Corporate Reputation Gauge: Sticks and Stones May Break My Bones…

If you walked up to a Starbucks counter with a free iced coffee coupon in hand last week, you were likely to be disappointed. The problem: The coupons' original dissemination to select employees was "redistributed beyond the original intent and modified beyond Starbucks' control" - this according to the "Rumor Response" page of the company's Web site. While being deprived of a free coffee is tragic for many, the crux of the issue for corporate communicators is the means of rumor control. The idea of opening such a forum for responding to and controlling hits to corporate reputation is a relatively novel one (coming into its own as similar mediums - blogs, for example - mature), but is it an effective modis operandi for combating unpalatable - and untrue - whisperings? "In the case of rumors, one has to be definitive and accessible. That's what a Web site does," says Mark Weiner, president of Delahaye. "They are an expedient way to respond using technology but, when possible, companies need to be more personal." Personal, yes - especially when the company's reputation is at stake. Rumors have a way of dismantling corporate identity one lie at a time: Procter & Gamble fought a long battle against the rumor that it was run by Satan worshippers. According to an article on the Dow Jones Newswire, Dole Food Company had to address a rumor that "an old story about possibly contaminated salads was being recycled online" just last week. Posting on the company's Web site instead of responding to the source itself is one way to avoid stooping to the trash-talkers' level, but the question of how effective it is remains unanswered. For Starbucks, though, keeping an ear to the ground is a necessary defense mechanism. Contact: Mark Weiner, 203.663.2446,

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