Dear Colleagues:

Over the past year, the rise and fall of prominent individuals across America and around the globe has been part of our daily news.

In a March 2009 McKinsey Quarterly survey of senior executives around the world, 85 and 72 percent, respectively, said that public trust in business and commitment to free markets had deteriorated. It turns out that we are seeing the deterioration of corporate, sector and individual reputations, and a growing distrust of authority and leadership within society at large. So, what are we each doing about it?

Today's financial and automotive companies have gone the way of yesterday's oil and tobacco companies. Reputations affect individuals, companies and entire sectors. Today, there are many strategies that thoughtful executives can deploy to ensure that their company and personal reputation is differentiated from the pack. This work enables executives to continue to build their company's stock price, market share and careers.

The following perspectives and concrete tips can impact your and your company's success. While this is true at all times, this is especially true today.

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Executive Reputations: Lessons for Your Company
1. You have a reputation - for better or for worse

Do quality people want to work for you? Does the media mock you and your company or flock to you as an expert source? Are you known as a caretaker or a problem solver? As a workhorse or an innovator?

As an executive YOU need to be on-point when the opportunity arises for a company representative to speak to the press about a hot issue integral to your business or to address a Congressional committee that is studying issues relevant to your company and sector. When the top trade association in your industry meets or publicly discusses best practices and leadership strategies, how could you allow your company to go unrepresented? Surely you want to lead the way and demonstrate that you are well positioned to make the case.

With public and investor interest growing in the area of corporate social responsibility, the "nice to do" recognition from the local community may seem a distraction, but I assure you that built up goodwill is an important tool in an executive's arsenal -- both to build long-term credibility and to build a reputation as a corporate leader throughout your career.

Then, there is the worst case...what if your company comes under attack for its practices, products or services? A strong, well-respected executive is better positioned to ride out a storm and put a positive face on a challenging situation.

2. You need to actively shape your own reputation

"What do you want them to know about you?" I ask my clients repeatedly. I can't count how many times I've met with CEOs who parrot back to me public perceptions about their company or describe their company as a series of products and services -- without a sense of value and benefit to the customer and investor.

When I work with executives to develop their personal reputation strategy, they often have a strong self-awareness about characteristics with which others identify them. Still, there is often a gap between their resume and self-assessment and the reputation they need to cultivate with some target audiences.

For example, I have a few senior executive clients who started their careers "in the mail room" -one literally did. Why do some make it to the top, while others settle-in somewhere in the middle? Other clients' companies have plunged on their watch. While some in this position may falter terminally, those who have successfully built their reputations are continually sought after for leadership.

3. Be pro-active - don't let others define you
  • Did you know that Verizon's 3G network dwarfs AT&T's? That's what the ads tell us. Is that the value proposition that we should care about most when selecting a carrier?
  • What is it about John McEnroe's persona that makes us feel he's found a car rental company that meets his finicky needs?
  • American cars are inferior to all Japanese models? Really? Based on what metrics? Aren't most Japanese cars assembled in the U.S. these days and with many American- made parts?
Why is one executive overlooked for an industry leadership position while another receives recognition? Why is one seen as "toxic" and other given a promotion or recruited to another company during a difficult time?

Wise executives do not wait for something to go wrong for their defining moment. They actively guide their reputations across the span of their career. There are many approaches to establish one's position, expertise and leadership -- from the most formal (measuring reputations and crafting reputation plans) to proactive planning with goals and a strategy, supported by a message platform. The target audiences will vary by executive, but all should certainly start with employees, investors, partners and vendors to your company, and extend to industry communities, professional associations, university alumni, local business organizations, and meaningful charitable involvements. One's relationships through hobbies, sports teams and your child's classmates' parents may even be relevant.

The process of developing and maintaining relationships with target audiences and conducting steady, deliberate outreach requires close coordination with staff. Those executives who are most effective have staff who ensure that their bosses' achievements and involvements are well-known to their peers, and to opinion leaders who affect their companies and careers.

4. Don't let others answer the tough questions
about you and your company before you do

All mortgage brokers are snake oil salespersons pushing people into homes they cannot afford. Bottled water is no longer viable because of the damage the wasteful plastic bottles do to the environment. Are these opinions or truths?

It's time to create your own narrative.

What is your business philosophy? How do your products and services bring value to customers and to the community? How is your philosophy implemented from an operations, compensation and community relations perspective? What is the benefit that drives customers to choose your company over rivals? What are the standards in your industry and how do you meet and exceed them?
5. Silence is expensive (not golden)

What do Tiger Woods, Governor Mark Sanford, John Edwards have in common? They all left us guessing. The longer we guessed, the faster their problems grew, the more attention they got.

Simply put, take a tip from the politicians and celebrities who have watched their reputations implode overnight. Don't Tell = Everyone Asks. This is the media age and gossip sells.
If you pay attention to the news you may have observed how those who get their bad news out with full and fast disclosure get their lives and careers back on track much quicker than those who parse out the information and remain in the headlines indefinitely.
6. These tips are for all executives - regardless of business size -
from very small to very large

If your company is large, you have a big responsibility to position and best represent your organization for success in the marketplace. If your company is small, there is no one whose reputation will have a larger impact on the way your business is perceived than you. For everyone, doing nothing is not a viable option.

Your words and actions contribute to your reputation every day. Every decision you make, every meeting or event request you accept or decline, says something about you...and reflects on your business.

So, you can choose not to engage in establishing or building your reputation. Just know that this too is a choice: to allow others to develop their own impressions about yours and your company's expertise, intentions and character. And know that, much of the time, they'll get it wrong.
Marketing Coach is a publication of Ivy Cohen Corporate Communications, Inc. ICCC helps companies
build reputations and differentiate in a competitive market. To find out how ICCC might help you and
your company build your reputation contact ivy@ivycohen.com, call 212-399-0026 or
visit www.ivycohen.com.