Archive for January, 2013

Corporate reputation put on notice in Edelman Trust Barometer 2013

Wednesday, January 23rd, 2013 by Jon Clements

A crisis of trust in organisational leadership and corporate reputation – nothing less – dominates the latest Edelman Trust Barometer 2013.

And the responsibility of business to rebuild trust and reputation couldn’t be more urgent.

The general population polled across 26 countries showed an average trust level of 49 in government, business, media and NGOs – where the most trusting populace (China) scored 70 and the least (Russia) bottomed out at 30.

But when it came to those trusting the business community less year-on-year, a cumulative 50 per cent cited “fraud, corruption and wrong incentives driving business decisions”; an unholy trinity of unethical slurry if ever there was one.

The banks and financial services, unsurprisingly – as covered widely before on PR Media Blog – bring up the rear among trusted sectors, polling only 50 per cent trust apiece. And nearly 60 per cent of the failings leading to such a poor trust rating for banks lay with the institutions themselves; theoretically within their control; though – seemingly – not practically (Libor fixing and PPI mis-selling, please stand up). As the Brand Builder blog writer, Olivier Blanchard says in his commentary on this year’s Trust Barometer: “Leadership and corporate culture are cited as the primary causes of corporate wrongdoing. (And rightly so.)”

For leaders at the top of their companies, the news doesn’t get much better: while academics, company experts and a “person like you” ranked highest for trustworthiness, CEOs came lowest in the corporate hierarchy. A mere 18 per cent of Edelman’s research sample trust business leaders to “tell the truth, regardless of how complex or unpopular it is”. To paraphrase punk poet, John Cooper Clarke, nobody has a good word for it, but Olivier Blanchard does: “execrable”.

Art can mirror life, and the consequences of a trust-fuelled crisis are played out well in the Danish drama, Borgen, currently lighting up Saturday night television in the UK.

In a recent episode, the character Amir – Climate Minister and Green Party member in a coalition government – who is causing aggravation for the Cabinet by his intransigence to relaxing environmental policies, so scuppering a broader policy agenda – has something of an anti-green skeleton in the cupboard.

The “gas guzzling car imported from Cuba” he owns for the occasional weekend pleasure drive does nothing for his environmental credentials, reputation and ability to instil trust in his motivation to impede the government’s social agenda for the good of the planet.

And his hypocrisy – however innocent – plays directly into the hands of his opponents and the media, labelling him a “big, fat liar”. Ultimately, he ends up, in the words of another character, “cornered” and immersed in the “worst experience of his life” at the hands of the media.

Similarly, companies with dark secrets should take to heart one of the lessons for leaders distilled by Edelman’s Trust Barometer 2013: “Trust is fragile and perceived behaviours are an anchor”.

As communicator and blogger, Neville Hobson, opines in his summary, “Edelman’s latest research adds a significant layer of credibility to the broad premise that the system really is broken and does need fixing.”

Here’s the full study from Edelman:


 

About Jon Clements

Jon Clements is a Chartered PR consultant specialising in B2B PR, corporate and marketing communications and is the founder of Metamorphic PR. Connect at: JonClements ''

Tarantino’s challenger brand lesson for brand leaders

Sunday, January 20th, 2013 by Jon Clements

How far does a company need to deviate from its established brand identity to achieve “cut-through” or “stand-out”?

It’s understandable that mature brands feel they have a lot to lose by taking risks with their customers’ expectations and this can result, with brands becoming inherently conservative in their marketing communications; in a competitive B2B or B2C market, brands can begin to look increasingly homogenous.

The challenger or upstart brand, conversely, isn’t inhibited by such mundane considerations.

Take “Brand Quentin Tarantino”…

This weekend his latest film, the violent Western and slavery drama, Django Unchained, opened in the UK, after three weeks in which it became the director’s highest grossing film in the US market ever. And despite high profile criticism from African Americans such as fellow film director, Spike Lee, it appears a large proportion of the US black population is unperturbed by accusations of disrespect for its ancestors, with 30% of the audience coming from that community.

However, 25 years after his first film, Reservoir Dogs, was released – establishing Tarantino as the new “enfant terrible” of independent cinema – the director is no longer the upstart brand, with “Django” placed fourth in the US box office top 10, ahead of blockbusters including Les Miserables and Steven Spielberg’s Lincoln.

I was fortunate enough, in 1993 – as arts reporter for the Nottingham Evening Post – to interview Tarantino as part of the UK premiere of Reservoir Dogs at the city’s Broadway Cinema. The young writer-director was a highly-engaging study in obsessive and infectious enthusiasm for film, and his inaugural piece of work made me walk out of the cinema, mid-film, in disgust. Not that I was afraid of challenging films, but the violence – particularly the infamous ear-slicing scene sound-tracked by the Steeler’s Wheel song, “Stuck in the Middle with You” – seemed like cinematic shock for shock’s sake and neither clever nor innovative.

But Tarantino wasn’t making films typical of the time – Home Alone 3, The Bodyguard or Wayne’s World, for example – and he didn’t need to care about big film studio box office. Of course, my myopic viewpoint on Reservoir Dogs was wrong and Tarantino’s work changed not just independent cinema, but all cinema thereafter.

And while the blood-drenched, Tarantino-esque violence remains an integral part of his cinematic “brand”, his films have clearly extended their appeal to a more mainstream audience since 1993.

But what he’s done to make each successive film continually stand out – while simultaneously broadening his mass appeal and becoming a mature fixture in cinema – is by taking familiar, well-trodden celluloid territory and giving it a fresh and unexpected feel. His Jackie Brown added another shade to crime film noir, the Kill Bills put new kick into the Kung Fu genre and, now, Django Unchained is a brilliant homage to the radically diverse Westerns of John Ford, Sergio Leone and Sam Peckinpah. With each new film, the audience isn’t alienated, but reassured, that it’s being led into a world it knows, but then thrilled with Tarantino’s daring take on that world.

And so, a well-established brand needn’t be afraid of taking a previously unheard-of risk in its marketing communications, if the customer or other audience has already a high degree of trust and regard for the quality of what it provides. In fact, taking a calculated risk might be the only way to really stand out during a period of competitive consideration by the customer.

Risk is a relative concept, and only you know how far you need, or should, go to stand out in your business or industry. But Tarantino, 25 years on, is still taking daring risks in his work and attracting flak from some quarters while, at the same time, clowning around as a guest on Graham Norton’s late night light entertainment TV show. You can’t get much cuddlier than that, can you?

About Jon Clements

Jon Clements is a Chartered PR consultant specialising in B2B PR, corporate and marketing communications and is the founder of Metamorphic PR. Connect at: JonClements ''

Leading the ethical charge in financial services

Wednesday, January 16th, 2013 by Duncan Minty

There are many steps that a firm working in financial services can take to build up a culture that respects ethical behaviours, but there’s only one that acts as the keystone holding all the others in place. That keystone is the ‘tone from the top’: in other words, how the firm’s leadership sets, supports and acts upon, the right behaviours that will embed an ethical culture across their firm.

Many of those ‘tone from the top’ decisions will be made in boardrooms, where priorities are set, performances monitored and challenges assessed. Yet it will undoubtedly fail as the keystone of a firm’s ethical culture unless such decisions are brought to the attention of audiences such as employees, suppliers and business partners. Executives need to not only make the right decision, but be seen to make the right decision.

There can however be a temptation to reinforce the positive nature of ‘doing the right thing’ with lots of positive messages about how the firm’s leadership is doing to deliver it. Resist that temptation, for ethical decisions are often tricky and sometimes messy. By all means make sure your staff know of your commitment to paying suppliers on time, but equally, make sure they know when you’ve dismissed a key member of staff for inappropriate behaviour, or when you’re right behind an account executive who lost a key client through a refusal to pay a bribe.

Being open with staff in this way has two benefits: it shows them that your commitment to ethics is strong enough to cope with both the rough and the smooth, and it encourages them to be open with you in return. An ethical culture will flourish when it is more something to be aired and discussed, and less something that they just get told about.

So where should you start with tone from the top? It may seem rather paradoxical, but listening is strongly recommended. What are your employees saying about ethics at the moment? What sort of feedback are they getting from customers? Every firm has a prevailing culture and finding out how ethics currently sits within it gives you the starting point, and the challenges, that should shape your own particular ‘tone from the top’.

All this should keep your firm’s communications team busy, however, before they roll their sleeves up and get stuck in, agree some ground rules with them. Building an ethical culture takes time and is not always an easy path. Consistency in how you communicate both the ups and downs along that path is important, for it helps sustain the credibility of your tone from the top.

About Duncan Minty

Duncan is an independent consultant in business ethics, with a particular interest in financial services.

Corporate reputation – the perennial challenge

Sunday, January 13th, 2013 by Jon Clements

Companies feeling comfortable with their present level of corporate reputation may well be tempted to sit back and bask in the sunshine of public adulation. Well, all I can say is enjoy your reputation vacation while it lasts.

Nothing is more predictable than the change in company fortunes when an organisation begins to deviate from the fundamental values that underpin any success it has enjoyed. And even the seemingly unassailable companies and brands can faulter, lose reputation and considerable financial value when things go wrong.

CoreBrand, which measures the “favourability” and “familiarity” of 1,000 corporate brands across the USA, has listed its 10 brands facing serious reputation challenges in 2013. As several of the examples show, even the most powerful firms’ fortunes are cyclical and recovery from a reputation crisis – or a prolonged period of bad management, arrogance or other counter-productive corporate behaviour – needs concerted attention over the ensuing months and years.

Despite 2012 being a vintage year for reputation meltdown in business, it’s certainly nothing new. When deciding on a dissertation topic as part of my CIPR Chartered Practitioner process in the middle of 2010, the topic of corporate reputation challenge was self-selecting.

The company catastrophes – and appalling initial public responses – topical at the time  were exemplified by the first, major Toyota vehicle recall, the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico and the fact that a Rolls-Royce aircraft engine on an A380 Airbus caught fire mid-flight – all sent the issue of corporate reputation management to the top of the in-tray.

The study I produced for the CIPR Chartered process – “The Reputation Challenge” – had the benefit of tapping into the knowledge and expertise of some of the most eminent experts in corporate reputation: among them Leslie Gaines-Ross, Ronald J Alsop and Peter Firestein, whose book “Crisis of Character: building corporate reputation in the age of skepticism” featured the unequivocal comment that “a risk to [a company’s] reputation is a threat to the survival of the enterprise”, no less.

Here, below, is a copy of “The Reputation Challenge” which, despite being completed more than two years ago, seems pertinent in 2013 to the perennial challenge of managing corporate reputation.

 


About Jon Clements

Jon Clements is a Chartered PR consultant specialising in B2B PR, corporate and marketing communications and is the founder of Metamorphic PR. Connect at: JonClements ''

Tempered personal branding pips hyperbole

Sunday, January 6th, 2013 by Jon Clements

The concept of “personal branding” used to be known as – and was encapsulated by – the humble curriculum vitae, or résumé if Stateside.

But where a CV would be the way to communicate one’s background and abilities to a limited audience –p recruitment firms and potential employers –now,  people’s increased visibility across the internet by virtue of social and professional media has turned us into branded products to be managed; that is, if you care sufficiently about how brand “YOU” is portrayed. If not, then the Facebook photos showing you comatose and semi-clothed at the Christmas party might as well remain.

There is something slightly dystopian in treating ourselves as “brands” whose value can appreciate or depreciate by simply being our, imperfect, selves. And if commercial brands – supported by an infrastructure of management, protection and guardianship – can fail, what hope do we have maintaining our personal brand equity, if such a phrase can be used without inducing involuntary vomiting.

A successful brand is only so because of the promises it makes and keeps, time and again; the promises kept are the reason the customer develops the trust to come back for more. And what the customer trusts is, in fact, the brand’s reputation, which is why the real value is more difficult to build and maintain than creating merely a recognisable image.

Similarly, personal branding can become a personal reputation landmine if the emphasis on image manipulation is greater than the truth behind it.

Stefan Stern, visiting professor in management practice at Cass Business School, London, called it “bigging yourself upin his Guardian comment article, of which the worst examples are described as “humblebrag”, aka “falsely modest declarations that betray the self-satisfaction and boastfulness of the speaker.” He accuses our two most senior political leaders – Prime and Deputy Prime Ministers Cameron and Clegg – of such “humblebrag” behaviour; maybe protesting their validity too strongly when the results they have to show are so scant. Then again, the residents of Hell would be acquiring hats, scarves and gloves long before politicians chose to be candid about their shortcomings.

Stern goes on to say:

“It is better if the nice things we say about ourselves have solid foundations…but some people are clearly feeling so vulnerable that they are making grand and exaggerated claims. We can’t all be quite as creative and innovative as that. Self-esteem is one thing and permahype is another.”

What you claim about yourself, in a bid to manage your “personal brand”, needs to stand up to scrutiny, in the same way the claims made by companies about their products need to be true. Attempts to dress something up as something it’s not would be decried as “spin” or worse.

What you say you are matters far less than what you do. And if you’ve done enough to substantiate your CV, there should be no need for hyperbole. After all, you’re only human. And, to paraphrase the famous quote about avoiding exercise, if you suddenly get the feeling that you’re a brand, I suggest you lie down until the feeling goes away.

About Jon Clements

Jon Clements is a Chartered PR consultant specialising in B2B PR, corporate and marketing communications and is the founder of Metamorphic PR. Connect at: JonClements ''

Corporate reputation resolutions for 2013

Thursday, January 3rd, 2013 by Jon Clements

 

Laurence Oliver and Frank Finlay in Shakespeare’s Othello – a study in the power of reputation.

 

Among the other resolutions that New Year brings, how will business leaders resolve to improve their companies’ corporate reputation in 2013?

And, oh boy, does the business world need to clean up its act.

With the exception of two among Channel 4’s top 10 business stories of 2012, scandal, fraud, bad practice and incompetence appear to reign supreme. In most cases of exposed corporate malfeasance, somebody is made to pay; either in cold, hard cash fines, doing time behind bars, resignation or getting a dressing down in front of politicians.

But, surely, it shouldn’t require a reputation crisis to instigate action that protects the most valuable intangible asset on the balance sheet. Equally, reputation damage should be considered more than just a mere “marketing mishap”.

Among the 2012 examples in Marketing Magazine’s top 10 marketing mishaps round-up, several of them present problems that run far deeper than giving the marketing director sleepless nights. Starbucks’ tax revelations resulted in the company making a larger, one-off payment than the corporation tax it was actually due to pay, such is the shock to the corporate system that attends a major and well-publicised reputation blunder.

The timing of Starbucks’ tax affairs exposure – and that of other companies including Amazon, Facebook and Google – couldn’t have been worse, as the UK deals with on-going economic austerity. As journalist Seamus Milne commented, “Companies that are milking the country at the expense of the majority are especially vulnerable to brand damage. Forcing them to pay up is a matter of both social justice and economic necessity.”

What with HSBC’s money laundering travails, the fiasco and expense of G4S’ Olympic personnel shortfall and the sheer brass neck involved in Barclays Bank’s rigging of the Libor interbank lending rate, what has gone wrong with corporate governance? Is business less about building a long-term reputation and more about  the short term tactic of “what can we get away with”?

Business journalist, Simon Caulkin, blames the Chicago school of economics which, he says, “put at the heart of governance a reductive ‘economic man’ view of human nature needing to be bribed or whipped to do their exclusive job of maximising shareholder returns.” And the net result of this, he claims, has been “downtrodden and outsourced workers, mis-sold-to customers, exploited suppliers and underpowered innovation”.

Caulkin calls upon the eminent Peter Drucker in summing up what he thinks justifies the pursuit of business from his 1954 book, The Practice of Management: “Free enterprise cannot be justified as being good for business. It can be justified only as being good for society”.

In an attempt to reconcile what some companies may see as the unrelated ambitions of philanthropy and making profit, what reputation resolutions should they be making this year?

  • Ask yourself – who or what is the living, breathing conscience of your organisation? The CEO tends to carry the bulk of expectation when it comes to embodying and protecting corporate reputation. But should there be others specified and empowered to monitor your reputation radar, both internally and externally, and given the freedom and licence to call out bad practice or behaviour incompatible with a sound reputation.


  • Keep your friends close and your enemies closer…you don’t have to like your detractors, but it can help to empathise with them and their position about your company. Don’t give them the ability to accuse you of not listening.


  • How well do you know what your staff think and feel about working for your business? When was the last time you asked them? The way they feel – and how that’s transmitted to your customers, suppliers or other stakeholders – puts your company reputation firmly in their hands.


  • What does your market make of you? When did you last take the time to seek out some home truths from your customers and confront the most unpalatable facts about your business?


  • How widely are you listening? Beyond the more obvious places where your company might be mentioned and your reputation affected – such as in the mainstream media – there is a world of online chatter that, though beyond your control, is not beyond your influence.


  • How well-prepared are you for a reputation crisis? Complex planning documents may well end up collecting dust on a shelf, but that doesn’t mean a core group of decision makers and communicators within your organisation, plus an external consultancy if you have one, shouldn’t have a crisis plan in place for when the worst happens. Reputation strategist, Leslie Gaines-Ross emphasises the importance of a CEO in a crisis.


  • How much do you value the power of the apology? After a major mess-up, exhibiting arrogance, disregard or just inaction are reputation Kryptonite whereas eating humble pie early on, along with having a clear, demonstrable plan of action for rectifying your mistakes, are essential.


  • How well are you managing your Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) efforts? According to the Reputation InstituteA five point increase in a CSR rating would result in a 9.1% rise in the number of people who would definitely recommend a company. There is real money in improving reputation through CSR, but companies are failing to leverage this. 

 

Leaving the penultimate paragraph to the words of Simon Caulkin:

“The irony is that we know what makes companies prosper in the long term. They manage themselves as whole systems, look after their people, use targets and incentives with extreme caution, keep pay differentials narrow (we really are in this together) and treat profits as the score rather than the game. And it’s a given that in the long term companies can’t thrive unless they have society’s interests at heart along with their own.”

Here’s to a Happy, and reputable, New Year!

About Jon Clements

Jon Clements is a Chartered PR consultant specialising in B2B PR, corporate and marketing communications and is the founder of Metamorphic PR. Connect at: JonClements ''