Rolling Reputations

imagesCADV729OI could tell that it must have been the one year anniversary of the Costa Concordia because I started hearing about the shipliner crash in the past few days.  Reputations keep rolling along throughout the year but especially hit home one year later. Whereas they might be fleeting memories at first, they all come together on the year one anniversary to make us take notice. Today I started hearing more about the memorial service for survivors and families of those who lost their 32 dear ones in Giglio, Italy and it started to stick more than two days ago. There were 846,000 mentions on Google when I searched for Costa Concordia anniversary today. For reputation, one year anniversaries are part of the reputation process.  It is almost like it fits into the five stages of grief. The one year anniversay is a day of reflection and return to the reputation demise that caused the loss in the first place. All the pictures of the cruise ship on its side off the shores of the little Tuscan city are back in view. Debates over raising the ship and removing it are back in the news. Anniversaries are important because they remind us that reputations should not restored overnight. The bigger the loss (especially when lives are lost),  the longer reputation takes to repair. That should be law.

I especially remember the Costa Concordia because we were launching our survey on how corporate and brand reputations have become nearly indivisible. The parent company of the cruise liner pushed media requests over to the Costa Concordia CEO -- the brand leader -- in an effort to disentangle the corporate reputation from the brand reputation. Due to the ease of information flow and the Internet's reach, much of the media coverage mentioned the parent company in the coverage which only proved that corporate and brand reputations have definitely converged. Because the entire incident happened just as we launched the survey, it is forever lodged in my mind.

Talking about reputation, tomorrow's Oprah Winfrey interview with cyclist Lance Armstrong will be another one for the record books.  I am not sure how Lance's confession that he used drugs to help him win the Tour de France several times will go over. My sense is that an apology might not curb his rapid reputation decline and Lance's reputation might not just keep rolling along but might face a hard stop for awhile. No telling where it will be, however, in three or four years.  I will be interested to tune in and watch.

Sherpas to Help Build Reputation

The New York Times had a very interesting article yesterday for a variety of reasons. But one reason that hit the spot was about how consumers make decisions and how the author went about choosing the right baby formula for his infant. After he and his wife researched every possible formula on the market and found that they were all basically the same, he came to this conclusion:

"Despite knowing this, I still insist on paying twice as much for Enfamil, which its maker claims is “scientifically designed.” (Aren’t they all?) I splurge because Mead Johnson is a 107-year-old company that has been promoting a single baby-formula brand for more than 50 years. I figure that it’s less likely to squander its name by skirting the rules or engaging in shoddy manufacturing than a company with less to lose. This peace of mind costs me about $7 per day."

This is emblematic of our research on how the company behind the brand matters more than ever. The author was reassured in his purchase of Enfamil because he learned that the company behind it, Mead Johnson, had been around long enough that they were not going to risk their century-old reputation by messing around with the manufacturing and production of  its baby formula.  The parent company made a significant difference in a confirming to the writer that this was the better buy, even at a premium. And not only did this infant get to taste Enfamil but the writer blasted his choice around the world. There you go for serendipity public relations.

After reading this gem which was fairly upfront in the article, I kept reading.  The Enfamil example led into the article's main message which is that information overload is plaguing us all and making it increasingly hard to find what we are looking for unless we want to devote days to researching.  "Too much information, it turns out, is a lot like no information."  Therefore to deal with this information smog, people need guides orsherpas to guide their way through the data chaos. According to the author, "economists have a name for these cues that companies employ to convey their hidden strength: signaling."

Reputation-building uses the strategy of signaling.  Good reputations serve as a shorthand to identify whom you want to buy from. A company that is a best place to work for or most sustainable or trains its leaders best helps to narrow the choices between products. Do I want to buy my infant formula from a company that treats its people right? You bet.  The thinking goes like this: if they treat their employees well,you can make the leap that they turn out safe products.  In our research on parent brands, we had an open-ended question on why the parent company mattered when buying a product brand. Over and over, consumers mentioned that knowing the parent brand helped them sort out which products to buy. For example, one consumer said: "The integrity of a company will ultimately show in its products."

The article also made me think about anniversary celebrations. Many companies make a big deal about how long they have been in busines -- 50, 100 or 200 years. It turns out that it is good to do so in order to remind consumers and other stakeholders that there's alot of reputational equity behind those promises.

Blogging and Anniversaries

  Last night I was asked how long I had been blogging. I threw out a number without thinking about it.  However, since I was not sure, I went online to determine how long it might actually be and I was curious about whether I had hit an anniversary of sorts. Should I be celebrating my 5th or 8th or 10th year anniversary of blogging about reputation? My first web site was CEOgo.com.   I defined it as "The premier site on chief executive officers, leadership and management trends." Actually, there was no other comparable site so I could have easily said it was "The site on chief executive officers, leadership and management trends."  CEOgo is no longer live since it was closed down after I left my previous position and I joined Weber Shandwick, starting anew with reputationXchange.  I started CEOgo in February 2000 (according to when it was registered) which answers my question on how long I've been blogging -- 11+ years. Who would have thought I had so much to say on CEOs, CEO reputation, corporate reputation, CEO transitions, leadership and all things reputation-related. CEOgo was the site to go to on CEO turnover, whether CEOs were insiders or outsiders, average tenure, reasons for departure, reputation-building, etc.  It certainly chronicled my thought leadership in this area and eventually rolled itself all up into my book, CEO Capital. And although much has changed (the more common division of the Chairman and CEO role for one), much has stayed the same. It is among the hardest jobs there is, next to being President of the U.S.

I have anniversaries on my mind today because I am looking at my five-year anniversary at Weber Shandwick. Although I like to think that annniversaries come and go and corporate life has its good-and-plenty ups and downs, I have to say that my past half decade at Weber Shandwick has been fulfulling, productive and full of pleasurable surprises. The leadership and collegiality are truly the real deal and I am thankful for what I have been encouraged to accomplish. And I have also been lucky enough to work with Liz and Jen who make all the difference to my ability to face those very early mornings that are my habit.

It is important not to let important milestones just pass -- whether 11 years of blogging about reputation or 5 years at Weber Shandwick. I consider myself lucky.