The once mighty now fight for reputation in the trenches

Last year could easily be dubbed the year of the corporate teardown.

Last year could easily be dubbed the year of the corporate teardown. Entire companies disappeared in the financial collapse (Bear Stearns, Lehman). Once powerful CEOs were dispensed with (Rick Wagoner, two Merrill Lynch CEOs, Freddie Mac, etc.), cast into a lesser role (Kenneth Lewis), or left teetering on the edge (Citigroup's Vikram Pandit). A number of brands (Pontiac) are headed for extinction or have resurfaced under a rebrand (GMAC to Ally Bank).

While the past year was chaotic, the coming year will be the time for rebuilding, rebranding, and regaining trust. A number of organizations have already started on this path, including some of the hardest hit in the auto and financial industries. One of the interesting things that has happened over the past couple of months, and which we're likely to see more of in the coming year, is that these once mighty companies that either didn't believe they needed to talk to certain audiences or care too much what others thought of them, are now finding themselves down in the trenches, elbow to elbow with the rest of us fighting for survival and success.

For example, GM – arguably the most visible organization going through a rebrand – opened The Lab (see p. 16) to solicit feedback on the making of its cars, which in the past have been criticized for being out of touch with today's consumer. And Goldman Sachs, considered one of the few success stories of the crisis, has smartly accommodated increased interest in its once shrouded-in-secrecy operation by granting more interviews and pushing its CEO to the front of the debate on issues like bonuses. Even the elusive Anna Wintour came out of her shell this year and seems to be popping up on every circuit – probably not a bad idea for a magazine editor whose employer just brought in “The Firm” to cut costs.

Rebrand or not, you're going to have to tell a post-recession story. So open up your listening and feedback channels; find out what your audiences are saying about you, what they have right, what they have wrong, and where you can add to the conversation. It's not OK to sit behind an ironclad door and wait for good reviews to roll in. Bob Lutz knows this, Lloyd Blankfein knows this, and so do some of your competitors.

Rose Gordon is the news editor of PRWeek. She can be contacted at rose.gordon@prweek.com.

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