CEO reputation infographically...

Imagine my surprise when I saw this infographic from CEO.com titled "The CEO's Guide to Reputation Management." I also saw it on another site with the daunting title, "The Staggering Significance of CEO Reputation." Here is why I was taken aback. Several of the facts in the infographic come from my research over the years. The first, that the CEO's reputation contributes to nearly half of a company reputation comes from our study this year although they could be referring to my work from years ago at another agency. The results were similar showing the steady importance of CEOs on reputation. Kindly they cite us in the next chart about customers caring about CEO reputation. However, the study in the chart about investors comes from a study I spearheaded many years ago so I do not think it is a fair comparison putting them side to side.  But perhaps I am reading the chart too literally. And the five pointers at the bottom about polishing a CEO's reputation comes from my book written in 2003, CEO Capital. Although I still agree that these factors are important in building a good name for CEOs, I do not like the word "polish" or  "image." Image implies something fleeting and temporary. CEO reputation management is built on a serious exploration of what drives CEO perceptions that benefit a company's reputation. I address this issue in my book because people used to confuse reputation management with "image" management. Today especially, online critics can detect within nano-seconds if CEOs are being in-authentic within second and are all too happy to tell you so.  I just think it is the wrong choice of words for 2012/2013. Either way, thanks to CEO.com for featuring our research at Weber Shandwick and my prior work at Burson-Marsteller.

Reputation, Not Image Management

A new reputation study by Pam Cohen, a behavioral economist for Dix & Eaton, was recently released. It appears that they are looking at various industries and chose the financial sectoras the first one. For this analysis, she drew on over two dozen data sources, government statistical information and industry rankings and surveys. Of the nine drivers of reputation, the top five that impacted corporate reputation in this industry were shareholder investment (ROI), CSR, transparency, sustainability and image. Cohen remarked: “While it is no surprise that ROI shows up among the top drivers of financial institution reputation, more telling is that corporate social responsibility is the number-two driver, and sustainability number four. This, of course, highlights our culture’s return to grass roots despite – or perhaps because of – the downturn in the economy. Values are viewed as being critical to organizational success and acceptance.” Cohen also mentions her surprise that “image” rose back into the top ranks of reputation drivers, a spot it has not held since a decade ago. To me, image is a peculiar term in many ways. When I first started in the reputation business, people used to respond to my answer about what I did as “oh, you do image or impression management.” That used to make me irritable because reputation is so much deeper than image and they were missing the point obviously. I think of image as fleeting, temporary and shallow whereas reputation mobilizes people to support a good company by investing in them, recommending them, believing in them and listening to them. But for this study, I am confident that image was a catch-all for reputation, trust and admiration, all of which Cohen references. I also found it interesting that “transparency” was third in the list of drivers of reputational impact which speaks to the importance of telling it like it is, not saying “no comment,” and being timely and relevant in company communications. Fascinating to me was that “ethics” or “good ethical conduct” did not appear on the list since ethical behavior has been so important in valuing companies of late. Perhaps ethical behavior falls into some of the other drivers and that information was not mentioned in the release. The second industry they analyzed is retail. Using somewhat different criteria for reputational impact, Cohen found that the leading ones here were overall satisfaction, quality of goods and services, price/value, trust and problem resolution. They also looked at sustainability efforts, convenience and variety. Cohen used social media in this analysis which makes sense considering that social media can go a long way in resolving issues and refining products. When it comes to retail, the quality of products and services nearly always goes first. Makes sense.

I met Pam Cohen years ago when she was at the Ernst & Young Center for Innovation. Some of the research that I did back then on CEO reputation was fed into her analysis which was featured in Forbes. Glad to see that she is still working the reputation angle because her research is top-notch.