Another measure of corporate image out–the Cision Index

It must be the season to measure corporate reputations. Here is the results of the Cision Index, formerly the Delahaye Index. Microsoft comes out on top as it does in the Edelman Trust Barometer.

The bigger news is the astounding recovering of reputation enjoyed by the US auto industry. Hmmm–let’s see, losing billions, on their backends due to continuous and effective competition, losing market share constantly, but reputation up?

I think Microsoft’s stunning recovery and the automaker’s improvements are related phenomenons. It is the monopoly vs, underdog situation. As I blogged before, Microsoft’s reputation didn’t turn around because of bloggers (they helped) or any massive PR campaign, or even Bill Gates doing his marvelous philanthropy. Google did it. Google demonstrated that Microsoft was vulnerable. Not to the general public because frankly I don’t think most non-tech types understand the clear and present danger that Google represents to the software giant–but the influencers who understand technology get it and their opinion is now showing up big time in the public (see the comments discussion about the Edelman Trust Barometer for differing opinions about the role of influencers).

I don’t think people have gotten to feeling sorry for Microsoft, but their loss of position as a fearful monopoly along with Google’s transcendence have contributed greatly to their reputation. Auto companies? Well, we still like Americans and made in America. We just don’t like big huge powerful monopolies or anthing close to them, particularly when they don’t operate with humility. GM, Ford, Chrysler have been humbled. they are fighting for their lives. They have huge obstacles to overcome–not just Toyota and Honda but their own labor force and the changes in the world that they were slow to adapt to. They now appear weak, vulnerable, but their efforts also seem somewhat heroic.  We want them to win–if not get back to dominance, at least show they can still compete well in a world increasingly dominated by smart people from Europe and Asia.

Perhaps, as a PR person, it would be better for me to conclude that the reversal of fortune of these companies was due somehow to the brilliance of PR strategists and the far thinking of corporate leadership. I think circumstances–often dictated by competitors–can have a lot to do with reputations. It is the smart communicators who understand these dynamics and know how to take full advantage of human psychology as well as changes in the world.

The Trust Barometer–Must reading from Edelman

I have come to trust and look forward to Edelman’s Trust Barometer report. This year’s report shows some surprising changes and is well worth the read.

Edelman is incredibly smart to focus on trust and to position their firm around this issue. I have thought long and hard about this issue and come more firmly to the position that trust is the ultimate goal of most communication. Sure, we may send messages to inform, persuade, sell, get votes, warn, save lives, build reputation, etc., etc.,  but ultimately aren’t all those things about trust?

The topic I address most frequently in my public presentations is the erosion of trust and the reasons for that. Any frequent reader of this blog will know that I believe the media’s increasingly intensive drive to build and keep audiences in a hyper competitive atmosphere causes them to focus on what scares people, titillates them, and panders to their prejudices. And that approach to information distribution–while effective temporarily at building audiences–results in a loss of trust. Not just for the companies, celebrities, and reputations that get trashed in the process, but for the media themselves. This trust report shows the continuing loss of trust among media and entertainment. They are at the very bottom of the list of industries trusted right along side the oil companies.

One feature of the Edelman Barometer is its global focus. Comparing the trust in institutions between respondents in China, Europe and around the world vs. the US in interesting and informative.

The conclusion about who is the most credible spokesperson should give all communicators food for thought. In a world where you essentially trust no one, who can you trust? The answer essentially is “myself.” And the closest person to myself is someone just like me. The most believable person today is certainly not the CEO of a company, or the professional spokesperson, but the person in the company most like the audience or one they can most closely relate to as a peer. That gem alone I suspect will drive the thinking and communication efforts of many in the coming months and years.

The decline of television is also intriguing–related I’m certain the phenomenon of infotainment discussed above. Perhaps stunning to some is the significant rise of trust in the internet. I still hear all the time about “nobody can believe anything if it is on the internet.” Well, it may be true, but people aren’t buying it and communicators better start paying more attention to what is said–even by those ridiculous angry bloggers.

Edelman’s Vice Chairman Michael Deaver summarized the significance of this report with this statement: “Trust is the key objective for global companies today because it underpins corporate reputation and gives them license to operate,” said Michael Deaver, Vice Chairman, Edelman. “To build trust, companies need to localize communications, be transparent, and engage multiple stakeholders continuously as advocates across a broad array of communications channels.”

Think about this as you plan your crisis communication and reputation enhancement strategies this year:

1) Make building trust your ultimate objective.

2) Determine how you will measure it and use it as a benchmark in your progress.

3) Localize your communications–ultimately trust is about people dealing with people and that is local. Everything starts with relationship building–trust can’t happen across the ether and with a void of relationships.

4)  Be transparent. There is no substitute and no trust without it–and it amazes me to see how smart leaders and great organizations are still struggling with that simple concept.

5) Engage multiple stakeholders continuously. Trust is built one by one by one. But it has to be happening on a very broad scale all the time. Think about this when trust is really on the line when your organization has done something really wrong and hurt a lot of people, messed up the environment, impacted health, damaged people’s hopes. That’s when these principles really need to come into play.

6) Across a broad array of channels. We’ve talked here before about this being the day of multiple modes of communication. Fragmentation, segmentation, shifting technologies–it changes so fast your head spins. But the solution is not that difficult–multiple channels focused on relationship building with trust as the measurable end.

Now then, your 2008 work is cut out for you.

On the iphone and the million missing ones

OK, I broke down and bought an iphone. My main hesitation was AT&T and true to form, they were very slow in getting me up and running–unlike my iphone which synched to everything I wanted it synched to as easy as…well..Apple.  The AT&T problems continued when I got a text message asking if I knew that someone had changed my account password and if I wanted to verify it to call this number. So I did. The worst case of telephone tree hell I have ever experienced. An hour later when I finally talked to someone, they had no idea what that text message meant and whether or not my account was messed with. If only Apple ran a phone company…

But, like others I was curious about how Apple could be selling so many iphones with so much disparity between the 3.75 million iphones Apple says they sold and the 2 million iphone accounts that AT&T has completed. Could it be that 1.75 million were waiting for AT&T to get around hooking them up? No, it turns out that hacking iphones is a lot more common than expected. Here’s the story from New York Times. The story also partly explains why Apple did the deal with AT&T since they are getting a pretty darn good piece of the action on the cell contract.

There is a game going on continually in the technology world–control it to maximize profits vs. those who would force the controls off and make it as open as possible. Certainly it seems smart from a business standpoint (ala music industry) to try to maintain control and maximize profits. Yet, those very efforts seem both doomed to failure in the world of hacking and work arounds as well as seeming out of touch with the way technology is seen today. We live in an open source world, increasingly it seems. Apple runs the risk of losing the cachet it holds among the technology elite when it participates in the kind of non-open source strategies that the iphone-AT&T deal look like. Certainly millions and billions are at stake. But also what is at stake is losing the respect and confidence of the Apple groupies, and ultimately reputation, and ultimate the shift of evangelistic fervor and loyalty to someone else who seems to “get it” better.

When bloggers act like "bloggers"

I posted recently that O’Reilly said straight out to his audience to never believe anything a blogger says. I hooted at that. For those who don’t take blogging and social media seriously, it is easy to write them off and p-offed kids who are angry at the world, calling everyone names, repeating or creating misinformation and in general not acting in a responsible manner. That is true of some, no doubt, but is very untrue of most others in my experience.

That’s why I was truly disheartened to see a blogger, David Axe of Wired, essentially fitting into the first category. His name calling, careless disregard for the facts, and uncritical repetition of the errors of the mainstream media in the situation of the FEMA press conference are illustrations of why bloggers lose respect. It is true that because this situation now involves me I have the advantage of information about it that may not be readily available. Pat Philbin, the subject of the name calling, has been very open in all opportunities to express his views on the topic. For a lengthy interview, go to Kami Huyse’ Communication Overtones blog.

It is interesting that those engaged in the online discussion about FEMA and Philbin, including interesting questions posed by Shel Israel, are clearly struggling with the issue of what they can and ought to believe about the reports of the incident written by three reporters. I suspect the struggle–particularly when confronted with credible counter information–demonstrates that we tend to believe what we read and hear much more when it conforms to pre-conceived notion. When we disagree with the message, it is much easier to write it off as the typical media nonsense. The resistance to doing that in this case makes me believe that FEMA’s reputation hole–shared by those who work for the agency–may be deeper than we thought, and maybe too deep for anyone to dig out of.

Is it possible we are getting more critical of the media?

One of my main reasons for blogging, and a major focus the presentations I do at conferences, is about the media landscape and why it can be so damaging. It is a core part of my mission to try to get people to be more critical of media coverage by understanding the business dynamics behind media’s imperative to build audiences. And to help them understand that simply accepting what is reported as reflective of the way things really can have serious consequences.

I must say I haven’t seen a lot of progress in increasing scrutiny of and criticism of the media and how they are, in my opinion, continuing to devolve as a result of the vicious competition with new media. Today, there were two articles in Bulldog reporter that caught my eye and give me a little reason to hope.

One, is the response of cable viewers to CNNs attempt to create a tempest in a teapot over race and gender in the Democratic presidential race. Here is the article that talks about the backlash of viewers.

The other tells about Howell Raines, fired from his job as editor at New York Times following the Jayson Blair scandal, and his new role as media critic. Funny to read about how his former colleagues responded to his criticism of them after he left. Of course, they may be right that he was a terrible boss, but the  interesting thing to me is having someone who once was a true insider at the highest levels now looking at the business of news coverage from a critical (and I hope viewer) perspective. I will look for his comments with interest.

The notification nonsense continues

Several times in the last few weeks I have been confronted with the reality that a great many intelligent people charged with notifying others of an urgent life or safety issue don’t understand the fundamental difference between notification and communication. I know I have blogged on this several times and all that means is that I, like many bloggers, tend to think that if I have spoken on it, everyone has heard, agreed, and now the issue is settled. Not so I must admit.

Emergency managers are trained to think in checklists. That is a very good thing because when all hell is breaking loose, they need to keep their cool, and like a pilot trying to land in a plane in a storm, they better remember the basics. So they use checklists. Did we do this, did we complete that, are we ready for the next step. That’s the way I write crisis communication plans and it is good. Many emergency management types have added emergency notification onto their checklists–particularly following Virginia Tech. That is a good thing, a very good thing. It shows that they recognize that the world is changing and individuals expect to hear DIRECTLY from those charged with their health and safety and not just turn on their radios to get all the relevant info. So, they run out and buy the lastest automated telephone messaging system and perhaps text messaging and check it off their list.

So now their check list in an emergency reads: Notify the public. Check. I sent them a text-to-voice phone message, and even sent a few text messages to those few who would actually sign up on my list and give me their cell phones. Check. Exercise complete. Job done.

No. Sorry, it doesn’t work that way. Because during an event when the media are all over the place trying to find someone who will criticize the response, they will ask someone: Were you notified? The answer will inevitably be: NO, I never heard a word from them. The Incident
Commander will be put on the spot in the next news conference: “Your press release said you notified 70 gazillion people by telephone but we haven’t talked to a single one who actually got the message.”  What will he or she say then?

The problem is challenging for several reasons:

- telephone systems are quickly and easily jammed and most operate on remarkably few lines. A university with thousands of students may only have a couple of hundred line capacity to manage calls at one time, and as soon as an emergency happens those lines are going to be jammed with students calling each other and calling home.

- text messages are much better, but still subject to limitations of the cell networks–but the real problem is very few have signed up to receive such calls and many are resistant to for privacy purposes.

- the means of communication are constantly changing–for example students have largely switched to social media sites such as Facebook and MySpace instead of email for their routine communications.

- the public in general and young people (more internet savvy) in particular have a “I want it how I want it and when I want it” mentality about information–in other words, they understand in the post-media internet age they have been given the controls and they want to control it. That makes it vitally important to have a website or series of websites that provided the level of detail that a variety of different audiences are looking for. It is also important that those websites have the interactive functionality that today’s audiences have become accustomed to–functions that will allow them to ask questions, make comments, engage in conversation with others coming to the site, respond to surveys, and do all those things they expect now to be offered.

- the media are still an important part of the mix. As important as it is to communicate directly, if the media is also not involved there are people who will miss the message. The key to this is timing. Get each part ahead or behind the others too much and you have problems.

The bottom line is we live in a multi-media and mixed media world where notifying people is not a simple answer. But if you think notifying them with a 140 character message (maximum text message) or 30 second phone message is sufficient, you simply don’t understand the dynamics of communication. Imagine if you get a message that says in effect: “Run for your life if you are anywhere near (address).” What impact will this have on you? Why? you will ask. What is the danger? What is going on? How much am I in danger? Are my friends and family ok? Where should I run? Do I have time to finish my Facebook post? How long and how far should I run? In other words, by sounding the siren you have created a huge demand for more information. Simply sounding the siren and not filling that demand will make that void of information more palpable and the urgency that much greater.

Sending a text message or a phone message is NOT communication. In fact, it may cause more harm than good–both in terms of public safety and in terms of reputation. Only the ability to meet a wide variety of communication needs in both notification, detailed supporting information, interactive inquiry management, delivery of appropriate information to a variety of different audiences will suffice when life and limb are on the line.

If you are interested in learning more about this topic, here is a white paper: Notification is Not Communication.

O'Reilly, Clemens and the San Francisco zoo

Comments on three mostly unrelated topics.

O’Reilly–of Fox News said on his program Wednesday night while interviewing his frequent guest who is a blogger for Fox News I guess, and he turned directly to the audience saying very clearly “Now I want you all to understand this, whatever you read on the blogs is not true, just don’t believe it, it is not true. If you want to know what is true, turn to the mainstream media.”  That is not his exact quote but it is very close to what he said. I just about laughed out of bed. Yeah right, the mainstream media–O’Reilly and Fox included–clearly never have an agenda that leads them to report anything or state anything that isn’t true. His very statement undermined his point, of course. What a hoot.

Roger Clemens and the Zoo–I commented earlier that both of them are dealing with serious reputation issues but the zoo was handling it better. They suggested calmly and quietly that the victims of the tiger attack may have taunted the animal before it attacked. Attorney Geragos went nuts loudly protesting that the zoo should not be attacking the victims. I saw on the news last night (on the crawl actually) that at least one of the victims admitted to being drunk and provoking the tiger. Good job zoo. You did this right and earned respect and credibility in the process. As for Geragos, attacking those who politely defend themselves doesn’t work. Get a new schtick.

Clemens–well, I’ve said enough on this. Mitchell presented why Clemen’s trainer had more reason to tell the truth than lie, and more reason to tell the truth than Clemens did and does. Me thinks the pitcher protested too much.

John "Pat" Philbin, former FEMA comm chief, now Senior VP at PIER Systems

The news is now out. John “Pat” Philbin, the head of External Affairs for FEMA who took the blame for the FEMA so-called “fake news conference” has a new job. He is now Senior VP for PIER Systems and he reports directly to me, the founder and CEO of PIER.

Here is the press release.

I will simply reiterate what I said in the release. We have known Pat for some time. From my very first post on this topic on this blog, I expressed doubts about the media coverage of the story based on what we knew of Pat. Numerous conversations with him since then confirmed my sense that he exhibited great integrity in accepting responsibility for the mistakes of others while not ducking his own mistakes. But the real story is one of media “infotainment” and spinning an event in such a way to make it look devious, contrived and manipulative while at the same time seeing that Washington politics is something where people look to throw whoever they can under the bus in order to protect their own reputations. It is a dangerous world for a communicator at that level to operate in and holds many lessons for communicators at all levels.

Roger Clemens and the San Francisco Zoo

I’ve been on vacation for a week with my lovely wife in very rainy Palm Springs so hence my hiatus from this blog and also perhaps, hence the strange congruence of Roger Clemens and the San Francisco Zoo. What they have in common is both fighting reputation challenges in a fairly aggressive way.

The zoo of course is facing the issue of a fatal mauling by one of their tigers who escaped its enclosure. They have suggested that the tiger was probably provoked by the actions of the teenagers attacked. This has received a vicious and somewhat predictable response by Mark Geragos, the celebrity defense attorney hired by the families of a couple of the teens. He accused the zoo of blaming the victims.

Clemens, of course, is fighting for his reputation as a result of the Mitchell report on illegal drug use. The evidence against him comes from his trainer. Clemens is vigorously denying any improper drug use and saying anyone who says otherwise is a liar. He has been on 60 minutes, in blogs, major news reports–all over.

Both are what I might call new wave efforts at reputation management–attempts at moving the black hat that has been placed on their heads and doing so by suggesting that the black hat ought to go on someone else’s head. In my book, Now Is Too Late2, I advocate this approach in the most serious and extreme reputation situations. Why wait for the extreme? Because it is highly risky.

Of the two examples, the zoo in my mind has done it better, more tastefully, and with greater credibility. Geragos, for all his supposed brilliance, has only helped publicize the issue and therefore bring to people’s minds the possibility that the boys might have some culpability. And while Geragos is characterizing their effort as outrageous and extreme, the truth is the document he refers to is very quiet and modest in its suggestions–very much unlike Geragos’ accusations against them. And his motive is clear–he would like to assassinate character with impunity while anyone suggesting that they might have the right–even politely–to do the same is met with indignation and outrage. I find that quite entertaining.

On the other hand, Clemens has come out with bombast, righteous indignation and undisputable denials. If he is completely and absolutely 100% innocent and he can demonstrate that with little room for doubt, his demeanor will be seen as appropriate and justified. If not, it is clearly a case of the lady protests too much, plus a complete and utter lack of credibility probably forever. Lying quietly and with dignity is one thing–doing so at the top of one’s lungs is quite another. The flashing eyes of a former president denying his inappropriate behavior with an intern comes to mind. Once you have seen those eyes, it is hard to forget and particularly when such indignation has been demonstrated to be intentionally fabricated.

If you are accused you must defend. That is increasingly clear. And you must do it soon before the lie that is the accusation becomes the truth through incessant repetition. But in your defense you must be absolutely beyond reproach–in what you say as well as how you say it.

What really happened at that FEMA news conference–in Philbin's words

I have commented here several times and from the beginning that the supposedly “fake” news conference FEMA conducted in October was not what was being told in the press. That it was more about politics, the politicization of government agencies, about media infotainment than many seasoned PR professionals believed. It strikes me as ironic that we who know you can’t believe what you read in the press are among the quickest to believe when it conforms to a predisposition–in this case the predisposition being that FEMA is a bad, incompetent evil agency and anyone associated with it is too.

At any rate, read (or hear ) for yourself what happened at this news conference from the fall guy himself–Pat Philbin, courtesy of this interview with Kami Huyse.

The audio feed is courtesy of Shel Holtz’s For Immediate Release.