Corporate reputation management: “CRM” with a strategic twist?
Fritz Hoffmann was 28 years old when he formed a company F. Hoffmann-La Roche Ltd. in Basel, Switzerland, to develop and manufacture novel drugs of uniform strength and quality to market them internationally. The company, formed in 1896, was named after himself and his wife, Adele La Roche. The company has remained at the forefront of biomedical knowledge through virtually every decade of its existence. Roche has approximately 70,000 employees worldwide and operates in more than 100 countries. (HoffmannLa Roche, 2000).
Surprisingly, in a recent study, Corporate Crime Reporter (CCR) placed the Swiss pharmaceutical giant – Hoffmann-La Roche – on top of the list of leading corporate criminals of the 1990s. The list `CCR 100′ was released on September 2, 1999 at a press conference by Corporate Crime Reporter, a legal publication based in Washington, D.C. (U.S. Newswire, 1999). The impact of negative news about this company may not be reflected in its market share or its ability to develop new products in the immediate future, but it has definitely done damage to the corporate image and reputation. What happened to this Swiss giant could happen to any corporation, unless it takes its CRM seriously. As in the cases of Mitsubishi and Archer-DanielsMidland, the negative effects of high profile problems can be far-reaching and long lasting.
Technology weary may read the title of this article and say: “Oh! No! Not another acronym!” In the solutions integration market several acronyms including CRM, CIM, ERM, CIS and ECM have emerged in the past twelve months alone. These acronyms stand for Customer Relationship Management (CRM), Enterprise Relationship Management (ERM), Customer Interaction Management (CIM), and Enterprise Customer Management (ECM). They all mean approximately the same thing: enterprise level, outward-facing, front office, applications designed to achieve better customer relationship.
The concept discussed in this paper under the acronym CRM has nothing to do with the $9 billion CRM market (Jacobs, 1999). CRM, in this article refers to Corporate Reputation Management. Often contained within a corporate communications function, reputation management is about building a sound corporate reputation and maintaining the strength. While some define corporate reputation as “corporate identity” others define it as the “collective opinion of stakeholders toward an organization” based on its past record. It has also been described as a method of building and sustaining of an organization’s good name, generating positive feedback from stakeholders that will result in meeting strategic and financial objectives (Kartalia, 1999). A company’s reputation affects its ability to sell products and services, to attract investors, to hire talented staff, and to exert influence in government circles. Poets and PR professionals agree reputation is a mighty thing, worthy of nurture, deserving of praise. And once lost – or even tarnished – incredibly difficult to regain (Winkleman, 1999).
Environmental Factors Demanding Reputation Management
A number of trends are converging to put enormous pressure on the modern corporation and its relationship with the rest of the world. “Corporate reputation has become a driving factor in the business of managing the nation’s largest corporations,” says Tom Hoog, President and CEO of Hill and Knowlton USA (Miller, 1999). The most significant consequence of a negative corporate reputation is the adverse effect on share price and market capitalization.
Chairman and CEO of Waste Management Steve Miller believes that on every front, from sales to customers, dealing with suppliers, recruitment, retention of employees, fending off regulators and pleasing your financial stakeholders, it is infinitely more difficult if you do not have reputation behind you (Donlon, 1998). Several factors, discussed below, have contributed to the renewed interest in CRM especially among the global market leaders.
During the last decade, there has been a tremendous increase in pressure to reach cost-saving productivity, and profitability performance goals. Some managers have achieved dramatic results by pushing subordinates to achieve aggressive performance objectives – commonly called “stretch goals.” Their impulsive action to secure short term financial gains are frequently linked to negative outcomes including social disintegration, low employee morale, predatory financial practices, and emphasis on limitless economic growth over sustainable developments.
Management Philosophy and Culture
The long term impact of “do whatever it takes managers” who push themselves and others to achieve ever escalating stretch goals without regard to the tendency of such practices to spawn illegal and unethical behavior, is always negative (Wah, 1999). People may produce spectacular results for a while, but it is inevitable that techniques depending so heavily on fear as a motivator generate survival strategies that include cheating, distortion, and internal unhealthy competition. This undermines the organization – its image and reputation – and erodes employee goodwill and confidence.
Erosion of Ethical Values
Internal audits of many companies reveal widespread statistical manipulation, game playing, and outright lying, especially when employees are pressured to achieve an ever-escalating numerical goal. Large numbers of trusted executives choose to lie, conceal, or distort important business information rather than run the risk of losing a promotion, a bonus, or in some cases, their jobs.
The solution is not to abandon goal setting and measurements of productivity and quality, but to increase the likelihood that the people who compile, report and use information will do so with integrity. This involves establishing and enforcing high standards of conduct and recruiting and promoting people of character, who will maintain the corporate reputation of high moral values and character.
Globalization of Business
As corporations move aggressively into international production and markets, hosts of public relations issues emerge. These include: different laws and customs for business practices as well as for dealing with the news media, differences in political structures between regions and countries, and a challenge of achieving consistency of image and policy across the world (Pinkham, 1998).
The globalization of markets makes the product offerings and demands increasingly homogeneous and encourages organizations to restructure in response to global competitive opportunities. In view of the stunning pace at which businesses are being transformed by new competitors, mergers, deregulation, and global economics, the corporate world is finding it extremely difficult to hold on to its corporate identity. Corporate restructuring and reengineering lead to greater emphasis on outsourcing, tightening of budgets, increased demand on staff to handle diverse responsibilities, greater focus on effectiveness and accountability, and public mistrust of business community.
With continuing movement of corporate America towards mergers and diversification, corporations are beginning to realize that they not only have to pay more attention to the reputation building but also to protecting their identify and reputation. You can take 30 years building a reputation and in 30 seconds destroy it, says Jim Kartalia (1999).
As the liberalization of the world markets continues, communications get faster and the pace of technological innovations increases, people are being confronted with more information and more choices than they can possibly handle in the time available. To simplify their purchase decisions, buyers are demanding more information about the corporation and its reputation in the market prior to making commitment to their brands or products.
The growing commercialization of the World Wide Web has led to the increased availability of corporate information via the Internet. It is easier for customers and other stakeholders to get information about the companies, products and services. Any stakeholder, including customers, employees, shareholders, vendors, or community leaders can find out about the company happenings at the touch of a key. If the source of information is a disgruntled employee, or a journalist who does not have all the facts, then a company’s reputation is at great risk (Kartalia, 1999). While much of the information available on commercial sites is intended for product promotion and public relations, a side effect of this trend has been the increased accessibility of corporate Environmental, Safety and Health (ES&H) information.
International companies have long known that being a good corporate citizen is important, no matter what their business activities. In the United States, companies have long recognized the value of supporting their local communities through philanthropy, volunteerism, and other aspects of social responsibility. In today’s global economy, companies are constantly striving to set themselves apart from competition. One way is by meeting objective, professional standards, such as IS09000 quality and IS014000 ecological guidelines. Now there is another set of standards gaining acceptance in the international arena: Social Accountability SA8000 (Thaler-Carter, 1999).
Internet stocks have created instant millionaires. Shoppers are buying everything from groceries to Gucci on line. And media are enjoying an advertising bonanza, as dot.com companies spend hundreds of millions of dollars to get noticed. Yet when it comes to the best reputation in the digital-technology, people still put faith in companies with tangible products and service and – a solid track record in the marketplace. A study conducted by the Harris Associates and reported in The Wall Street Journal provided a list of top 30 companies based on their Reputation Quotient (Alsop, 1999). The exhibit below lists the top 15 global marketers on the basis of Reputation Quotient (RQ).
Twenty corporate attributes that were used to measure the perception of respondents were classified into six major categories. These categories of corporate attributes include: emotional appeal, products and services, vision and leadership, social responsibility, workplace environment and financial performance.
Reputation Affects Financial Performance
Business school researchers and Fortune magazine have proven that companies with better reputations have better financial performance, measured in part, by ten year return to investors, Economic Value Added (EVA) and Price to Earnings Ratios (Saxton, 1998). Since 1983, Fortune magazine has conducted annual survey ranking the reputation of about 400 companies in 49 industry groups based on the impressions of thousands of knowledgeable observers. An examination of Fortune listings shows the tendency of corporate reputations, both positive and negative, to endure.
Although reputation may be strongly influenced by corporate ethical behavior, it seems obvious that a major factor affecting a firm’s reputation is its financial performance. An analysis of the stock performance of the corporations on the Fortune Reputation lists shows that future stock performance is directly related to corporate reputation (Vegrin, Qoronfleh, 1998).
Innovative Products Affect Reputation
When it comes to the best reputation people still
put faith in companies with tangible products and service and – a solid track record in the marketplace. In digital technology industry, Microsoft Corp. ranked No. 1 in a new study of the reputation of the most prominent technology companies, despite the government’s antitrust suit and all the related negative publicity. “Innovation, good value and product quality are all key to this industry’s reputation,” Joy Server, Senior Vice President at Harris (Alsop, 1999.
Experience Affects Perception of Reputation
First hand experience with a company greatly colors buyer perceptions, whether shopping at a store, using a computer or long distance phone service, or tasting a mug of beer. Customers who fled America Online and tarnished its reputation were those who were affected by its much-publicized service and billing problems in the past. Unsatisfied customers would refer to the company as “AOHELL” (Alsop, 1999).
Due to positive experience with Eastman Kodak Co.’s traditional photography products, people consider the firm to be highly reputable, even though its digital business has not been a success yet. Sony also secures high place in reputation survey because of positive experience with its television sets and audio products. Retailers such as Wal-Mart and Home Depot are rated high for low price, while Intel is rated high for innovative products. Still others like Walt Disney are rated high on reputation for friendly, helpful employees.
Environmental Initiatives Affect Reputation
Companies such as Ben & Jerry’s are rated high by customers not only for taste, indulgent products but also for its positive environmental actions such as using unbleached paper in its cartons and buying steroid-free milk. Philip Morris has a low rating on reputation because of what it sells – products that are addictive and cause cancer. Even though Philip Morris is a major contributor to a variety of causes, including campaign against domestic violence and hunger, only 10 percent of the people rating Philip Morris gave it top marks for supporting good causes (Alsop, 1999).
Valuing Corporate Image and Reputation
How much of the future revenue and profitability of a corporation is due to the market share and reputation it and its products now enjoy? How much is due to the cooperative and knowledgeable relations established over time with suppliers and distributors; to the expertise and insight of your personnel and more particularly the ways they have developed to work in an integrated manner to produce the products and serve the markets?
The value of most operating business lies in the intangible assets they have developed. Yet typically, the value of these assets is neither measured nor consciously managed. Corporate reputation is also an intangible asset, which has yet to find its place on corporate balance sheets. “Every public company measures earnings, return on investment and often customer satisfaction, yet they do not measure reputation – something that affects many of these other measures of financial and operating health,” says Tom Hoog (Miller, 1999).
Since corporation reputation is the reflection of an organization over time, as seen through the eyes of its stakeholders, it must include employee attitudes and beliefs, customer perception, vendors and business partners as well as the community at large. Several measures have been developed to gauge the reputation of a corporation but they are still not used systematically in the context of corporate reputation management. Some of these tools are discussed briefly here.
Customer Satisfaction Index
Many companies make a systematic effort to acquire information about customers’ satisfaction with the corporate offerings. Marketing departments use customer satisfaction index (CSI) to gauge the level of customer satisfaction over time. Results of the studies are used to make changes in the marketing strategies, as part of customer retention initiatives.
Customer Franchise and Loyalty
Customers stick with suppliers who are known for their product quality, their innovative initiatives, and their ability to lead the markets. In 1997, UPS suffered a devastating strike. The drop in customer loyalty following the strike was almost immediate; it took only nine days for the impact to spread to the financial community, as UPS’s credit rating suffered. By all reports, including the company’s, UPS lost S to 10 percent of its business that it will never recover. A campaign to restore its reputation has cost the company millions of dollars and thousands of costly executive hours (Saxton, 1998).
Employee Beliefs and Attitudes
Just as you can measure the attitude of the market to the company, you can get a picture of employees’ attitudes to their places of work. If these attitudes are favorable, they contribute consciously or unconsciously to enhance the image and reputation of the company among their various stakeholders, including the current and potential customers. If, on the other hand, the employees take a dim view of the company, this attitude will unconsciously rub off on customers and can easily nullify the arguments made in most elaborate advertising campaigns.
Fortune’s Most Admired Companies List
Fortune Magazine’s annual survey of the Fortune 500’s most admired companies is testament to the value of good corporate image. The corporations that have earned their way on to this prestigious list have done so in no small part due to their outstanding reputation, garnering the admiration of their employees, clients, and the business financial world as well. The results are increased loyalty, sales, and improved stock valuation. The attributes used by Fortune Magazine in developing the annual list of America’s Most Admired Companies include: Innovativeness, quality of management, employee talent, quality of products/services, long-term investment value, financial soundness, social responsibility, and use of corporate assets.
SCA Consulting, a Los Angeles-based management consulting firm, traced the annual total shareholder return of 60 Fortune 500 companies in five industries and compared them with four stakeholder indicators: corporate reputation, employee population growth, charitable giving, and inclusion in “100 Best Companies to Work for in America.” The analysis shows that a number of companies consistently create value for shareholders and stakeholders relative to others in the industry (Wah, 1998).
To fully understand their reputation strengths and weaknesses, companies should benchmark their reputation against both industry competitors and best of the class companies. In some industries, all companies are viewed as weak sisters while in others all companies have stellar reputation (Saxton, 1998). A new research tool, a reputation management index called Delahaye/RMI can be used to track corporate reputation versus someone else’s or its own image over time. Harris Associates uses Reputation Quotient (RQ) to gauge the reputation of corporations in select industries based on responses from various stakeholders. Benchmarking could be used to identify the attributes of players in the industry that placed them on Fortune Magazine’s “Most Admired” list.
Case in Point- attributes that placed companies on Fortune’s Most Admired’ list (Bounds, 1999).
Coca-Cola impresses through its marketing, distribution and quality control.
IBM, the fourth most respected company, is praised for restructuring, and prospering after near-collapse.
DaimlerChrysler wins praise for turning itself into truly global company through a groundbreaking transnational merger.
Sony is credited with seeing and shaping the future consistently.
Royal Dutch/Shell, among one of the first companies to produce an environmental audit, is praised because it respects the environment.
Johnson and Johnson is respected for its moral and ethical values, established all over the world.
GE is praised for high employee retention; CocaCola for staff dynamism and Microsoft for employee involvement at all levels of the company.
Unilever is credited with good human resources strategies and competent manpower. IBM and Dell are praised for their successful change management.
Gauging Best Practices
Gauging the best practices in various industries helps organizations identify their own weaknesses and strategies in developing or enhancing corporate reputation. Some of initiatives undertaken by global corporate leaders to project an image of good corporate citizen are listed below (Srivastava, 1996):
3M’s Pollution Prevention Pays program illustrates cost savings of $500 million.
Procter & Gamble’s TQEM program differentiates its product lines from those of competitors to achieve competitive market positions for its bodycare product lines.
Organizations like Green Seal certify environmentally friendly products so that selling green consumer products presents a strategic market niche.
Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO), the largest private electric utility company in the world, invests in sustainable development technologies, anticipating its competitive advantage in the global nuclear plant decommissioning market. Organizations that engage in clean technology transfer by developing ecologically friendly technologies.
Strategies for Sustainable Corporate Reputation
Corporate leadership and market success is no longer a game dominated by price or by temporal product or technology superiority. The corporate stakeholders, including the customers, are taking renewed interest in business goals and objectives, in the corporate competitive strategy and advantage, and the company’s reputation of being able to survive and thrive in the high-change global market environment. Corporate reputation emanates from everything it, its employees, and others say about it, how it behaves, and the strategies it tries to enact. Corporate leaders must develop sustainable corporate reputation strategies discussed below to maintain the desired image and reputation.
Ecologically Compatible Product-market Strategies
Ecologically compatible product market strategies involve incorporating sustainability variables into costs, differentiation, or niche strategies to gain competitive position in environmentally sensitive markets. These sustainability variables include operational improvement, supplier relationships, employee/customer education, and community/population impact. Leading corporations in Europe are beginning to use Ecolabels on authorized products made in Europe. This strategy provides competitive advantage over comparable products marketed without authorized ecolabels in other parts of the world (Willig 1994).
CRM Through Reliability and Responsibility
Successful global leaders acquire a reputation for reliability among customers and suppliers by ensuring quality, service and innovation. They gain reputation for responsibility among community and public constituencies by prudently stewarding organizational, social and natural assets. They also achieve reputation for accountability among governments and competitors by complying with regulations and building a level playing field for their competition (Petrick, Scherer, Brodzinski, Quinn, Ainina 1999).
Reputation Through Marketing Communications
Corporate reputation emanates from all of the business activities and communications it intentionally and unintentionally undertakes in the marketplace, such as advertising, promotion, direct marketing, personal selling, trade relations and public relations and community relations. Different stakeholders view a corporation differently because they focus on and look at different parts of business. All stakeholders, however, are affected by the brand image created through advertising and other marketing communications activities (Saxton, 1998).
CRM Through Management Practices and Policies
Global strategic leaders must achieve reputation for trustworthiness among employees through exemplary management practices – empowering and retaining employees, and instilling shared pride. Successful global leaders earn reputation for credibility among investors by showing profitability to individual and institutional stockholders, maintaining a stable return on investment, and nurturing financial growth prospects. Commitment to ethical practices will help corporations attract and retain star employees, reduce hostility toward the company and help employees make critical business decisions (Pinkham, 1998).
Good corporate reputation starts with board members and key executives. It is built as the company develops and implements sound standards, practices and policies and earns the trust of its stakeholders through hard work and enterprisewide knowledge sharing. Today’s stakeholders are holding companies accountable for all their activities. Everything from corporate environmental practices to their employee practices at home and abroad, is closely watched (Kartalia, 1999). To develop sound management practices, it makes good business sense to emulate the “best practices” within the industry, to develop or repair the corporate image and reputation. An example of best practices worth emulating is provided below:
Case in Point – Best Practices in Chemical Industry
The chemical industry came under intense public scrutiny in the 1980s because of public fear of toxic waste, compounded by several high-profile accidents, such as the Bhopal disaster 1984. Leading companies in the industry include Dupont, Dow, Monsanto, Bayer AG and BASF (Patrick and Quinn, 1997).
These industry leaders pressed for self-regulation to avert chemical disasters that might threaten the continued viability of the global industry. This culminated in 1988 with the adoption by the Chemical Manufacturers Association (CMA) of Responsible Care, a statement of environmental principles and codes of management practices that included provisions for pollution prevention and community and environmental responsibility. To give the program teeth, the principles and codes were made obligatory for CMA member companies, which made up 90 percent of the chemical capacity in the U.S. Non-compliance was ground for expulsion from CMA (Patrick and Quinn, 1997).
Since 1988, Responsible Care has transformed the chemical industry’s environmental behavior and helped to change the public perception of the industry from one of indifferent polluter to more responsible actor. The chemical industry has taken strides to move ahead of regulation to voluntarily reduce emission and other adverse impacts (Patrick and Quinn, 1997).
CRM Rather Than “Crisis Management”
Planning ahead to handle a crisis is good management strategy. Planning ahead to prevent a crisis is even better. “Far too many companies wait until disaster strikes to start thinking about reputation. But if a company cares about its reputation indeed its overall success – it must figure out where it may be vulnerable ahead of time” – says Davis Young, president of Edward Howard & Co. public relations (Alsop, 1999). While other organizations continue to utilize “crisis management” tactics, dealing with problems only after a disaster occurs, a successful company has an enterprise-wide reputation management strategy in place and a staff that is at-the-ready, building the company’s most important asset, corporate reputation, in real time.
Implementation of ‘CRM’ Strategies
Corporate executives need to understand the importance of reputation management and measurement. According to a recent study of CEOs commissioned by Hill & Knowlton USA and Chief Executive magazine, although 96% of the CEOs consider corporate reputation a vital component of business success, less than 20% have instituted a method of measuring their organization’s reputation. In addition, boards of directors of more than half the companies surveyed do not hold the CEOs responsible for corporate reputation management. Although the largest organizations – those with revenues exceeding $500 million – are most likely to maintain a system for evaluating organizational standing, only 25 percent have established a method to measure accountability (Miller, 1999).
Advanced technologies that have allowed for the greater scrutiny of company activities by outsiders can now facilitate the management of corporate reputation by company insiders. A new breed of software has gradually developed that is capable of applying the same processes used for quality management to corporate reputation management. The best of the genre usually identifies the type of potential reputation effects that need to be monitored and dealt with (Kartalia, 1999).
To reduce the impact of negative information on corporate reputation, a fast and reliable knowledge system within the company must be established. This system should provide managers and executives with the status of incidents and events occurring within the company (Kartalia, 1999). The system should be established to function as a decision support system that would capture the information about the company and its market environment and trigger appropriate and timely responses to events and incidents likely to hurt the image and reputation of the corporation.
Role of Market Research and Public Relations (PR) Firms
Leading market research companies are beginning to seek opportunities in the field of corporate reputation. The researchers have the ability to measure reputation while the publicists and PR personnel try to influence it. Changing corporate reputation is difficult because the perceptions die hard. Many people have never forgiven Exxon for the Alaskan oil spill, and the anger appears to be deep-seated. People just cannot seem to get the image of dead birds out of their minds. The negative image seems to linger on even though Exxon ran advertisements apologizing for the spill and spent about $3.5 billion for the cleanup, compensation for people and businesses affected by the spill, and environmental programs (Alsop, 1999).
The public relations firms must be involved early on in developing strategies for building and maintaining the corporate image and reputation. Reserving a seat at the corporate boardroom tables for PR executives, and involving them in strategy development, would be the logical first step. PR industry must develop the ability to manage the client’s corporate reputation by taking a “360 degree” view and communicating well with all stakeholders – employees, suppliers, consumers and media — with a unified message (Anonymous, 1999).
Public relations organizations have the expertise and orientation to approach corporate reputation as a discipline and tie the various components of image building with the whole question of brand nurturing and development, with corporate identify, issue management, and crisis management, and the public affairs (Anonymous, 1999). Electronic communications has changed PR in many ways, from advising clients on strategy, publicizing web sites, distributing press releases by e-mail and `virtual’ press conferences via the Internet.
Among the firms offering reputation management services today are researchers such as Walker Information, Opinion Research Corporation International, Yankelovich Partners and Lou Harris & Associates, management consultants such as Ernst & Young and PriceWaterhouse Coopers; and major public relations firms such as Hill & Knowlton, Shandwick, Burson-Marsteller and Edelman Public Relations.
Traditional strategic managers emphasized the value of tangible assets (plant, equipment, and land) and leveraged them to maximize shareholder wealth that was documented in the balance sheet valuation. Intangible assets, however, are assuming increasingly competitive significance in rapidly changing domestic and global markets (Itami, 1987). Global success in the twenty-first century will demand greater attention to building a favorable corporate image and leveraging the company’s reputation by measuring and leveraging the intangible assets and knowledge resources, including but not limited to the corporate employees, customers and other stakeholders.
As the experts continue refining the tools used to measure reputation, it becomes exceedingly clear that a stellar reputation builds a competitive advantage. Business school researchers and Fortune magazine have proven that companies with better reputations have better financial performance, measured in part, by ten year return to investors, EVA and Price to Earnings Ratios. As a result, investors and capital markets trust Fortune’s Most Admired Firms. Most managers agree that reputation is an asset, which must be gauged and managed with same care and attention as any other corporate asset.
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An educator, economist and a marketing consultant, Prema Nakra, Ph.D. is an Associate Professor of Marketing and International Business at the School of Management, Marist College. She has worked for such international organizations as International Cooperative Alliance for South East Asia, Ellington Duval Inc., Worldwide Marketing Group, and New School for Social Research. Dr. Nakra who is also the Director of Global Operations at the Center for Strategic Initiatives, is an active member of American Marketing Association, American Economic Association, and Balanced Scorecard Technology Council. She is frequently invited to conduct seminars and workshops on topics including Knowledge Management, Intangible Asset Management and Corporate Performance Appraisal and Reputation Management. Dr. Nakra can be reached at 914-575-3000 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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