Volume 10, Number 6
One-Minute Corporate Reputation Management
by G.A. “Andy” Marken
Marken is President of Marken Communications, Inc. in Santa Clara,
California (phone 408-986-0100; email Andy@markencom.com).
It isn’t by accident that we chose the headline for
this article from Spencer Johnson’s very successful book, The
One-Minute Manager. When the book was first published in the early ‘90’s, it
became an instant guide for managers at all levels on how they
could hone and improve their management skills.
Even as book sales soared, the business and management landscape
was changing. The researchers’ and engineers’ Internet was
being turned into an everyperson’s everywhere communications
channel. We changed from hierarchical organizations to flat,
sometimes intertwined, organizations seemingly overnight. The flat
organization reached out to a new set of influences: employees,
customers, suppliers, investors and communities.
Suddenly one-minute management shrunk to 10-second management.
Business in the Internet era demands quick thinking and even
quicker action. Especially when a company’s reputation and
possible future hang in the balance. In this new environment,
managers suddenly have a new set of pro-active responsibilities.
They must protect and enhance the company’s reputation. At the
same time, they must help management create new business models.
Rather than simply propping up existing models, they have to
contribute to the organization’s growth. They have to take an
active role in helping the organization achieve radical innovation
that often changes the parameters of competitive performance.
Not Your Job?
Many managers will say that their job is design products,
promote the company, deliver the service, purchase the
components…anything but change the company.
Part of your job is, or should be, to be aware of the changes
around (inside and out) the organization and to interpret those
changes to management. To help effect change you have to become an
activist that builds coalitions and leverages the strengths of
people within the organization. If you feel you’ll be walking on
shaky ground you are most likely wrong. If not, you’re in the
Most of the CEOs we consult with complain about how difficult it
is to change their organization. Change from the top down is
Mike Armstrong of AT&T, saw the changes that needed to be
made, pushed for the transitioning but it hasn’t happened…yet.
Every U.S. President vows to overhaul, streamline and make
government more efficient, more effective and more responsive to
the citizenry. Have you seen any improvements?
The Comfort of Status Quo
People are comfortable with the status quo to the point they
don’t even question it. Despite pronouncements, elaborate plans
and dictates from the top, people continue down the same path.
On the other hand, Jack Welch of GE didn’t use the
chain-of-command approach in effecting change. He spent a lot of
time with first and second tier employees helping them understand
why a change in direction was in their best interest and
ultimately the company’s best interest.
But many managers will continue to say this isn’t what they
signed on for. So let’s bring the point home with a quote by
Gary Hamel, author of Leading
the Revolution. “Somewhere out there is a bullet with your
company’s name on it,” he states. “You’re going to have to
And in the Internet world, that shot can come from anywhere.
Usually it is aimed directly at your organization’s reputation.
Suddenly the pieces fit together and it becomes “your job.”
With a few keystrokes and a click of the mouse your firm’s
reputation can go from good to bad, strong to weak.
Your Reputation Assets
That’s because your company’s reputation is based on a
number of “assets:”
your products services
value as a
attract, develop, retain talent
Study the list
closely. None of the company’s assets are firm or concrete. They
are soft and arbitrary. Security analysts and accountants will
often say that these asset assessments are too irrational to be
listed as true assets. But these are the measures people use and
rely on every day when making a decision on products/service to
buy, companies to join, firms to invest in or corporations they
want in their communities.
The reputation managers must help promote and protect has a true
dollar value to your firm.
The Speed of Lost Value
Emulex’s value sank by millions of dollars in a day when upstart
InternetWire published a bogus news release. Many good dotcoms
were caught in the whirlpool of bad news/bad press on the failure
of the on-line business community. The cell phone/brain cancer
scare cost Motorola billions in valuation. Less spectacular, but
no less damaging, are the customer complaints regarding a firm’s
customer service and support activities in on-line discussion
Fortunately, most companies build up a reservoir of goodwill in
the marketplace. Often when you least expect it, you’re going to
need that reservoir in your 1-Minute Corporate Reputation
Management. That’s because one of your key functions is to
understand the firm’s strategic positioning, develop brand and
product promotion, interrelate with suppliers or channel partners,
deal with employees and potential employees on a daily basis.
Many management communications efforts often fall short in this
area because message development and distribution is
departmentalized or compartmentalized.
Corporate Reputation Reserve
At the end of the day, if there is a core theme or set of
themes to the messages, it is often an accident. Without that core
nothing can be put in the corporate reputation reserve.
“Intel Inside” defines the company and its products. Coca-Cola
singularly devotes itself to its dedication to delivering a
quality product to the consumer. Sony focuses on providing
innovative value. Against a backdrop of environmental mishaps in
the 1990s, Shell has reshaped a gentler, more kind and more
progressive image as a firm that is concerned about making the
IBM has successfully reinvented itself and refocused its big blue
army at least four different times in the past 10 years. From
mainframe iron to PC friendly to software and finally to service
and support. The company has tuned itself and its messages to the
rapidly changing business marketplace. Despite its legal
entanglements, Microsoft has made a shift to a more responsible,
responsive management and Internet-based organization.
While Priceline.com continues to make missteps in establishing,
promoting and protecting its reputation; expedia.com and
travelocity.com have effectively established themselves as the
on-line travel management leaders.
Top-Down versus Bottom-Up
As AT&T defines its multiple messages with layers of
managers and semi-independent product groups, Sprint grows
stronger in wireless communications, AOL and Earthlink become more
dominant in the Internet connectivity arena, Exodus and a few
others focus on being responsive/responsible Web hosting partners
and IBM becomes the small and large business services/support
provider of choice. Despite the billions of dollars of investments
in so many areas, AT&T remains the long distance carrier which
many are considering irrelevant.
Welch’s dynamics of change and responsiveness message bubbles
from the bottom up at GE. John Chambers spreads the same level of
consistency and urgency throughout Cisco (and its partners). On
the other hand, Armstrong’s communications value and quality
message is being misshaped and mismanaged by seemingly
independent, sometimes competing internal organizations.
Global enterprises like Philips, Matsushita, Ericsson, Seimens,
General Motors and others are facing similar reputation management
In the early part of the last century the railroad firms said they
were in the railroad business. Airline firms said they were in the
transportation industry. Virgin has said we are in the customer
business so they fly planes, sell records and books, provide
financial services and offer you soft drinks and cell phones.
Which corporate reputation is easier to build and protect? Which
is harder to attack and surpass?
Wall of Protectionism
To a greater or lesser degree, the same measurements hold true
for your organization’s reputation. The Internet tore down the
walls of protectionism that companies often hid behind during most
of the 20th century. It flattened the organization,
bringing customers, employees, suppliers, shareholders and
regulators into the firm.
Managers today have to deal equally and effectively with all of
these audiences. The better you communicate, the more you
communicate, the better the reputation.
Broaden Vision, Drive Change
The constant challenge for management is to fight against
narrowly defining the company because it limits the company’s
reputation and the visions/goals of the stakeholders employees,
partners, customers and shareholders.
As a result, managers at every level have to help inspire people
inside the company to take ownership of change and become the
advocates for radical innovation. This unbridled commitment to
building a reputation as a responsive, revolutionary and
responsible corporate entity ensures that, when the company
encounters its 10-second reputation crisis, the management team
will have a strong and deep reservoir of organizational reputation
to draw from.
The best 1-Minute Corporate Reputation Managers do more than
simply write positioning and policy statements. They help define
and direct change. After all, it’s tough to hit and wound a fast
moving, pro-active target.