BLOGS: Wag The Dog

Wednesday, December 30, 2009, 11:43 AM

Ethisphere names its most influential people in business ethics

(Image Credit: Brad Swonetz)
Ethisphere has published its list of the 100 most influential people in business ethics in 2009. Take a look by clicking here.

Note that the list does not stop with ethical corporate managers, but also includes transparency and anti-corruption advocates.

Not surprisingly, public consensus continues to hold that the corporate world works best when watchdogs, journalists, and whistleblowers play an important role. No doubt that sentiment has been reinforced by the questionable ethical conduct we saw in recent years from many corporate leaders heading into the economic downturn.

Also note that the corporate leaders on this list made it because they are proactively addressing challenges their brands will face in the future rather than waiting passively for those challenges to consume their brands. The list includes:

Peter Solmssen – General Counsel, Siemens: Solmssen was called in to clean up Siemens and revamp its culture. Many eyes around the world (regulators, companies considering disclosing FCPA violations, shareholders, and many more) will be watching Solmssen’s actions as a live case study as to how a company as large as Siemens can recover from such a large legal issue. One example is Siemen’s new $100 million anti-corruption initiative that will fund global anti-corruption programs.

Sharon Allen (pictured)– Chairman, Deloitte: Allen leads the environment at Deloitte, an environment that is increasingly known for using business ethics as a competitive advantage to secure clients and retain top employees. Allen travelled quite a bit during 2009, often to speak on the advantages of using business ethics to further a company’s operational goals.

Timothy J. Carey – Director of Sustainability, PepsiCo: Carey earns a spot on this list for Pepsi’s new “Eco-Fina” bottle. The new bottle, less harmful to the environment than traditional plastic bottles, received glowing reviews from some of the most ardent anti-plastic bottle groups out there.

Jon Iwata – Senior Vice President, Marketing and Communications, IBM: Iwata and his team are responsible for instilling IBM Values into the company’s practices and operations, and for coordinating IBM’s corporate affairs initiatives. This year Iwata led efforts to advocate IBMers responsible engagement of business and social issues via online communications tools fostering relationships, learning and collaboration.

Michael Passoff – Associate Director, Corporate Social Responsibility Program, As You Sow: Activist shareholder resolutions are a dime a dozen, particularly in regard to environmental initiatives. This year marked a milestone — the first of those resolutions to ever pass. Passoff, Associate Director of As You Sow, helped to organize the resolution and the investor vote, which requires Idaho utility company IdaCorp to set greenhouse gas reduction goals.

David Michaels – Assistant Secretary of Labor, OSHA: Michaels, Assistant Secretary of Labor for the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, must seem a bit more intimidating to Board Rooms than his predecessors as it was recently ruled that private companies that perform work for public companies will be liable under Sarbanes-Oxley regulations. This expands the authority of SOX which also expands the powers of OSHA, the regulatory body that oversees SOX.

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Tuesday, December 29, 2009, 11:23 AM

Tuesday's quick reads: Main Street, the C-Suite, and Toyota's reputation

1.) Where Main Street meets the C-Suite (Directorship/Delloite) -- Delloite's "What Society Thinks" survey reveals some eye-opening trends about how the public perceives our CEOs and corporate boards in the wake of near-economic collapse.

2.) How a 40,000+ employee company trains its workforce on social media (Mashable) -- If you need further evidence that social media is here to stay in the corporate world, look no further than Telstra, the Australian telecom giant. The 40,000+ person company makes social media training mandatory for its employees and formalized a policy of “3Rs” – responsibility, respect and representation.

3.) After safety recalls, Toyota's reputation needs some TLC (USA Today) -- As carefully crafted brand images go, it's hard to beat Toyota's. But Detroit's nemesis lately has suffered through its own run of bad press, much of it involving a consumer hot-button: vehicle safety. The company that once could do no wrong has stumbled badly though a series of embarrassments of disclosures, allegations and recalls. Experts now are debating how deeply these will eat into the consumer trust that is Toyota's most potent asset — and what it must do to recover.

4.) Stay cool in a communications crisis (Associations Now) -- Two associations that faced PR crises in 2009 - American Mensa and the Marble Institute of America - share their experiences and what they learned under pressure.

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Monday, December 21, 2009, 9:58 AM

Monday's quick reads: Accenture, newspapers, and 2009's top PR blunders

1.) PR blunders of 2009 (PRSA) -- For the fifteenth year in a row, Fineman PR in San Francisco has released its Top 10 PR Blunders List.

2.) Most Americans still read a newspaper (Marketingcharts.com) -- Despite the seemingly insurmountable challenges facing today’s newspapers, nearly three-fourths of American adults still admit to reading either a print or online edition, according to the latest study from Scarborough Research.

3.) Building your brand - inside and out (HR Executives Online) -- Accenture's Roxanne Taylor says it's a long journey from approving a new brand identity to having it successfully represent your company with both internal and external audiences -- and there are often stumbling blocks along the way.

4.) Dell's social media past, present, and future (Social Media Business Council) -- In a blog post on Direct2Dell, Dell’s Chief Blogger, Lionel Menchaca, shared how Dell has evolved from their initial “connecting and responding” social media strategy to their current key goals of streamlining, aggregation, syndication, and scalability.

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Tuesday, December 15, 2009, 12:18 PM

Tuesday's quick reads: Apple, Staples, and the 70 most important words for 2010

1.) Is Apple in control of its PR? (A View From Silicon Valley) -- Blogger Tim Dyson explores why almost all the news we read about Apple comes from rumor sites rather than Apple itself.

2.) Staples using social media to leak holiday price cuts (Social Media Business Council) -- Staples became one of the first retailers this holiday season to use Facebook to leak “Black Friday” deals. The office supply company posted several deals on products, varying from flash drives to GPS units to laptops, and price cuts are as high as 50%.

3.) Banks narrowing their social media focus (American Banker) -- Though Twitter's service is designed to communicate with a vast, online audience, some financial companies are now using it to reach specific groups or even individuals, a sharp contrast to some early efforts that were more akin to e-mail spam.

4.) Seventy words of unconventional wisdom for 2010 (Harvard Business Review) -- What better way for business thinkers to celebrate the holiday season than with the gift of great ideas? As the year 2009 draws to a close, Seth Godin, the innovator, writer, and blogger extraordinaire, has persuaded 70 other innovators, writers, and bloggers to participate in a project he calls What Matters Now.

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Monday, December 14, 2009, 11:11 AM

Doonsbury on Twitter

(Image credit: Doonsbury)
This morning's Doonsbury is a funny lense through which to view Twitter's impact on crisis communications and public opinion. Twitter is "the first rough draft of gossip," says Roland Hedley. Hard to disagree.

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Tiger's crisis is a teachable moment

This column was first published Friday in The Maryland Daily Record.

The line of consultants giving Tiger Woods public relations advice these days is a long one. Just Google "Tiger Woods" and "crisis communications" and get comfortable. You could be reading all day.
Rather than add to the chorus of armchair quarterbacks, I want to touch on a few lessons that the business community can learn from Woods' saga about communicating in a crisis.If you think these rules apply only to celebrity athletes, think again. Businesses broadly, and executives specifically, are not immune to the public's insatiable curiosity in a crisis. If your company has yet to experience a serious public relations storm, then save this advice for a rainy day.
Information vacuums fill quickly. Information vacuums are the breeding ground of speculation in a crisis. If you don't fill them with facts, somebody else will fill them with rumors. Assuming that journalists and talk show hosts won't speculate -- oftentimes wildly -- without possessing the facts is also foolish. Ratings and 24-hour news cycles mean that speed often trumps accuracy in reporting big news.
Privacy is a right, except when it's not. There is often a disconnect between a company's view of what should remain private in a crisis and what the press believes should remain private. That's the price companies -- and professional golfers -- pay for playing in and profiting from the public arena. The question to ask in a crisis is not simply what legal rights to privacy you have, but rather how likely it is the press will obtain sensitive information through an unauthorized leak, an old IRS form, or a Public Information Act request. If the likelihood is high, consider disclosing it quickly on your own terms. It could mean the difference between two days of bad press and two weeks of bad press.
Accountability matters. Posting vague statements on a Web site that might as well have been written by a publicist rarely satisfy the press in a crisis. They lack sincerity and accountability. Ask Serena Williams. The tennis star apologized not once, not twice, but three times after verbally threatening a line judge at the U.S. Open in August. She posted the first two apologies on her Web site. They didn't work. Only when she personally stepped before a microphone and apologized for her conduct did media scrutiny subside. You can bet Tiger will have to do the same before his next golf tournament.
Legal advice and PR advice often collide. A common theme in the Tiger Woods analysis is that Tiger got terrible PR advice. That's not necessarily true. Tiger may have gotten sound advice -- go public early and on your own terms -- but opted instead to remain silent to reduce liability in the event of criminal charges, divorce filings, or breach of the "moral clause" in his contracts with corporate sponsors. This would not be the first time legal and public relations advisers were at odds. Executives have to judge whether that legal course is worth the damage their company's brand will suffer in the court of public opinion.
Don't preach to the extremes. Being successful inevitably means having critics. Yes, Tiger earned this round of scrutiny through his personal conduct, but successful companies and people -- from Goldman Sachs to Steve Jobs -- inevitably give rise to communities of critics and gadflies even before a crisis hits. Your goal in a crisis shouldn't be to convert those who are unwilling to listen, but rather to speak with candor and clarity to the open-minded.
Delay benefits the critics. Ironically, the people and organizations Tiger most dislikes -- tabloids, talk show hosts, and gossip hounds -- were the primary beneficiaries of his decision to remain silent. The longer he thumbed his nose at the press and the public, the more tabloid Web sites like TMZ and the Enquirer hauled in new readers online. The more he dismissed the public's curiosity, the higher the ratings were for cable news and talk radio. (OK, I couldn't resist a little bit of armchair quarterbacking in this column.)
If your company has been through a public relations crisis, chances are good these rules applied. They clearly transcend business, politics, sports and entertainment. What is less clear is whether the broader business community (hint: that means you) will view Tiger's situation as a teachable moment and plan accordingly for the next crisis.

Henry Fawell is a communications consultant for Womble Carlyle Sandridge & Rice PLLC in Baltimore and was press secretary for Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. His column appears monthly, and his e-mail address is henry.fawell@wcsr.com

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Monday, December 7, 2009, 11:17 AM

Monday's quick reads: Dubai's debt, media training, and tabloid journalism

1.) Will big businesses save the earth? (The New York Times) -- Author Jared Diamond says there is a widespread view, particularly among environmentalists and liberals, that big businesses are environmentally destructive, greedy, evil and driven by short-term profits. He knows — because he used to share that view. But today he says that he has more nuanced feelings due to his recent work alongside many business executives.

2.) How to prepare spokespeople for interviews (PRSA) -- While media training is a great way to prepare spokespeople for the spotlight, you know that the pressure of being interviewed on camera in front of your peers can be overwhelming — so overwhelming that you may forget some of the key messages.

3.) Dubai's ruler turns on media, says press exaggerated debt crisis (Wall Street Journal) -- Dubai's ruler turned on the media Tuesday blaming the press for international concerns over his sheikdom's ability to deal with its debts after stock markets in the Gulf plummeted for a second day. "The exaggeration of the media won't affect our perseverance," said Sheik Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum in an emailed statement, adding that "media did not seek the truth and confused matters without knowledge."

4.) Are there lessons for journalism in the tabloids? (Poynter) -- One writer says that while it's easy to dismiss the tabloid brand of journalism as a lot of headlines and no important news, the Enquirer has left an indelible mark on American mass media culture.

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Tuesday, December 1, 2009, 11:24 AM

Tiger Woods and crisis communications

(Image Credit: Robert Beck/SI)
The Tiger Woods incident has been analyzed beyond recognition in the past week. If you're interested in lengthy analysis - both useful and not so useful - click here.

I have no intention of adding to the mountain of unsolicited advice being thrown Tiger's way. Nonetheless, the Woods situation has dusted off a few inevitable rules that hold firm when the press and the public set their crosshairs on you. If your company has never been through a public relations crisis, bookmark this page for a rainy day.

1. Information vacuums are the breeding ground of speculation. If you don't fill it with facts, somebody else will fill it with rumors.

2. To paraphrase best-selling author Tim Ferriss, being successful inevitably means ticking people off.

3. There is a universal disconnect between a company/celebrity's view of the right to privacy and the press/public's view of the right to privacy.

4. Assuming that journalists and talk show hosts won't speculate - often times wildly - in the absence of facts is foolish. Ratings and 24-hour news cycles require otherwise.

5. Posting vague statements on a website that may as well have been written by a publicist rarely satisfy the press or the public. They lack sincerity and accountability. Ask Serena Williams and ACORN.
If your company has been through a public relations crisis, chances are good these rules applied. They clearly transcend business, politics, sports, and entertainment. What's less clear is whether the broader business community will view Tiger's situation as a teachable moment and plan accordingly for the next crisis.

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