Reputation Call-Outs for the Week


Woefully, I did not get to write this week. It just flew by with meetings and work to be done. And here it is Saturday again and I'm catching up with my work and eager to get to work on my blog. I saved a few things from the week to write about because they all are reputation-related in some way. Here they are:

  1. I was very pleased to see the squarespace advertisement early on in the Superbowl last Sunday night. The feedback from what I understand has been positive. This blog is written using squarespace and I think their sites are beautiful and easy to create. They are a reputation-polisher.
  2. For all those new CEOs and executives out there, some timely advice from Fay Vincent, president and CEO of Columbia Pictures Industries in the WSJ. He has 10 suggestions for those in charge. Some are tried and true and worth repeating such as (#2) Be sure to manage down, (#4) Keep listening to and for advice and (#7) Never complain, never explain. Vincent says he wishes someone told him these when he started at the top.
  3. Talking of new CEOs, the new CEO of Microsoft was named. His introduction to the world was nicely done (check it out as a great First 100 Days strategy) and enhanced his down-to-earth reputation. I especially liked his email to employees on day one. You can tell that the new CEO, Satya Nadella, likes to read poetry from reading this email. It is simply stated but oh so well-written with a melodious cadence and authenticity. Right out of the box, he mentions how humble he feels being named to the honorable task ahead of him. He then describes himself and his mandate in four sections -- Who am I? Why am I here? Why are we here? What do we do next? The answers to all these questions are undoubtedly what employees want to know. Nadella had one paragraph that I found especially appealing and worth calling out. He wrote: "Next, every one of us needs to do our best work, lead and help drive cultural change. We sometimes underestimate what we each can do to make things happen and overestimate what others need to do to move us forward. We must change this." This is a great message because we are all accountable, not just leadership. No one can just sit back today and wait for permission to act.
  4. At the start of the week, the NYT columnist Andrew Ross Sorkin called for an apology cease-fire. He says that the avalanche of in lea apologies are calling into question their sincerity and turning into apology-theater. I too follow how apologies have become de rigueur for reputation repair. They are expected, whether they are mere performance art or the real thing. They have become habitual. Sorkin and management guru Dov Seidman have started an Apology Watch on DealBook and started #ApologyWatch on Twitter.  They will be looking at what companies do post-apology and keeping them honest. Poor reputations, beware!


how to build a reputation for thought leadership

The term "thought leadership" has become ubiquitous. I confess to being guilty of using the buzzword. I call myself a thought leader and tell people who ask what I do that I do thought leadership for a living. People seem to understand but I might just be talking to people in my industry or perhaps to the overly-polite. Years ago I defined "thought leadership" when I wrote a book about the importance of building CEO reputation by having something to say about the future instead of talking about your company's products. Fast forward to today and thought leadership is now morphing into content marketing. I like to think, however, that thought leadership is the better half of content marketing. Much of content marketing today is pushing out talk about your company and all the great things it is doing without thinking about whether it is new, interesting, useful, relevant and compelling. Building a reputation for thought leadership is about ideas that keep a company at the forefront of change. It should transcend sectors and geographic borders. It should...

  1. Enrich the company’s relationships with its key constituencies:  clients, prospective clients, opinion leaders, recruits, internal audiences, employees, media
  2. Make the world aware of new insights
  3. Build, support and sustain the company’s brand reputation
  4. Influence the industry agenda and own significant elements of it
  5. Be strongly identified with the future

Defining thought leadership is the subject of Michael Brenner's article in Forbes this week. Brenner is Vice President of SAP Global Marketing. His definition is as follows: "Thought Leadership is simply about becoming an authority on relevant topics by delivering the answers to the biggest questions on the minds of your target audience." He makes a good point in that great thought leadership comes from answering your customers' biggest questions. However, sometimes good ideas come from looking sideways or at where no one else is looking. I call it catching the wave. It is about catching the wave or the idea before it crests. Seeing the kernel of an idea when it is just emerging and not yet at its peak. Those provide the best content.

Here are Brenner's pointers for creating thought leadership from his thoughtful article on thought leadership. I found them very useful and will add to my deck on building a reputation for thought leadership (giving him credit of course):

  1. Identify the questions customers are asking. Prioritize them.
  2. Answer those questions across multiple formats and channels.
  3. "Give to get." In other words, don't make it hard to access.
  4. Make it interesting. Enjoyed his comment that thought leadership should have a "return on interesting."
  5. Invite customers to participate. Ask them to help you curate and produce great storytelling.

Empathetic CEO Reputation Rising

I did not expect to hear that Angela Ahrendts, former CEO of Burberry and soon to be retail chief at Apple, talk in an interview how when she started at Burberry, she focused on empathy and trust as the keys to building Burberry's culture. In the interview, Ahrendts says about those days, "It's compassion. It's humility. It's saying thank you. It is always putting yourself in the other person's position. I know it might sound weird, but empathy is one of the greatest creators of energy. It's counterintuitive, because it's selfless." Her father instilled the notion of humility in her when he asked her as a little girl, "When you look at a photo, do you see yourself last?" I wonder how many people actually see themselves last but she seems to be one of those people.

At Burberry, Ahrendts communicated often. She regularly emailed to employees and visited offices and stores around the globe. I liked her idea of a weekly video update to employees. Sounds like an inclusive leader. She will be one of the few female leaders at Apple so will be one to watch. 

Empathy. Humility. Compassion. Generosity. All these terms are increasingly showing up in features on CEOs. Is something up? Is climate change impacting CEO brains? Something is taking root and I will be tracking it. However, curious if anyone of this "soft" talk is coming out of this week's World Economic Forum. Hmmmm. 

Papal Lessons on Reputation-Building for New CEOs

A CEO's first year sets the tone, defines the direction and shapes the character of an organization. Right before I presented to a CEO-elect this week about navigating the first 100 days, I spied this article about what Pope Francis has accomplished in his first year. I read with a big grin on my face because many of the Pope's actions follow exactly what there is to do in year one of a new executive's tenure. 

  1. Signal that change is on its way. The Pope's washing of the feet of inmates (including two women) and questioning who among us is to judge about homosexuality were acts of declaration that this was going to be a very different papacy. 
  2. Reconstitute your senior team. Pope Francis is moving around his senior bench by replacing traditionalists with moderates. Some have been demoted, some sidelined. His appointments are aligned around his mission to be more inclusive and sensitive to the needs of the poor. The message has been sent loud and clear.
  3. Declare what matters. The Pope has been very open about what his values and priorities are. He used the word "tenderness" in an interview and his actions are very telling. He has given out more prominent positions to those from emerging countries and less developed ones. The article points out that he has communicated that as these positions change, this is is not a time for celebratory parties. Work has just started and money should be spent wisely. Pope Francis has also reminded his leaders to not listen to all the gossip that is being spread about changes underway. Another waste of time in his book.
  4. Communicate Communicate. In one of his most important speeches of the year, he spent his time focused on communicating that it was time for the Curia to get its own house in order. The new Pope spoke "disparagingly of 'airport bishops' who are more interested in their careers than flocks, and warns that priests had become 'little monsters' if they are not trained properly as seminarians." He certainly paints a vivid picture, don't you think? 
  5. Be inclusive, you don't know all the answers. The Pope has set up several task forces to come up with solutions to ongoing problems or issues. Eight cardinals were asked to investigate the area of Curia reform.  Another group is revamping the workings of the Vatican Bank to provide greater transparency. 

New CEOs would be wise to follow some of these lessons which can build reputation for their companies and for their own legacies. It gets everyone on the same page and privy to what to expect. Although there is no doubt that there is a lot of head scratching going on among cardinals and bishops whose career ladders have been turned upside down, the Pope is taking charge forcefully, symbolically and masterfully. He is building his reputation and the reputations of Popes to come.  I can't wait to see what's next.

Vulnerability as a CEO Asset

Someone recently said something to me that had me thinking. They were describing a CEO and said that they were amazed how willing he was to show his vulnerabilities. Leadership humility is very attractive these days because so many CEOs and leaders are being cut down to size as events careen out of control around them. A recent article in the Guardian echoed this same sentiment although the writer, Lynnette McIntire, referred to this trait as “humanity,” not humility. She says:  “But the most persuasive CEOs are those who show how their personalities, histories, values and feelings are aligned with company culture. I have been charmed and disarmed when CEOs talk about what they've learned from their children, how a mentor changed their lives, how a hard lesson from life knocked them into gear or how a frank comment by an employee reset a decision.” McIntire struck a chord with the examples she gave. One was about Tom’s Shoes which has a business model of “buy one, give one” whereby a free pair is given to children in need when a customer buys a pair. She pointed out how the CEO, Blake Mycoskie, spoke about how unprepared he was for the criticism the company received about providing free shoes. People were criticizing how this policy was hurting local shoe producers. Tom’s Shoes is now committing to having a proportion of these giving shoes made in Haiti. She also wrote: “Now, Tom's giveaway programs have a shoe replacement component, dispelling the in-and-out charitable giving image. For many children having black shoes – a school uniform requirement – means their education is not interrupted when their feet grow.” All very interesting to me because I did not realize that Tom’s Shoes’ reputation was being bruised by these criticisms. But also how the CEO listened, learned and began reshaping policy. And how the entire lesson made the CEO appear more human,vulnerable and teachable. [I should add that I also was pleased that they quoted our research on CEO reputation.]

CEO positioning via live media

bigstock-Press-Conference-Vector--2139053 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."

All aboard.



CEO Apology of the Day

apologyWhen 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.

 AOLers -

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.

Yawn-inducing CEOs


The pendulum is always swinging when it comes to CEO reputation. All of a sudden, there's more frequent discussion about empathy, humility and the softer side of things. I have mentioned this trend a few times already. Today there's an article in the WSJ about a new crop of boring CEOs in the financial sector. Boring with a small "b." Underneath it all is the desire for boards to hire CEOs that sport no controversy by how they behave. These boring CEOs don't necessarily command big bonuses (one CEO refused bonuses til 2015). They give eye-rolling, yawn-inducing presentations, focus on words such as integrity and stewardship, work well with regulators and are employee motivators behind the scenes.I bet that they also focus primarily on their company reputation and less on their own reputation.  I liked the example given of how one CEO had to play CEO-for-the-day as a final test. "The candidate had to give a webcast presentation and get ambushed by actors dressed as television journalists, among other tests." The article ended with a warning of what we can expect from our future CEOs: "Boring is the new black." I give it three years and we'll be back to the charismatic CEO winning the day. Maybe not.