster in other ways. Rumors, even if incorrect, spread quickly on social networking sites — sometimes more rapidly than emergency services can communicate accurate information. As word of disasters like the terror attacks of Sept. 11 or the earthquake in Japan spreads globally, consumers hunker down in front of their computer screens or televisions, rather than going about their daily lives. This increases the economic effects of a crisis, even in areas far removed from the source.” Disasters such as the horrific earthquake, tragic 9-11, death-defying financial crisis, massive oil spills and nasty ash clouds coming from Iceland all heighten other risks in some way. And risk spells reputation damage depending on how a company or country responds and solves the problem.
2. The report from WEF also mentioned that risks are on the horizon as leadership transitions are in full force this year. It is not just the U.S. presidential election that poses risk and stirs up emotional angst. There are leadership transitions underway this year in France, Russia and China as well. Add to that the sudden transitions in the Arab world this past year and we see upheaval and uncertainty. When CEO transitions are underway, the first few months can be risky so as we see world leaders change, tighten your seatbelts. The public will be more socially active than ever. We’ve already seen that in Russia.
3. I’ve written here about rankings and so-called “worst of” lists where companies, CEOs and environmental records are put on notice that they are not making the grade. In most Januarys, TripAdvisor.com comes out with its “dirtiest hotels” in the world. No more. The CEO Stephen Kaufer says, “We want to stay more on the positive side, so we’ll continue to feature the best destinations, the top hotels. We’re slicing and dicing the ‘best of’ in different ways this year, more than focusing on the negative.” Although the article where I learned about this says there were potential legal considerations and competitive reasons for abandoning the January list, it also mentioned that the original “worst of” list was done for PR reasons and that TripAdvisor is less interested in that now. Perhaps there is a reputation-reason afoot here. There is so much negativity online on some of these sites and it is so easy to find what you are looking for that a list of the 10 worst may be hardly worth alienating visitors to your site. Everyone worries about the detractors and the praisers. Maybe it is time to just worry about the average site visitor who does not want snarky comments and lists, but just the plain old straight forward facts to plan a plain old relaxing get-away.
There has been a fair amount of news this year about people who risk everything and ultimately lose their whole reputation. Why would anyone take that risk? An article on “What makes a rogue trader?” made me think about people who take risks without realizing that they have so much to lose. Also the news today about Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich being sentenced to 14 years in jail for corruption made me wonder what drove him to this pitiful situation. Money? Power? Just because he could do it. Interestingly, the article posits one theory….”What matters most of all is not how much a gamble alters their wealth, but where they start –whether they are already satisfied, or have suffered loss. Their overriding trait is their inability to accept loss.” Thus, these people are compelled to do whatever they have to in the name of gaining more wealth or achieving political office to avoid loss of their stature or status or sense that they are okay human beings. The loss seems to always outweigh what they sought in the first place. And these risk-takers lose all remnants of reputation and respect in the end. Something that you can’t even put a price on. Makes you think about Bernie Madoff. What was he thinking? His reputation is in shreds, at best.
We recently released an interesting exploration on the relationship between top corporate communications officers and legal counsel when it comes to reputation management. I have already posted about this relationship where these two senior corporate officers seem to be working together more than ever. In light of the multiplying crises that companies and its leaders are facing on an hourly basis, the relationship between the two officers including outside counsel has to be strong and respectful. As we say in the report, “general counsels (GCs) and chief communications officers (CCOs) are now finding themselves participating in the same reputation management strategy meetings, conference calls and contingency planning sessions. GCs, external legal advisors and CCOs now have no choice but to trust and understand each other.”
There are several noteworthy insights and best practices in “Managing Legal and Reputation Risk” but two stand out for me in particular. The first is that you can’t prepare enough and expect surprises. …”executives still find the nature or intensity of the situations they’ve managed to be unfamiliar or unanticipated on some level.” This is so true. There is always something overlooked or unexpected. In fact, it seems to me that it is getting harder to find precedence for some of the crises that arise. For example, the Olympus crisis has few precedents. For this very reason, being ready, practicing a few scenarios ahead of time and giving time to “near misses” are sensible readiness processes to have in place.
Another finding that resonated with me was how general counsels appeared more willing today to balance the interests of the business with legal priorities. They said this, not just me. There are times when the short term hit (such as apologizing or admitting that the company could have done better and will do better in the future) outweighs the costs of winning or losing in a court of law down the road. The fact that many of the legal counsels we interviewed agreed that the “short-term pain for long-term gain” is often the right strategy demonstrated the transformation in communications-legal circles that we explored.
Just returned from a multi-city tour of Europe where my colleagues and I talked about socializing your brand. This was based on our (Weber Shandwick) new recent research. We spoke to many clients and prospects about digital communications and the rewards and risks that come with this new territory. Someone asked how you balance the reward-risk ratio when your senior management does not recognize that digital is so important to reputation today. In fact, our research found senior marketing/brand/comms executives saying that over half (52%) of a brand reputation today is attributed to how social it is. And this figure is expected to grow exponentially as time goes by. This gentleman said that being a social brand is akin to surfing with sharks. I loved the analogy because it explains how great it can feel to employ digital to communicate and give voice to a brand’s story and yet how unexpected it can be when you feel that shark ripping into your reputation.
The answer of course is being prepared. That’s what the best of companies do. Crisis readiness gives you the head start you need today, in both a digital and non-digital world. Reputation is increasingly hard to manage while swimming with the unknown.
The second survey of Board Directors was just issued. The survey is conducted by Eisner Amper, audit, tax and business advisory professionals. They used their database and NACD’s Directorship magazine’s subscriber list of corporate directors. The survey reports on the opinions of 142 directors representing publicly and privately-held companies.
One of the questions they asked was which risks are most important to their boards, that is, besides financial risk (which probably begs a 100% answer!). The chart is below. At the top of the list is reputational risk — 69% said this is most important today. Reputational risk surpasses regulatory compliance risk (61%), CEO succession (55%) and IT risk (51%). I would posit that if this survey was done in the past few weeks, IT risk might have jumped up higher as a factor of major concern. The hacking and hobbling of computer networks at Boeing, Sony and the White House gmail accounts have had to certainly affect risk management concerns at board level. With regard to security risks, Eisner Amper wisely says: “The tools of today’s business heavily revolve around information technology, the Internet, the speed and degree of data transmission, and the pervasiveness of social media.” And everything that affects business affects reputation.
|Aside from financial risk, which are most important to your boards?||Board Directors|
|Regulatory compliance risk||61%|
|CEO succession planning||55%|
|Privacy and data security||33%|
|Risk due to fraud||21%|
Another question they asked which I like was where board directors go to for new information. In the 2011 survey, the leading sources were company management, publications, Internet, accounting/advisory firms and conferences (at 33%). I liked seeing the importance of conferences among the other sources because I firmly believe that getting out of the office and listening to other points of views provide opportunities for thinking beyond the same old ways about the same old problems. I wish I did more of this myself. We all need to close the door on our silos. For board members, this is a good sources considering how the problems they face have to be on high boil these days.
|Primary Sources for New Information||Board Directors|
|Accounting and advisory firms||36%|
At the end of their executive summary, Eiser Amper concludes:
“Protect. Protect. Protect. Reputational risk needs constant monitoring and analysis of the broader issues…Brand, company and personal reputation can change overnight. The speed of today’s business was unimagineable in years past, but its impact is real and protection is the name of the game.”
The incidents were the latest examples of what security experts call “reputational attacks” on media companies that publish material that the hackers disagree with. Such companies are particularly vulnerable to such attacks because many of them depend on online advertising and subscription revenue from Web sites that can be upended by the clicks of a hacker’s keyboard — and because unlike other targets, like government entities and defense contractors, they are less likely to have state-of-the-art security to thwart attacks.
As I was reading this article this morning on how several media companies were dealing with recent hackings, I noticed a call out box saying “So-called reputational attacks follow controversial reports.” The hackings over the past few days of news programs on public television came about because of negative stories that were clearly disliked by certain parties. I would underscore that most entities — government, military, corporate or otherwise — are having a very difficult time with hackers, privacy, leaked information, etc.
I was somewhat surprised when I saw “reputational attacks” in quotes as if this was a new label of sorts. Reputational attacks online have become commonplace and not just assaults on media companies. Either way, the most interesting element in the discussion on these “so-called reputational attacks” is the common refrain that they are usually the work of repressive governments. And these attacks are much more than reputation vandalism or Web site defacing. In fact, this is reputation warfare. No doubt about it.
The reputational risks that companies and organizations are increasingly facing continues to amaze me.