The gargantuan tasks of delivering good numbers and upholding their organization’s good name are enough to keep most CEOs up at night. As businesses maneuver the route from recession toward recovery, what are the specific preoccupations of newly hired CEOs, who are likely under more pressure to bring about positive change immediately?
According to results of a survey of 2,000 leaders released by The Week in November 2011, the underlying business issues that the next generation of chief executives cares about most are their preparedness to respond to market conditions; improving organizational collaboration; and the quality of their talent pool.
Because the stakes are especially high for newly minted chiefs, PR teams should adopt a disciplined approach to reputation management.
Harris Interactive (Disclosure: Harris Interactive is a client of Gibbs & Soell), which has conducted its annual Reputation Quotient (RQ®) since 1999, has isolated the close relationship between reputation and market capitalization. The research company asked 17,000 U.S. adults to rate the reputations of highly visible companies according to six factors: social responsibility, emotional appeal, financial performance, products and services, vision and leadership and workplace environment.
The highest possible score is 100. Companies with a minimum score of 70 are seen as having a “good reputation,” while ratings of 80 and above are reserved for companies with an “excellent reputation.”
The 2012 RQ results placed Apple atop its rankings, followed in order by Google, Coca-Cola Company, Amazon, Kraft Foods, The Walt Disney Company, Johnson & Johnson and Whole Foods Market, all of which scored at least 80 on the ratings scale.
Within the six dimensions of reputation, Apple was ranked first in four: financial performance, products and services, vision and leadership and—despite lingering negative news about its China-based supplier’s severe labor practices—workplace environment.
Some observers of the Harris poll were astonished to learn that Johnson & Johnson achieved an “excellent reputation” rating given its recent spate of product recalls, or that Amazon scored first in the “emotional appeal” category despite the absence of direct human experiences in transactions with the online company.
In fact, purchasing preference is an important action that companies striving for a good reputation hope to achieve. Another is instilling investor confidence. A look at the recent financial markets landmark—the first time the Dow Jones industrial average has closed above 13,000 since May 2008—offers another angle.
Of the companies that posted the largest gains in the four years since the 13,000 mark was last pierced, the top three— McDonald’s, Home Depot and IBM — also possess a “good reputation,” as measured on the Harris RQ scale. These results are stunning reminders to PR pros that connecting the dots between reputation management and critical business objectives is more important than ever.
In their roles as stewards of the company’s reputational assets, communications strategists must be as precise as their counterparts in finance in carrying out their responsibility.
During the strategy development phase, public relations advisers should not lose sight of the most pressing issues faced by their CEO client and subject their thinking to the leader’s “insomnia challenge”:
• Market Conditions: Does this communications strategy include contingency plans to anticipate business risks? Can it be scaled up or down to address changes in the business landscape?
• Interdisciplinary Collaboration: How do the intended outcomes contribute to the improvement of operational performance? Do audience engagement activities consider adjacent stakeholders along the business’ value chain?
• Employee Engagement: What measures are needed to address internal communications related to the new strategy? Are there current gaps in skills or functional vacancies that may affect the success of the plan?
A good guess is that many recently appointed CEOs are among the 30% to 40% of U.S. adults who reported symptoms of insomnia on a 2011 National Institutes of Health survey. However, with the support of a well-prepared communications team, perhaps they’ll slumber a bit more peacefully in the days ahead. PRN
Luke Lambert is president of Gibbs & Soell Public Relations. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.