Posts Tagged ‘transparency’

Crisis demands understanding, says expert Hennes

Thursday, February 21st, 2013

IABC Cleveland is no stranger to Bruce Hennes. He’s the 2011 communicator of the year and his firm, Hennes/Paynter, is the local champion of effective crisis management through communication. At the 21 Feb. lunch, a small but lively crowd ate up his pithy prescriptions for communicating in very bad times.

I’ve seen Bruce speak many times, first at a luncheon for the Legal Marketing Association, then at an IABC lunch in 2011, and now today, and he always impresses me. As a speaker, he’s an unassuming guy, not given to theatrics, but his content is peerless and his delivery always excellent. Many speakers could learn from him how to hold an audience’s attention through sheer strength of story.

Hennes uses catchy terms — the 3 Tells, 3 V’s, F’up, Fess-up, Fix-up  —  and demonstrates through example what he means. The first of these is the command that supercedes all others — you have to tell the truth, tell it first and tell it all. The 3 V’s are the frame that the media places around stories. Everyone involved is one of these: Victim, Villain, or Vindicator. Care to guess where business (especially executives), education administrators and other “powerful” people find themselves?  The goal for most organizations in the midst of a crisis is to move from villain to vindicator, he says. When you, ahem, Mess up, you need to fess up and describe what you’re doing to make sure it never happens again.

The media brings its own filter to the proceedings, and they’re on the lookout for you to reinforce the role they want you to play. That’s why “no comment” or its usual cousins are so bad — what does “no comment” mean to you? Guilty!  Hennes insists that the media’s job isn’t to inform or educate, it’s to tell stories — the triumph of the Little Guy over the Establishment being a fairly common one — Victim, Villain, Vindicator.

The good thing is that when we know that, we can take action.  Hennes tells a story about an embezzlement scandal at a governmental organization. Hennes/Paynter brought the executive director straight to a reporter and gave them the story in exquisite detail, without violating privacy dicta, and when the very big story broke, its headline put the organization in very positive light, instead of the reverse. The reporter told Hennes later, that if the organization had not brought the story in, the paper would have socked it to the organization big time.

Entertaining, educational and excellent all the way around.

Note: I’m still having no luck uploading photos for the blog since it changed URLs. Help? 

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Putting Management on the Nice List

Tuesday, December 18th, 2012

By Amanda Marko

It’s the time of year when we’re all making our lists and checking them twice. A recent stop at the rental car counter gave me a peek at what me employees have on their wish lists.

While waiting for my keys, I overhead a customer pointed out that a policy was being implemented differently at another branch. The employees didn’t argue the point; instead they were eager to comply, but also quick to lament that management hadn’t shared the information with them. From the sounds of the conversation, this wasn’t the first time management had failed to convey a policy change.

The employees seemed disappointed, frustrated and a little embarrassed. They were earnestly trying to provide excellent customer service, but they felt doomed to fall short of a standard set by the leadership.

The rental car company is far from alone. “Tell us what you’re doing, so we know what we should be doing,” is a cry from employees that doesn’t get heard at the highest levels of many organizations.

Employees want to be a part of the solution, but if they don’t know the reasons for policies, procedures and initiatives, their hands are tied when it comes to execution. Employees need to know the why so they can have confidence in their role.

Management can give employees what they really want by making a list of its own. Instead of a wish list, it’s a to-do list that will make the business strategy the guide for of every person in every corner of the organization.

• Share the rationale for the strategy – don’t shield employees from harsh realities.
• Personalize the strategy for individuals, teams, regions, business units and functional areas.
• Put measurements in place and celebrate progress.
• Tell stories of all types of employees demonstrating the model behaviors.
• Encourage employees to contribute ideas within the framework of the strategy, and then implement them.

Your business strategy is powerful. It can motivate, inspire and guide everyone in the organization. Used correctly, the strategy can help management build trust, remove barriers, and protect the brand. When employees understand the strategy, they will be empowered to set priorities and execute consistently.

What else should be on management’s to-do list to make employees’ wishes list come true?

Amanda Marko, president of Connected Strategy Group, connects companies with stakeholders to make the business strategy reality and goals achievable during times of change. Connect with her online at www.connectedstrategygroup.com and on Twitter @connectedstrat.

 

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PR is NOT the Guardian of Corporate Reputation

Friday, November 16th, 2012

A guest post by James G.Savage — A few weeks ago Sean posted eloquently on the value of a firms’ reputation. Akin to the accounting concept of goodwill, there is general agreement that reputation and, hence, reputational risk is, in fact, tangible and material. In light of the wreckage of the past few years, stakeholders increasingly assume companies are on top of reputational issues, but in fact most companies still do not have any sort of proactive reputation management strategy, with no holistic approach to building reputation and mitigating risk.

Functionally, who owns corporate reputation? In the risk management world there is a fierce debate going on right now over that very point. Most corporate communicators reading this blog would probably assume PR is front and centre here, as communications is at the intersection of brand, business, stakeholders and reputation.

And they’d be dead wrong.

Reputation management remains at a very nascent stage. Like the parable of the blind men and the elephant, various internal ‘experts’ within the enterprise approach corporate reputation from their specific fields of expertise. Within companies, the C-suite assumes reputation is top-of-mind for all employees, while specific functions – enterprise risk management/GRC (governance, risk and compliance), marketing, communications, operations, product development, corporate sustainability, even IT – equally assume they “own” guardianship of the firm’s reputation. These various parties work diligently in splendid isolation from one another, often falling victim to the critical myths I outlined in an earlier white paper.

The author of KPMG’s authoritative Reputational Risk Survey, Dr. Thomas Kaiser, put it this way in a recent interview with Britain’s Risk Universe magazine:

The role of PR departments is essential for ‘clean-up’ operations following a reputational risk event, but they should not be key in its active management. Reputational risk is not a PR exercise – the underlying problems of any event need to be solved rather than actively managed after the event.

To me, that quotation epitomizes the singular failure of corporate communications to get beyond the tactical and be seen as central for business strategy and corporate reputation. Kaiser adds that “people (in the enterprise) need to define their role in reputation management.

So I’ll put it out there for this blog’s readers. Has PR missed the boat? Are we down there in the weeds thinking reputation management is merely a matter of getting rid of that nasty Facebook post or Twitter meme without taking the lead in communicating to the C-suite why the attacks on reputation are occurring? Have communicators been sidetracked by CSR into being the Pious Works department?

If PR doesn’t lead, then whom?

Jim Savage is principal of Reputation Leadership Group (www.reputationleadershipgroup.com) (RLG), of which Sean is a member of the board of advisors. They have been collaborating and co-conspiring happily for many years.

 

 

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Notebook: Reputation questions to chew on

Monday, September 10th, 2012

With trust in business — particularly big business — holding steady, but near all-time lows, and a political climate bent on slavish promotion of business and business people on one side, and equally slavish denunciation of business and business people on the other, where does that leave the public relations function of reputation management?

What are the components of reputation, and how do you measure them? What role do business executives play in supporting or undermining reputation? How do social media reflect popular opinion — or not? Do transactional relationships help or hinder reputation? Do simple errors constitute a crisis of reputation? Why or why not?

How should businesses (and other organizations) respond to reputation issues? What role does organizational behavior play? What about employee behavior, customer service, problem resolution?

I’m pondering these things, and realizing that they’ll take some research and exploration.  Stay tuned for some expert witnesses in this space in the days and weeks to come.

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Giving marketers – and marketing – a bad name

Monday, August 27th, 2012

The 26 August edition of the New York Times carries a long story about Todd Rutherford, an Oklahoma entrepreneur who in 2010 started a company that solicited authors to buy online reviews of their work.  Rutherford paid freelancers to write the reviews, and for a little while, was making $28,000 per month. The piece quotes him saying, “These were marketing reviews, not editorial reviews.”  Yeah, well, once upon a time there was a difference.

They have a term for when you buy space to trumpet your products and services: Advertising. A review in a publication or a broadcast is editorial content — by definition, it cannot be paid for. That division ensures that the reader/viewer is getting a third party view of the material, not one colored by someone with a vested interest in it.  If you made the rash conclusion that “user” reviews on Amazon are written by real users, I guess pity the fool. I often thought the reviews were too fawning and too “professional” to be done by real people, but I figured, “hey, if someone styles themselves a critic and wants to write 500 words on this book, movie, whatever, go for it.” It never occurred to me that someone was out there paying for reviews. Jeepers, no wonder so many Amazon books get five stars.

The Times spends 70 paragraphs exploring this issue. We hear from eBook authors who paid for reviews, freelance writers who wrote them (nearly always without reading the publication in question) and Rutherford himself now “regrets his venture into what he called, ‘artificially embellished reviews.'”

As much as I am a committed free marketeer, I still have quite a lot of heartburn about this. Rutherford says the market will take care of the issue, with true negative reviews overcoming the false positives. I’m not so sure about that.  I wrote earlier about bloggers taking either direct payments or junkets in exchange for talking about a product or company. This seems clearly to be in the realm of deception –under the law, the relationship between advertiser (the authors) and the editorial source (the  publication) has to be disclosed. Only then is the consumer of the review equipped to judge its veracity and its utility.

Rutherford’s firm was engaged in deliberate deception — the authors got the ratings and reviews that helped with sales (though some of the more successful ones didn’t give credit), Rutherford and the freelancers made money.  This doesn’t work for me. It’s fraud.

 

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Why is telling the truth so hard?

Monday, June 18th, 2012

Creative Commons, by Brian Hillegas

The Institute for PR has published “Ethical standards and guidelines for public relations research and measurement“, which PRNewser’s Tonya Garcia summarized as “Basically, don’t be a horrible, self-serving liar.” The statement, By Dr. Shannon Bowen, John Gilfeather, & Dr. Brad Rawlins, is a stake in the ground, and on the surface might seem to be a statement of the obvious. But PR as a profession still seems ethically dubious — witness the latest in a long line of Walmart amazin’s stories.

Walmart hired Mercury Public Affairs to lobby LA city hall to approve construction of a store in Chinatown. No problem. But when Mercury employee Stephanie Harnett went to a meeting of Warehouse Workers United, which wants to unionize Walmart’s workers, she lied about who she was, claiming to be journalism student from the University of Southern California.

Both Walmart and Mercury declaimed any responsibility — Mercury saying that she was a junior member of their staff and that no one, neither Mercury nor Walmart, told her to do any such thing.  I’d be tempted to write this off as a sad commentary on PR education and the “anything goes” culture of the modern age, but Socrates did a better job of making that argument.

What seems likely is that both Mercury and Walmart tossed her under the bus. Media reports say that Harnett was shaking like a leaf during her ruse, so she has to know that what she was doing was wrong. Of course, apparently she got over it in short order. Her Twitter account is closed (good idea; it can’t have been much fun to read the tweets), and she’s keeping a low profile.

Walmart’s not known as a Pantheon of ethics — the Astroturf campaign, the Mexico bribery issue. And many PR firms seem willing to do whatever will generate revenue, from selling war through deliberate falsehood to representing dictators.  PR ethics can seem like a contradiction in terms.

But I won’t give up, and neither should you. Thanks to Bowen, Gilfeather and Rawlins, we’ve got another arrow in our quiver.

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Ethics starts with “me”

Wednesday, March 21st, 2012

If the public relations industry isn’t evil, it is frequently unethical, caught in a Hobson’s choice between making a living and living a moral and ethically sound life.  Have you opted to do something that doesn’t feel right because your boss, or your client wants it?

The anonymity of the Internet makes it easy: create a phony profile on Yahoo! Finance and go to it. Stir the pot on your company’s message boards, pick fights, misdirect.  Comment on Twitter under a false name and hide the fact the company’s paying you to foster Twitter dialogue.

How about priming the comment stream about your company’s product?

It’s all too easy to say, “Well, if our agency doesn’t do this, the client will just find someone else who will.” Or, “I’ll get fired if I don’t do it.”

We often seem to think that ethical problems are someone else’s concern. But it all starts with “me,” not with “you or them.”

At what price will you sell your ethical soul?

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PR as sales support: EZ 2 Measure, but…

Thursday, September 22nd, 2011

Our ongoing conundrum in public relations measurement is how best to move our practice from simple output measures to more substantive matters. Mostly, we struggle to connect our outputs to business outcomes – results. This puzzle has led to thinking of ourselves as extensions of marketing, looking to conduct activities that have a more direct impact on sales. Certainly a fair number of people are having a fair amount of success in that respect.

There are a few things that worry me about this type of focus. Among them, Whither internal communications?  Subject matter that targets employee engagement often has little direct effect on revenue. Even attempts to get employees to “think like owners” and “spend each dollar like it was your own” have to have only the most tangential effect on savings. Does that mean we shouldn’t attempt to help employees identify with the company? Avoid communicating the benefits of working there? Forget about generating employee ambassadors?  I hope not.

What about corporate social responsibility? Helping to create the environment where the organization can thrive is critical, but doesn’t turn up consistently on a balance sheet. There’s research that says people want to do business with companies that match their own ethical priorities, but that’s not the same direct connection as conducting a product PR campaign focused on sales.

Investor relations and government relations have different impact than direct sales – it’s part of the public affairs world that, like CSR, has a roundabout relationship to sales. Do we stop doing that? (BTW, I’m aware that these are usually separate departments, but stick with me, please.)

As apocryphal as these cases might sound, there’s a real danger in thinking of PR only in the direct-sales case. Our profession is wider than that.  When we seek to measure only in ROI terms (a financial term with a financial result), we unnecessarily limit ourselves and start to think that if one sees everything as a nail, every tool looks like a hammer.

Reputation and issues management should be critical to strategy development. Third-party endorsement and the two-step flow to influencers are still relevant.  Sales-related PR isn’t wrong or bad — it’s just not the only relevant game in town.  We have other tools in the toolbox that serve different purposes…All marketing is communication, but not all communication is marketing.

 

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Collaboration – 3rd “C” Toward Integration

Thursday, August 11th, 2011
Copyright, Creative Commons

The essence of collaboration

We think of integration as logical for organizational communication. But there’s resistance to integration as well, from budget jealousy to outright turf wars preventing even the low-hanging fruit from being plucked.   As I wrote earlier, we can realize a lot of the benefits of integration by adopting a step-by-step process, starting with communication, proceeding to coordination and finally to collaboration. These are the 3 C’s.

Collaboration is working jointly with others or together, especially in an intellectual endeavor (adapted from Merriam-Webster). The key difference between coordination and collaboration in our context is discrete effort: when we collaborate, we decide to combine our efforts toward completion of an activity. Here are two examples from my own history.

The Goodyear Tire & Rubber Company operates a decentralized communication team, with the geographic business units in Asia, Europe/Middle East/Africa, Latin America and North America each operating its own communication team.  The heads of comms for each have a dotted line back to the chief communication officer, but budgets and functional reporting is to the business unit, usually to the unit president.

Goodyear moved along the 3 C’s spectrum slowly. It used to be that sharing strategy and plans was strictly ad-hoc; some units would forward a couple of pages to the CCO, some would give only the broadest outline. That made it very difficult to represent for the function with any sort of context, let alone establish common processes.  Best practices among units didn’t circulate well, and even budget visibility was limited.

By establishing an HQ position dedicated to increasing both communication and coordination, Goodyear was eventually able to establish a common planning process, combination bottom-up and top down.  With the intranet circulating best practices (often just a short story detailing what PR event had occurred and the results), in short order teams within units began to collaborate, borrowing event strategies and communication content from one another and working on cross-functional projects. Members of the corporate communication team were even invited to speak at regional communication meetings.

At National City Corporation following a determined effort to increase communication and collaboration across the communication function (see my posts Use 3 C’s to Work Together and The 3 C’s Toward Integration: Coordination), Marketing reached out to the retail communication group for assistance with a new campaign.

Corporate Communications worked with other units on materials development, retail asked for Corporate Comm help for a retail investing project, and Corporate Communications, Legal and Investor Relations formed a cross-functional team to work on financial PR releases. Even the measurement program benefited from collaboration, with marketing asking Corporate Communications to research the impact of news media coverage on a direct mail campaign, and corporate comms working with marketing to include unpaid media in its regular brand research (See “Measuring Company A”), and the Risk group asking for Corporate Comms help in understanding the impact of media on reputation.

Both of these cases marched steadily from communication to collaboration.  At both companies, there also were situations where they got stuck — a business process optimization team struggled to get past the communication stage, for example, and never made it to collaboration. But even in that case, the visibility of budget spend and the decision to coordinate several business unit and function-specific process improvements still demonstrated value.

It’s hard to truly integrate departments for a lot of reasons — the desire of executives to control their expense profiles top-to-bottom, among them.  The financial folks will want to add a fourth C — consolidation — which often seems like a synonym for integration. No leader wants to give up either headcount or budget willingly, regardless of the benefits — alignment, consistency and efficiency among the most frequently noted.

However, if we apply the 3 C’s effectively, we can gain all the benefits of integration except the financial ones.  For a lot of organizations, that’ll work just fine.

 

 

 

 

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‘Change Agents’ often get changed

Monday, August 1st, 2011

Allstate Corp. announced the departure of Joseph Lacher, the head of its home and auto insurance businesses, and the Wall Street Journal blames comments Lacher made about company CEO Thomas J. Wilson.  According to the Journal story, Lacher used a multi-syllabic phrase with lots of F’s and K’s and S’s while complaining about the company’s financial results.

Apparently Lacher has been under scrutiny for a while — the second-largest U.S. insurer pointed to less than-expected results in Lacher’s unit for his abrupt departure, which the Journal says came a couple of months after the vulgar commentary.

Why is this worth discussing?

A Wall Street analyst said that Lacher had been brought on board as “an agent of change,” with an eye toward revamping the company’s culture and improving operations. This is familiar.  Large, older companies often have proud histories and well-established cultures that can be (well, nearly always are) resistant to change, particularly if the change is coming from “an outsider.”

I have no idea what sort of leader Lacher was (or is) — but I know of several cases where external talent is brought to a company to shake things up and change the status quo, and the status quo rebels. We know that senior leaders can be a little, well, arrogant.  They’re here because someone thought enough of them to pay them the big bucks and hand them a bunch of responsibility, that mostly, they earned via a track record of accomplishments.

Confidence isn’t in short supply, and many believe they’re fixing something that’s broken, especially in companies with recent operational and performance issues. That can lead to abrasive personalities and griping managers.

But who cares if they gripe? You hired this person to make change, and nobody likes change. What winds up happening is that the reactionary forces inside the company overwhelm the change forces. You can’t get things done and the regression to “what’s always been done before” drags down performance.

In most cases, the conventional wisdom says that a new leader needs to establish a specific plan for his/her first 100 days. Many say that outlining priorities for change during that time is essential, but I disagree.

The first 100 days should be spent asking questions and listening.

What are the main issues that hold down performance? How have you addressed them in the past? What was most and least effective? Who are your stars? What makes them successful? How do you and your team work together? What are your personal strengths and weaknesses?

Describe a time when you’ve had to make a difficult change to your work, your life or your team? What did you think you did well during that time? What would you do-over if you had the chance?

You can’t assume that the changes you plan to make are right for the new organization. You need to learn and tailor your recommendations to your new company.

Joe Lacher had been at Allstate for a while, two years this fall, and the Journal cited sources that claimed he was getting frustrated with his boss’s style.  It could be that Lacher used his first 100 days wisely, or perhaps he got everyone peeved and wore his ambition on his sleeve.

Change can’t be imposed, it has to emerge, and it needs the right conditions to thrive.  You won’t make change by telling your team that the CEO is a F’ing A$$.

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