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.