Reputation risk – and asking the wrong people

Posted on: April 19, 2007

Recently, Weber Shandwick Worldwide (WSW) announced its latest research on reputation loss with the claim that “CEOs receive nearly 60% of the blame when company reputation is damaged”. That seemed to be a useful enough “wow” factor to headline the report and support the marketing of WSW’s reputation management consultancy services. And to make it stronger, there seemed to be almost exactly the same blame quotient whether the respondents were in North America, Europe or Asia which appears to be a strong intercultural trend.

But when you read further, questions about the validity of the research arise. The sample was 950 “global business executives” in 11 countries, which seems solid enough, but it’s not bizexecs who determine an organisation’s reputation, it’s all those “stakeholders” with whom an organisation has relationships. To quote from Charles Fombrun, who is well known to WSW, “better regarded companies build their reputations by developing practices which integrate social and economic considerations into their competitive strategies … They initiate policies that reflect their core values; that consider the joint welfare of investors, customers and employees; that invoke concern for local communities …” (Fombrun 1996, p.8). This approach to reputation management says that the organisation’s reputation is dependent on its behaviour as a corporate citizen, part of the societies in which it operates, and not above or apart from them.

So if WSW had polled 950 ordinary folks in 11 countries, it may have come closer to a realistic figure of blame on CEOs. It’s also worth noting that research by Prof Philip Kitchen of Hull Business School and Andrew Laurence of Hill & Knowlton found in 2003 that the percentage of an organisation’s reputation ascribed to the CEO in different countries was much more varable. In Belgium, it was only 26% but in Italy, it was 83%. Leaving Italy out of the data, the average for five other European countries was 36.2%. In North America, Canadians gave 66% credit to the CEO and the US, 54%. There’s no doubt that in a celebrity conscious world, CEOs are front and central on reputation issues because they are leaders but it is the range of stakeholders who give the organisation its reputation as a result of their engagement with it, not the CEO.

In the WSW research, the response that “online attacks or rumours” was only a 25% factor that can ‘significantly damage reputation’ demonstrates either complacency among the bizexecs or misunderstanding of the role that online media and social media can play. WSW comments in a very controlled manner that “companies continue to overlook how damaging threats from online activists and pressure groups can be if they are not prepared to respond quickly and decisively”. The 75% who don’t engage with the online world had better wake up soon!


1 Response to "Reputation risk – and asking the wrong people"

Here is my list of top topics!

– The impact of technology on public relations practice and theory
– International issues in public relations; Cross-cultural public relations
– The expectations of users of public relations;
– Public relations’ role in organisational change; Internal communications
– The place of “word-of-mouth” and buzz marketing in public relations practice
– Ethics in public relations
– The role of PR in community/social responsibility programmes
– Management of corporate reputation; measurement of reputation
– Crisis management and communication; issues management

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