Sunday, November 11, 2007

Trustmeister to PRSA: Become Ambassadors of Trust (Jarvis Cromwell)

I was in Maryland last week speaking at the 30th Annual PRSA Chesapeake Conference. I had been asked to speak on the topic of how communicators can gain more influence at the c-level executive table.

This is not a question that lends itself to the typical conference diet of case studies or top ten lists. The stakes are higher than that. I tend to think of the times we live in as a kind of “triple witching hour” for both marketers and communicators. Trust in big companies has reached an historic 100-year low. Reputational risk is now seen as a top-ten worry among CEOs. And the new digital era has upended traditional one-way communications programs in favor of two-way dialogue, enabling the public to take more control of the conversational agenda.

These trends and others are making life especially challenging for corporate communicators. But we’re talking about gaining a strong seat at the C-table. So for now, let’s leave aside statistics that show as few as 13% of all Americans are placing their trust in big business, or that on primetime TV you are 21 times more likely to be kidnapped or murdered by a businessman than by the mob. We’ll also shelve for a moment the nettlesome fact that some three-quarters of folks out there feel companies don’t tell the truth in advertising. Or what about that KPMG study a few years ago that found 76% of employees in big companies observed violations of the law or company standards in a 12-month period.

Grim statistics all – but table them for now. Because the real question around the C-table typically comes down to this: how do you lead a company into strong performance?

Turns out that in recent years the low-trust headwinds that are negatively impacting so much of American life are also making leadership more difficult. A startling statistic comes from the Harris Poll, which in 1966 found that 55% of Americans had “a great deal of confidence” in the leaders of big companies. In 2007, only 16% of Americans expressed the same confidence. So imagine you are writing a speech for a company executive in 1966 to help achieve an important operating goal. Maybe you need to rally the troops around a new strategy, or convince customers of the quality of a new product, or persuade legislators that proposed regulation is unwise. Now imagine that same speech being given in 2007. It’s a pretty safe bet that the impact of the speech in the higher trust world of 1966 would have greater impact than those same words delivered in 2007.

The learning here for would-be “trustmeisters” is that our words are less believed today. That’s a big issue because leaders depend on effective communications to sell products, engage employees, and generally manage a business. That’s why communicators must become effective ambassadors of trust for their organizations. Executives who are not looking for ways to tackle the issue of distrust will find that they’ve inadvertently diluted their power as leaders. Communicators and marketers will find a ready seat at the executive table if they can help management take back the high ground.

Easy? Not at all. May the force be with you.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

On Stephanie Fierman, Google and your Online Reputation (Jarvis Cromwell)

Listen up, because this is important to your professional reputation and career.

Readers know I blog about the impacts of low trust on all kinds of human exchange and enterprise. Do you trust me as a credible expert? If you're not so sure, what action would you take?

Did I hear the word "Google"?

Well, google me and you'll get a bunch of corroborating evidence. I'm a seasoned chief marketing officer (CMO), I've contributed a chapter on trust to a marketing book and I speak about trust and reputation at conferences around the country. Unfortunately, a Google search on my name also serves up this result:

"A 25-year-old Goldsboro man -- wanted by New York City police on two murder charges -- was arrested Tuesday by Goldsboro police."

That other Jarvis Cromwell – who apparently is a couple of decades my junior – shows up on page 7 of my Google search listings. If you ever thought he was me, your opinion would surely change. Which is why online reputation is so important, and that brings us to Stephanie Fierman.

Last week Stephanie Fierman, a well known and respected marketing executive, spoke at a CMO Club dinner in New York and shared some thinking on managing online reputation. You can find coverage on this topic by Anna Maria Virzi in ClickZ here. You can also read Stephanie's blog, here.

Stephanie got everyone’s attention by discussing how widespread gossip, innuendo and misinformation about executives are on the internet. And it is easy for executives to wake up one morning and find themselves the victim of misinformation or worse. And the more senior and visible you are in an organization, the more vulnerable you are to potentially damaging disinformation campaigns. The scary part of the story is that everyone from recruiters, to new hires to clients can and do check you out on the web.

So start taking action now. Here are a few of the tips Stephanie shared the other night:

1. Monitor your online footprint. Many people rarely if ever check out their search listings. That's a mistake. Make sure you check your online presence regularly on all of the search engines. You should also monitor online news services, newsletters, blogs, chatrooms and image banks.

2. Build your online reputation before you need it. If you haven't already done so, you need to begin creating search-engine friendly content before a crisis arises. Blog, post to other blogs, create a website, create online profiles (LinkedIn, Facebook, etc.) be active at work and in other activities that will get you mentioned online.

Respond quickly to damaging, inaccurate or slanted online content. If you find yourself attacked or worse online, don't hide. You need to respond quickly and authoritatively in the realm where the original content appeared, with clear and open messages and factual information. Tell the truth.

4. Be discriminating. If you participate in social networks, be very discriminating about whom you connect and what content you post!

5. Appeal to the webmaster. Ask the webmaster to remove questionable or defamatory content. Frequently they will.

In some ways, Google is bringing us back to a Victorian age when social circles were smaller and gossip could spread throughout a community like wildfire. There was little or no anonymity in those circumstances and ladies and gentleman had to vigorously defend their reputations because ruination was a real possibility.

The takeaway for trustmeisters: today's professionals live in a google-centric world where rumor and innuendo can be used against them. All the more reason to manage your personal reputation proactively and with care.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Sub-prime Reputation = Failure to consider the "long tail” of customer relationships.
(By Paul Allen)

Doesn’t it seem as if the mortgage business is always in the news? Well, that’s because it is. After all, the industry is connected to interest rates, demography, real estate values, state and federal regulation, tax law, design trends and personal tastes, just to name a few.

But when the mortgage business hits the airwaves and really pings a nerve, it’s about reputation and trust issues. And lately there’s been a growing perception that this is an industry of hollow promises trolling for short-term profit.

As chairman of one of the country’s larger independent advertising agencies, I think a lot about marketing claims. Probably too much. And I don’t like some of what I see in this industry. “Low or no closing costs and fees” are among the evergreen promises and part of the lure to seek financing. And almost without question, where one cost seems low, there will be another price to pay somewhere during the life of the mortgage. Which brings me to the industry’s current challenge: the sub-prime lending scandal.

Cheap, easy money makes for a powerful claim and is an intoxicating thing. For consumers, it makes the previously unaffordable seem within reach. And the current collapse of sub-prime lending practices is a vivid demonstration of what happens when the lust for a cheap mortgage transaction completely clouds the realities of long-term home ownership. Which, by the way, is really the business mortgage brokers are in (or should be) – affordable, long-term home ownership. Not pseudo-cheap, short-term, largely undisclosed financing schemes.

Just the name “sub-prime” reeks of something low. And guess what, it is. (I, for one, wouldn’t eat “sub-prime” beef). So one lesson learned here is that clever financial engineering won’t create a sustainable market if it’s constructed to feed itself, but starve its customers. Literally.

How could this happen? One reason is that the evolution of sub-prime lending from a local niche business to a national and global market ultimately shifted the incentives. Lenders transferred their risk from their own balance sheets to Wall Street investors. And pretty soon, lo and behold, no one was paying attention to the fundamental credit risk of the underlying loans themselves. Who were these people borrowing the money and could they pay it back if interest rates rose?

We now know the answer was “no.” But the most important impact of the “sub-prime” lending scandal is not losses from defaulted loans, but losses from defrauded lives. Families are losing their homes, their pride and their future belief in what they can achieve and own as part of the American dream. And that, my friends, will undoubtedly wreak havoc on the reputation of those who perpetrated the “sub-prime” model. (For some gory details on communities destroyed by “sub-prime” lending click HERE.

Despite veiled attempts to dodge accountability, the sub-prime culprits will become visible. Unfortunately for the basically decent and prudent companies in the financial services industry – and there are still many – the “ball and chain” of public distrust has gotten heavier.

It is interesting to note that some well-known institutions executed their sub-prime strategies through specialized divisions that did not bear the name of their parent brand. One example appears to be AIG, a relatively high awareness, high-quality brand that has lost significant reputational capital in recent years.

So have you heard of Wilmington Finance? They are the AIG unit that originated sub-prime loans that ignored consumer-protection issues and were “slapped by regulators.” In a web-based world affording much greater transparency, if Wilmington was “slapped”, then AIG has been slapped as well. Its reputation again tarnished. Big time.

This is only one of many similar set-ups that are easy to identify and dissect by those who are considering doing business with a lending institution.

So what are the reputational lessons here for corporate trustmeisters?

1. Keep the end consumer’s welfare top-of-mind. Transactions create outcomes between people, not just institutions. Positive reputation, trust and loyalty are in the minds of the customer, not simply in the signed contracts or the “done deal.”

2. Consider the Long-tail.
It is imperative to think through the long tail of customer relationships. Today’s purportedly satisfied customers can turn into tomorrow’s reputational nightmare. Thinking through the sustainability of a business promise over the length of a customer relationship is an imperative. How many companies do this in their quest to meet quarterly results?

3. Understand Your Reputation Value at Risk (VAR). The violations of trust that can tarnish reputation live long in customer memory. Sales-prevention could last well beyond traditional business cycles and impact future growth across your brand portfolio. So identify the risks and make sure you properly address all the issues, both the convenient and the inconvenient.

In the end, this mortgage debacle could give rise (hopefully) to a new breed of hyper-transparent players - firms who will make clear how the financing mechanism works, take steps to ensure the long-term success and viability of every transaction, and deeply understand and respect the responsibility of being in the affordable home ownership business.

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Managing Reputational Risks across the Global Supply Chain (By Jarvis)

In the wake of well-publicized poisonings from pet food, toothpaste and drugs, China is now widely believed to have a food safety problem.

And the “Brand China” trust problem threatens their place in the global supply chain. Do you find yourself checking the country-of-origin labels in the fruit and vegetable section at Costco? In the same vein, one wonders how long it will take for pet food brands to begin touting “all-American made” ingredients.

What’s happening in China highlights a key principal applied by the Trustmeisters here in the Reputation Garage: Trust problems are at their heart organizational performance issues. To mitigate the risk of a serious trust event, you must put reputation into a performance management framework – managing it with the same rigor applied to other performance issues, such as quality and cost control.

And, yes, China is taking action. Step one in their trust recovery program: Show that you are serious about the corruption that led to the problems, in this case by sentencing to death the head of your food and drug oversight organization. To maintain decorum, we’ll give no comment on this one, but we could! Step two: Increase public protection by setting up a national food recall system. Step three: Communicate concern and your willingness to work and dialogue with interested parties across the global community.

China’s fix is of course reactionary – these are moves taken to dampen an escalating crisis of confidence amongst both producers who source in China and their downstream consumers. It will take months and years before the effectiveness of any changes is known.

The more important question for would-be brand Trustmeisters is this: How confident are you in your ability to police the behavior of your overseas suppliers? If the answer is “not very,” then be prepared for some potentially nasty consequences.

Just look at the impacts of the recent crisis on the U.S. pet food industry:

1) A costly recall.

2) Announced programs (expensive ones presumably) by some companies to test all of their ingredients.

3) Widespread bad publicity that has not only damaged brand trust, but also alerted consumers to the fact that many pet food brands are really just re-marketers of the same globally-sourced ingredient mix. This will likely send more pet food brands into the off-price commodity bins at places like Wal-Mart.

4) According to today’s Wall Street Journal, weaker companies may not survive this crisis, and we should expect to see further consolidation in the pet food industry as stronger players capable of imposing more rigorous quality control gobble up the also-rans.

A word to the wise: China’s recent problems will not be the only road bumps over the course of what many economists are calling China’s century. Which is why we never tire of saying it: Hope is not a strategy. If you haven’t put the issues of trust and reputation into a performance management framework, what are you waiting for?

Thursday, May 24, 2007

5 Ways to Prevent a Reputational Disaster (by Paul Dunay)

Lots of brands are finding out the hard way that there are plenty of conversations taking place about them online. For good or bad.

Many brands choose to ignore this. But hope is not a strategy.

Since consumers rely heavily on the Web as an authoritative source of information, managing a brand's online reputation has become a top priority for companies. Here are 5 tips from The Reputation Garage's "new technology" archives. They could help you avoid a major disaster and reduce the risk of a flogging in the blogosphere.

Tip 1: Monitor the New Conversational Terrain

You have to be listening. As Woody Allen said, "half of the battle is just showing up." Create a custom feed based on keyword searches using tools like Technorati, Feedster, IceRocket and news.googlecom.

Tip 2: Measure

Agencies like Nielsen BuzzMetrics and TNS Cymfony (trackback to a podcast on how to measure the blogosphere) have more advanced tools for monitoring social networks, blogs and communities. They also can measure the volume of buzz, track the sources and gauge the emotion of the content, be it positive, negative or just sarcastic.

Tip 3: Engage

If you don't join the conversation, you have no control. We'll say it again: hope is not a strategy. Tools like BuzzLogic can give you a picture of a blogger, as well as the influencers that surround any given blog. Also sites like and can provide a snapshot of any blogger's street cred.

Tip 4: Buy Keywords?

Yes. If you do end up with a firestorm surrounding your company or brand, why not buy keywords and get your story told? Jim Nail from Cymfony says "for a company to protect its brand, they should be buying keywords." Consider Wal-Mart as the classic example. "Wal-Mart Sucks" yields negative results for the first 10 listings. So why not own those keywords as paid links to sites that put Wal-Mart in perspective, covering, among other things, the company's substantial economic benefits to society?

Tip 5: Use PR to Strengthen Your Digital Footprint

Another obvious tactic would be to issue a series of press statements to address whatever the concerns are, and optimize them for the Web. Consider using a press release distribution company such as PRWeb, which sends releases to journalists' email boxes and makes them Web ready. This will help increase the rankings in news engines such as Google News, as well as in the general search results. When a press release ranks high in a search engine, it's just one more spot a negative listing won't appear!

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

You say you love me, but... (By Jarvis)

The funny, short video below says a lot about the state of relations today between marketers and customers. It’s a break-up scene. Ms. Consumer wants a divorce from Mr. Advertiser. And just like the dissolution of many relationships, trust has broken down.

Some of “Ms. Consumer’s” grievances:

“You’re saying you love me, but you’re not behaving like you love me. You’re not genuine.”

“You do all the talking…. It’s not exactly a dialogue.”

The video exposes a fundamental issue for companies looking to build trusted customer relationships: We now live in a “show me” marketplace where our words are increasingly disbelieved.

Piper Jaffray’s recent analyst report on the new advertising ecosystem (The User Revolution) highlights some of the problems plaguing advertisers.

• The effectiveness of one-way advertising messaging has been collapsing around the world. Its influence on customers is more and more suspect.

• Content is increasingly controlled by users, who are either designing their own or mixing information sources to their preference.

• The consumer decision process is changing radically. In the new age of information transparency, products and services are selected based on expert reviews or peer recommendation, not because of the marketing or sales message.

And if you’re a business-to-business marketer and think you’re immune from all this, think again. A recent study sought to identify the trusted sources of information among sophisticated corporate technology buyers. Only 3% picked the vendor itself as the most trusted source of information. Analysts took top billing.

So what’s the fix for marketers? Better spruce up your influence-building skills on all levels.

Do agencies get it? Many think not. We can report, however, that this clip was passed along to the Garage from the folks at Allen & Gerritsen. So at least one agency gets it.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Galapagos. “The archipelago of good behavior” (Paul Allen)

In his last post, fellow Trustmeister Jarvis Cromwell made mention of my recent journey to the Galapagos Islands. My wife, 13-year-old daughter and I had the good fortune to go on an expedition to this isolated archipelago; one of the most remote, unique and protected ecosystems on this planet.

The reputation of Galapagos* precedes it. It is the land of Darwin and his many finches. It is home to endemic flora and fauna found nowhere else on earth. It is made of active volcanoes. It is at the crossroads of four major ocean currents converging 600 miles off the coast of Ecuador. It is a very cool place that a lot of people feel is important to experience in their lifetime.

I, for one, couldn’t agree more.

Like any vacation, this trip was planned as an escape; an immersion into an environment so interesting and stimulating that it left daily concerns irrelevant and quietly tucked away for another time. But, as it turns out, Galapagos dramatically brings to life fundamental qualities that cross traditional borders between the personal and professional. So it was more than vacation; it was a looking glass in which to view our own relationships, priorities and actions.

Pretty heavy stuff, eh? Particularly for a vacation.

So what are these “fundamental qualities” and what the heck has this got to do with the Reputation Garage? My answer is that what I observed and experienced in Galapagos are at the core of managing reputation – observed unfettered and uninterrupted. They are:

1. Unspoken Trust.

Perhaps the first and most startling impression made by Galapagos is the fact that the creatures who reside there have no fear of man. None. To be among sea lions, marine iguanas, blue-footed boobies, and white-tipped sharks (to name a few) and be accepted as unthreatening was a remarkable experience. Sea lions would curl up on guests’ beach towels. Galapagos mockingbirds would sit on your hat. Giant sea turtles permitted a swim beside them. Penguins dried themselves on warm lava rocks and posed for your photos. Nobody fled. Everybody behaved naturally. No one violated personal boundaries (touching the animals is forbidden).

There was trust in the air. Very refreshing.

This aura of unspoken trust very quickly permeated the expedition group, our tour leaders, and other indigenous life to make us one in the mission of comfortably, naturally and permanently being enriched by Galapagos.

Talk about team building.

2. Unwavering Stewardship

The enchanted, trustful world of the Galapagos is no accident. It is the result of a number of organizations, private and public, all over the world deciding what guidelines would foster and preserve this ecosystem. The implementation of these guidelines is unwavering. Visiting Galapagos is only possible in the company of licensed guides and their organizations - dedicated individuals who have decided to make the sustainability of the Galapagos their vocation; accepting the responsibility of educating while guiding, of protecting while making things accessible.

Perhaps the most powerful example of this stewardship was when, on one trek, our naturalist stooped to pick up something miniscule on a trail to place it aside, off the trodden path. Invisible at a glance, we asked what he moved. It turned out to be an insect. Endemic to the islands. An important part of the food chain. One that should not be altered by an errant Teva.

Excellent attention to detail. No "green lipstick" here.

And while the rules of visiting first seemed limiting, it became starkly apparent that it was exactly these rules, and the unwavering stewardship of the naturalists, that would make our Galapagos experience as connected and authentic as it was.

(Interesting to think about how good guidelines can make things more authentic.)

3. Respectful Behaviors

One of the creatures talked about often during ship-board lectures was us – human beings. We were mostly referred to as the “world’s most invasive species”. Great pain was taken to illustrate that in order for ecosystems to thrive, humans must be managed accordingly. Otherwise, for sure, we will begin to behave badly and do something counter-productive. Guaranteed.

So emerged the notion of respectful behaviors. Not just between humans and the other species present in Galapagos. But amongst the variety of humans who chose to participate in this expedition and experience the Galapagos. The crew and guests of the MS Polaris** (our expedition ship), men, women and children, from age 90 to age 8, regardless of demographic or socio-graphic background, all learned how to respect and be respected in their Galapagos experience.

And that, my friends, is good behavior.

This brings me back to the reputation thing. As a Trustmeister here in the Reputation Garage, I felt the need to share these three dimensions of reputation as experienced in Galapagos. Personally, I find them to be highly actionable experiences. My hope is that reading this may cause you to think about these issues in a more palpable manner. And perhaps ask yourself some questions.

How does one foster unspoken trust in life and in commerce?

What kind of colleagues make for an unwavering commitment to an organization, belief or cause?

When does mutual understanding and unexpected common ground act as catalyst for enjoyable and respectful behaviors?

Important questions, I think, on the road to a good and strong reputation.

I started this post by noting that the reputation of Galapagos preceded it. Now for me, it follows it. More alive and vibrant than I expected and imagined. The reputation of Galapagos was eclipsed by the visit itself. How often does that happen? Imagine making that happen for your business, and your life. Sounds pretty good.

So at the end of the day, people ask me a simple question.

Q: “How was your trip?”

A: “It was a privilege.”

Q: “What do you mean a privilege?”

It was a privilege to see three vital forces at work in their most primal, passionate form: unspoken trust, unwavering stewardship and respectful behaviors; indelible images that will influence my personal choices and professional endeavors moving forward. And maybe, through this post, yours too.

“Good reputation is a privilege and an increasingly precious commodity in our trust-starved world.

Create it. Live it. Protect It.”



*the locals never precede the name with “the” – they speak it as a living name – these islands are simply “Galapagos”.

** in the spirit of spreading some good reputation information – our trip was run by Lindblad Expeditions aboard the MS Polaris. They did an exemplary job exceeding all
expectations on a “high-expectation” trip. You can check them out at

Friday, May 11, 2007

Greener Barbie Doll at CRO Conference (by Jarvis Cromwell)

A few of us attended the CRO Conference in New York this week. This new organization dedicated to best practices in corporate responsibility already has 15% of the Fortune 500 signed up and it’s growing fast.

The meeting offered plenty of performance take-aways that organizations of every stripe can learn from. Here are a few that we’re chewing on back here in the Garage:

1) Some of the smartest companies are driving their sustainability practices from the outside in, with the customer firmly in sight. (Peter Drucker would have been proud.) Mattel, for example, is not only implementing a more sustainable packaging strategy for “Barbie”, they have eased a big customer frustration: having to cut, pry, twist and pull Barbie out of her well-bolted, plastic shrine. See a fun CNBC clip on Mattel’s strategy here.

2) Not one, but two Fortune 500 CEOs advised that when addressing sustainability issues an important starting point is to deal with the facts -- both the convenient and the inconvenient. Then focus on continuous improvement, not instant perfection. Funny how if you strip away the hype and just “get after it”, profits and greater good can come of it.

3) OK, full disclosure, this was a green crowd, but there was thoughtful consensus that it’s a myth that green practices are the enemy of profit. On the most basic level, what company wouldn’t want to reduce costs through less fuel, less water? And did we mention that Mattel’s stock price has been on a tear over the past year?

4) Long-term solutions to many sustainability issues are not going to yield short-term gains. That’s a problem, and a big topic. And it relates to what we refer to here in the Garage as The Math Problem. More on that another day.

5) Climate change will be profoundly important in accelerating both business growth and new wealth. Of course for some, the grim reaper of economics, “creative destruction,” will be in play. What companies are headed for a rough patch? The panel of experts – all consultants trying hard not to offend – demurred. Oh, wait a minute. The word “Detroit” slipped out. And it was predicted that water-intensive agriculture is going to die faster than anybody currently expects.

As fellow Trustmeister Paul Allen has just gotten back from the Galapagos Islands, we can’t help but paraphrase the famous Darwin insight here: “It’s not the strongest that survive, but those that are best able to adapt.” You can read his dispatch shortly.

Finally, one of the biggest points for trustmeisters that came out of the conference: If you don’t know what it is you need to do to have your reputation aligned with your publics, you’re courting real trouble.

Enjoy the weekend.

Monday, May 07, 2007

Should you apply the green lipstick? (by Samantha Taylor)

There is a lot of lip service being paid to the environment by marketers of all stripes. Is it authentic? A ‘greening of business’ cover story in Advertising Age (here) suggests the answer may be no in some cases.

For marketers, the more important question is whether or not donning “green lipstick” will ultimately pay off down the road.

Not if you’re not real about it.

According to Ad Age, while companies are flocking to add green to their marketing platforms, their true environmental conscience is being questioned. Hmm. The issue of consumer distrust that haunts marketers at every turn seems to be in play here. The learning for would-be trustmeisters: It takes a lot more than clever advertising to convince consumers that you’re serious about embarking down the road of sustainability.

Examples of companies who are doing more than wearing the green lipstick include Intel and GE. Both are developing sustainable programs. Will such emphasis pay off for them? GE says it will grow revenues that provide some kind of environmental benefit to $20 billion by 2010.

GE is being more authentic than most, but it still has its critics. Our take here is that as companies engage more actively in issues of societal responsibility, they also must beef up communications programs – with particular emphasis on dialoguing with stakeholders and critics alike.

We expect to see continuing debate in executive suites on what to do about this issue, particularly because in our view the payoff potential can be significant. Considering that $179 billion was invested in socially responsible mutual funds in 2005, moving beyond mere conscience touting seems not only sensible, but profitable.

Fellow trustmeister Jarvis Cromwell points out in a previous post (here), that the LOHAS consumer segment is a growing and highly desirable market. New industries will emerge, and reputations and empires will be built, as we see the greening of corporate America.

And need we say that future generations are depending on it?

Less lip service please. True brand trustmeisters will do more by re-engaging with nature, science and the bottom line in an authentic way.

Our advice: Don’t move forward on green efforts until you’re ready to be real. That means first aligning causes with business operations and stakeholder communities, and then backing your actions up with strong communications.

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Search vs. Social Media, a podcast with Adam Lavelle and Paul Dunay

Search engine marketing has become a mainstay of any marketing department and a must-have in any integrated marketing plan. But did you ever wonder what all the new social media is going to mean for the search engine marketing industry? Good, then this podcast is for you!

I conducted an interview with Adam Lavelle, Chief Strategy Officer of iCrossing, a search media company that is answering these questions and more. Listening to Adam will give you a taste of just how Google will become a "reputation management" system and how you need to be prepared.

About Adam

Lavelle oversees all client-related strategic services for iCrossing. He focuses primarily on leveraging the company’s search and consumer insights to develop marketing solutions to client challenges. Lavelle has more than 11 years of interactive expertise helping clients succeed online. He began his digital career at The Internet Group in 1994 when Mosaic was the browser of choice, where he led the first launch of Lavelle has a B.A. in Classical Studies and Creative Writing from the University of Pittsburgh.

Monday, April 30, 2007

The Venom of Crowds (Paul Dunay)

Nastiness can erupt online and go global overnight. If' it's directed at you, "no comment" doesn't cut it anymore.

Most companies are totally unprepared to deal with the new e-nastiness. That's worrisome as the Web moves closer to being the prime advertising medium—and reputation conduit—of our time.

Trashing brands online can also be a sport. Witness the faux ads bashing the Chevy Tahoe as a gas-guzzling, global-warming monster. Millions of people watch this stuff then pile on. Is it any wonder companies lose control of the conversation?

When the Web turns against them, executives face the problem of how to manage the blowback. They have two choices: ignore the smaller furies and hope they won't metastasize, or respond outright to the attacks.

Companies such as Lenovo Group, Southwest Airlines, and Dell now have specialists dedicated to engaging or co-opting their critics. Other businesses hire firms such as BuzzMetrics or Cymfony. Those outfits use algorithms to analyze which bloggers and social media are driving the conversation around issues that matter to marketers. (Trackback to my podcast interview with Jim Nail of Cymfony)

New premium service providers claim they can promote the info you want and suppress the news you don't. Some say they can make information disappear altogether!

But we know better, of course. The Web is like Whac-A-Mole. For every proactive move, another crisis can flare up elsewhere.

Where is all this headed? I believe anyone's 15 minutes of infamy is no longer something that gets buried in the sands of time. Google changes all that, and "ruined for life" becomes a very real possibility. Even if you can rebuild your reputation, missteps cost plenty and take a heavy toll on individuals and businesses.

To learn more listen to my podcast with Chief Strategy Officer of iCrossing Adam Lavelle coming up later this week.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Brand Trust Was Missing from Friedman's Playbook (Jarvis)

We find Andrew Zolli one of the more interesting and relevant futurists out there these days. He recently wrote a great piece in Fast Company (here) that kicked off with a quote from renown free-marketeer Milton Friedman:

“There is one and only one social responsibility of business”, Friedman wrote back in 1970, and that is to “engage in activities designed to increase profits.”

As soon as we read this quote here in the Garage, we knew that Zolli had nailed it: Friedman’s pronouncement marked a watershed moment for global business, a tipping point for the guiding principal of the era: profitable self-interest would prove to be the only reliable endgame.

And everyone knows how things played out with the help of Friedman’s compass. The rise of the activist shareholder movement. Reagan-era deregulation. Michael Douglas’ declaration that “Greed is Good” in the movie Wall Street. The tearing down of the Berlin Wall. The creation of the Jack Welch rules of management.

All of this and more helped companies achieve higher performance throughout the 80s and 90s. “Mr. Market” surged, helped along by a long-term decline in interest rates and a speculative bubble or two. A lot of executives (and shareholders) grew rich.

Greed took a victory lap. Capitalistic self-interest flourished. Customers got better and cheaper products. All in, Friedman’s playbook worked.

Of course, playbooks rarely cover all the bases equally well. Which brings us to another quote, this one from advertising icon David Ogilvy:

“The customer is not an idiot, she is your wife.”

The point Ogilvy was making is that you can’t pull the wool over your customers’ eyes. They notice everything and apply their observations with keen self-interest. And today, with only 13% trust levels in business, the customer seems to be saying: “Yes, yes we get it. Big companies have improved performance greatly, but they are not in the game primarily to benefit us." And this means that companies live in a world where the customer may buy from them, but probably doesn't trust them and may not like them. And the key point for management? Low trust changes the nature of virtually every transaction -- for the worse. Just ask Michael Dell. It's a headwind you have to take into account as you steer the business.

All of this brings us back to Andrew Zolli and the title of his Fast Company piece: “Business 3.0: The oblivious Capitalist’s Days Are Numbered.” In this case he casts his eye to the future and the environment and concludes that a host of global forces will force a remake of the playbook for business success. Business will profit by driving a wider social agenda and “the clinical, value-neutral capitalism of old” will fall by the wayside.

We agree. Long-term growth has always come down to this: finding and keeping customers at a profit. And the playbook now requires companies to place greater attention on building trust and reputational performance. GE, Toyota and other leaders are already well on their way towards profiting from the wider social agenda.

As one example, product value propositions are being stretched by companies of all kinds to appeal to the LOHAS segment (i.e. customers who focus on lifestyles of health and sustainability.) These folks do yoga, buy Energy Star appliances, drive hybrids and read books by Andrew Weil. And guess what? There are some 50 million of them out there paying a premium for products. They make up an estimated $228 billion market and are growing.

In the LOHAS market, the reputational performance of the company you do business with matters. Further evidence that for aspiring corporate trustmeisters, it’s time once again to reinvent the playbook. After all, that’s why we’re here in the Garage, isn’t it?

Saturday, April 14, 2007

Saturday Extra: Daily Show Post

We got some emails regarding yesterday's post on the problems of Messrs. Imus and Wolfowitz. One reader wanted to know what Daily Show segment we were referring to. Hey, this is professional blog! Then again it's Saturday -- a time when the trustmeisters here in the Garage turn up the boom box and kick back a little.

So here's the Daily Show piece. Enjoy!

Friday, April 13, 2007

So Don't Do That! (Jarvis)

It’s easy to grow callous over the daily scandal sheet. On this week’s critical-care list: World Bank President Paul Wolfowitz. And for shock jock Don Imus, the lights have now officially gone out.

But so what? While Wolfowitz and Imus are clearly victims of their own bad judgment, the learning for the reputation-minded can be summed up in an old Marx Brothers bit:

“Doctor, it hurts when I do this.” (Gesturing with arm.)
“So don’t do that!”

At first blush, the cases appear quite different. Radio's famous bad boy Imus was dethroned by his notoriously noxious tongue – a thoughtless joke, he says, gone terribly wrong. The Daily Show had some fun, saying Imus offered up an excuse for his remark: he doesn’t have a PR agent.

PR can’t help much once the genie is out of the bottle.

To other matters, Wolfie, as our President likes to call him, may also lose his job - in this case over more than a slip. Indeed, a series of bad decisions could send him packing.

A quick recap of the Wolfowitz case: boss gets girlfriend generous pay package and transfer. Boss claims he got approval for his actions from the ethics committee. That claim is later called into question. Boss apologies for the mistake. Board deliberates boss’ future.

Both “trust events” will cost plenty. The Imus show brought in an estimated $20 million in revenue to CBS last year. That's gone poof. And then there’s the issue of management distraction. The growing controversy at the World Bank has overshadowed major development meetings taking place this weekend. And it has also caused further turmoil among staff, who have called for Wolfowitz’s resignation.

According to the Financial Times, the scandal has jeopardized the one asset the President of the World Bank has: his credibility. Indeed, Wolfowitz has been mistrusted by many both inside and outside the bank since his appointment. All this makes it harder for the World Bank to do what it's supposed to do: fight global poverty and raise the world’s living standards.

The take from this Garage “trustmeister” is that Groucho’s advice is sound. Don’t do that. Reputational risk is real and companies need to find effective ways to mitigate poor decision-making. Large organizations are especially vulnerable to dangerously myopic judgment. What’s often missing is a zoom out lens. In other words a mechanism to help companies look out from the point of decision and understand its impact on brand reputation.

It’s a necessary practice, whether your talking about a brand, a company, a CEO, or a shock jock.

Saturday, April 07, 2007

Why we started the Reputation Garage (Jarvis)

The world’s business community has reached, well, let’s just call it a low point: Practically nobody trusts big business. (In the U.S. the number who say they trust big companies and brands hovers around 13%)

So the intent behind this blog is as simple as it is ambitious: We're an experienced group of professionals who want to help change the dismally low worldview of business. We are pushing for a new era of business performance - where companies and their brands are trusted more than they are today. (Along the way, we also expect to see continuing seismic shifts in marketing practices as we know them.)

Our merry band of “trustmeisters" includes yours truly, a consultant and former big company CMO who is known for his thinking on this topic; a U.S. ad agency chairman who questions the efficacy of many traditional marketing programs and practices; a corporate social responsibility expert and U.K. native who has also served as co-head of the U.S. branding practice for a global communications firm; and a leading thinker at the intersection of marketing and technology whose day job happens to be at one of the world's leading consulting firms. We'll be adding more trustmeisters as we go along.

Are we out to change the world? No, but if trust matters, then a lot of organizations are not supported by strong footings. More importantly, a majority of customers and employees around the world are expressing unhappiness with the current state of affairs. That doesn't exactly spell brand power or, to use the catch phrase of the moment, employee engagement. Because traditional practices have failed to prevent or solve these problems, new ideas and actions are called for here.

So for the record, trust matters. Indeed, if you’ve attended any of the last several World Economic Forum meetings in Davos over the past few years, you know that there is significant hand-wringing taking place over this issue. When trust declines, the nature of virtually every exchange and transaction is altered. Brands, which are built on trust, lose value. Sales become harder to generate. Customers defect, as loyalty deteriorates. Employees disengage from their jobs and the company mission.

So where's the fix for organizations looking to improve upon this sorry state of affairs? Join us here in the Garage as we uncover, evaluate and share emerging new ideas and solutions for what may be the most important marketing issue for our times.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007


We're glad you've joined us at the Reputation Garage. We're just getting underway and our first post will be coming at you shortly!