Thought My Title was Cool TIL...

I love to tell people my title because it is fairly unusual -- chief reputation strategist. At least it was nearly 10 years ago when I was hired at Weber Shandwick. Today I was reading an article about the rebranding of Hillary Clinton which is definitely worth a read and it described how she had hired consumer marketing specialists to help shape her reputation for the presidential election in 2016.  There are references to how a variety of brands have had to reinvent themselves over time such as JCPenney, Coca-Cola and Budweiser. 

But back to my opener about titles and a new one that just came across in the above article -- chief purposologist. The owner of this title is Haley Rushing at the Purpose Institute. Here is how she describes what she does: "As Chief Purposologist, Haley leads a team of people who act as organizational therapists, anthropologists and investigators dogged in their pursuit of uncovering the purpose at the heart of an organization."  When it comes to Hillary, Rushing's partner and co-founder Roy Spence says that they are looking for that one word that describes Hillary's promise. The big question in rebranding or reinventing Hillary for the campaign is What is her promise to the world? "With Mercedes, it’s quality. With Volvo, it’s safety. With Coca-Cola, it’s refreshment. If you can get her promise down to one word, that’s the key.” President Obama had Hope and also Change. A few words. Once Hillary and her branding wizards figure out that one word that will sum it all up, they should be on their way. Maybe it is not so complicated and the one word is Hillary!

Instead of Purposologist, why not Promisologist? 

 

Reputation Erasers

In our study on Civility in America this year, we asked about opinions on the "right to be forgotten" law. The what law? The easiest way to explain it comes from Wikipedia: The right to be forgotten "reflects the claim of an individual to have certain data deleted so that third persons can no longer trace them. It has been defined as 'the right to silence on past events in life that are no longer occurring.' The right to be forgotten leads to allowing individuals to have information, videos or photographs about themselves deleted from certain internet records so that they cannot be found by search engines." A law like this exists in the EU. Of course, it is a lot more complex than I am making this out to be and I am simplifying the discussion and ongoing debate in this post.

What I want to share is the results when we asked Americans "if search engines such as Google were required to erase negative commentary or pictures that appeared online upon request, would you take advantage of the opportunity to erase things about yourself?" We were curious what Americans would choose to do if given the opportunity to clean up their digital profiles. One out of two (50%) say they would take advantage of a reputation eraser but a sizeable 3 out of 10 are not sure (hmmmm) and 2 out of 10 say they would not take advantage (they either have nothing to hide or don't mind airing their dirty laundry). As expected, younger people are significantly more likely to say they would opt for deleting foolish things they've done to reshape their personal brands. That makes sense because Millennials and GenXers grew up with the Internet for the most part. The older generations have less digital footprints to worry about.

When we asked who should be given the right to be forgotten, Americans were most likely to say that those under 18 years of age should be given the right to erase parts of their digital identities (68% said so). Those naughty high school pictures would all but evaporate online if this were the case. Less than one-third of Americans think that school teachers (33%), doctors (26%) and religious leaders (25%) should be allowed to airbrush their digital footprints. The group with the least right to eradicate what they have done wrong or where they have acted uncivilly are politicians (only 18% felt they had the right to undo their past). Americans clearly demand to know as much as possible about the character of our politicians. From what we learn every day in the headlines about corruption and wrongdoing on Capitol Hill, it is a good thing that our political representatives cannot delete their pasts from us. 

The reason that this law has not taken hold in America has to do with our constitutional rights to freedom of expression and freedom of speech. We do not believe in keeping useful information out of the public domain. Ultimately, when it comes to reputation in the age of the Internet, we are never forgotten. We have to get used to it.

 

Gen Xers Reputation as Slouchers Not True

At Weber Shandwick, we just issued a report on Generation X (Gen Xers) and their concerns about retirement. This is a segment of the population that is far too overlooked.  Their reputation needs management. Why is it that they are so neglected by the media and many Fortune 500 companies?  An audit we did of leading U.S. financial company websites found that only half segmented their messaging by generation, and those that did focused mainly on the favored Boomers and Millennials. None focused on Gen X.  Even more startling to us was that the oldest Gen Xers are turning 50 in 2015. Their AARP notices are probably in the mail now.

What do we know about them? The Gen Xers' formative years were shaped by Madonna, John Hughes films and the presidencies of Ronald Reagan through Bill Clinton. This group, ranging from their late 30s to late 40s, were initially characterized as the “slacker” and “grunge” generation, yet went on to shape the dot-com and Web 2.0 eras, unleashing their far-reaching entrepreneurial talents. As a result of skyrocketing divorce rates among their Boomer parents, Gen Xers are known for their focus on family, striving for work-life balance and career-postponement in favor of stay-at-home, sustainable lifestyles. 

Unfortunately for them, the Great Recession marred the Gen X experience. Not only did Gen Xers face difficulty in securing jobs upon graduation in the early ‘90s, subsequent economic downturns contributed to an unstable financial footing for this market segment. In fact, according to the Pew Charitable Trusts, Gen X took the largest hit in our most recent recession, losing nearly half (45%) of their wealth totals, an average of about $33,000, in just four years. Impacted by a slump in stocks, bonds and property values, the damage to Gen X portfolios exceeded all other age groups by at least five percentage points, Bloomberg recently reported. For these reasons, the Gen Xers in our study reported being intensely worried about how their retirement plans will intersect with their healthcare needs in the future. As one Gen Xer said: “Staying healthy — I think about this all the time. It’s a constant concern. If something happens to me, I have a few savings accounts to assist my children, but I worry about doing the right thing for my health and seek out help where I can to address my concerns.”

As a market opportunity, Gen Xers are often overlooked for several reasons: they are sandwiched between two very different and attention-grabbing generations (Boomers and Millennials), have a relatively short generational span (approximately 16 years vs. roughly 20 years for other generations), and represent a smaller share of the population (65 million, vs. 77 million Boomers and 83 million Millennials). Given the financial security that this generation will require to sustain itself during its retirement, Gen Xers present an opportunity that financial services companies should not overlook. Our research found that this “middle child” cohort has financial issues and communications needs that are unique to their experiences and their place in history, and deserve a closer look.

Reputation-wise, this generation needs help figuring out what makes them distinctive. Looking at the Pew research in the chart below shows how their own perceptions of what makes them unique is already claimed by their cohorts – technological-savviness, intelligent and hard working.

Despite their hard work, our research found them to be happy amidst all the chaos and anything but slackers. You might want to call them the heads-down generation. Clearly, they need to be spoken to in language that resonates with their hopes and dreams and calms their fears. Although this is a generation whose reputation was closely tied to being slouchers and couch potatoes, the media and those companies seeking their business might want to pick up on their first-hand experience with being prepared for financial volatility.

[I posted this on LinkedIn today as well.]

Interesting Reputation Sidebars

Just a few bullets that caught my eye over the past few weeks on the topic of reputation.

  • In a wickedly well-written and snarky article in The Economist on CEOs living in glass houses (no kidding), especially in this new social world, a few things stood out. First, a mention about research among Wharton researchers that found that the most emailed articles among 7,000 articles from The New York Times over a three month period had to do with topics that evoked fear, anger and anxiety. As the author said, perfect click bait for “evil CEOs.”
  • From that same article mentioned above, a fascinating stat which I am saving for my folder on Why Crises Are Bad News? is this one: “The stock market is more sensitive to reputational disasters than ever before. In the two weeks after the 1989 Exxon Valdez oil spill in Prince William Sound, in Alaska, Exxon’s shares dropped 3.9% but quickly rebounded. In the two months after the Gulf of Mexico spill in 2010 BP’s shares fell by half (and have still to recover fully).”
  • The Hay Group, who conducts the World’s Most Admired Companies (WMAC) Survey for Fortune every year, reports that internal and external reputation management is the most significant factor in consistently enabling the WMACs to outperform their peers. And to add in another good proof point, 75% of these most admired companies worldwide regularly communicate the importance of their company’s reputation to their workforce.  
  • Also from the Hay Group article, a statement which surprised me. They say that the world’s most admired companies now have “much greater control over their reputations” compared to five years ago. I think that this is a perception that could be easily debated and I’ve be in several of them lately.  On one hand, companies might feel that they have less reputation-control due to the rise of the Internet, NGOs and the never ending media-frenzy but you could also say that with disintermediation, companies now have more tools in their arsenal to bypass the media to get their messages out and to listen early on to stakeholders before the conversation turns viral and damaging. A great topic for a debate. I might save it for a panel discussion.

Hope to add more to my collection of interesting reputation nuggets in due time.