September 20, 2008


There is so much to absorb in the news today. I am thinking eitherabout the financial industry meltdown, the leadership vacuum in Washington (how could the president wait 3-4 days to say something about Wall Street and Main Street imploding!), brands Obama and McCain, and tainted baby milk in China. When it comes to crisis, the first rule is to take the heat and speak up. Not sure I can excuse our president from taking his time getting to the podium as Americans lost sleep over massive savings and retirement losses. If the CEO of a company was missing in action for several days, we’d hear plenty about booting the officer out. What is especially surprising is that Bush’s reputation was so sorely hurt after Hurricane Katrina’s inaction. The 1000+ point free fall deserves more than 1000 words from the rose garden in a timely fashion.On another subject. I enjoyed this week’s (9.16.08) article by Adam Nagourney this week in The New York Times on how candidates are trying to build their brands and get their messages out in the unprecedented media infosmog. As Nagourney discussed how frustrating it was for the candidates to be heard, he made some very apt points that also apply to companies trying to bolster their reputations and articulate their strategies.
“…the ways in which the proliferation of communications channels, the fracturing of mass media and the relentless political competition to own each news cycle are combining to reorder the way voters follow campaigns and decide how to vote. It has reached a point where senior campaign aides say they are no longer sure what works, as they stumble through what has become a daily campaign fog, struggling to figure out what voters are paying attention to and , not incidentally, what they are even believing.” Reputation building seems to also struggle as events surprise us and the business environment implodes.
Matthew Dowd, chief strategist for President Bush in 2004, was quoted in the article as saying, “At this point, the ability to create and drive a message narrative is all but impossible. There’s just so much stuff. The average person has 90 channels. They all get dot-coms. They all get a newspaper. There is so much flow of information that they just begin to discount it all.” Media trust is at an all time low which rubs off negatively on company messages too.
Dowd went on to say that McCain and Obama should not waste their money on TV advertisements and spend their time getting ready for the debates. “Those encounters are likely to be the only chance the candidates have at capturing the undivided attention of the public.” Thought that was a fairly dire statement but one with some truth in it. With so many conflicting messages from the two political brands, it is hard to make sense of who said what and why. Perhaps this is why the election is in such a dead heat and the two presidential brands are almost becoming caricatures of themselves.

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Leslie Gaines-Ross
Leslie Gaines-Ross

As Weber Shandwick’s Chief Reputation Strategist, I focus on the ever changing world of reputation. For the past 25 years, I have relentlessly observed, researched and commented on the rise and fall of reputations.

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