Former Weber Shandwick Worldwide corporate practice CEO, now
strategic planning director, Chris Genasi will next month publish his
thoughts on how CEOs can take responsibility for that most prized of
intangible assets, corporate reputation.
Winning Reputations: How To Be Your Own Spin Doctor urges firms to take
their image into their own hands and actively improve their standing
among stakeholders. Covering a range of themes from basic corporate PR
to the implications of the new economy, the book is based on the premise
that a good reputation never happens by accident, only by design: that
it has to be created and managed by those to whom it matters.
Genasi points to the trend for companies to handle more of their PR
in-house: 'When I started in the industry, the in-house client was not
typically a PR person. Over time, firms have hired more qualified
in-house people and built bigger teams. They tend to move the commodity
end like media relations and the press office in-house because it's far
more cost-effective. Very few corporations don't use any agencies at
all, but they use them more selectively and in specialist areas.'
He admits that by empowering the top tier of management, his DIY
reputation-building advice threatens some PR agencies: 'In the past,
there was plenty of business providing an outsourced service - that is
disappearing. The basic economics speaks for itself. You get much less
time from a consultancy for the same money. That is a threat, so any
consultancy providing that commodity-type service is vulnerable. Our
sector needs constantly to reinvent itself.'
Winning Reputations prescribes intensive self-examination on the part of
organisations seeking to build fresh reputations. They are asked to
audit how people see them, establish how they want to be seen, and be
prepared to face and win over their critics.
A key element in this process is a willingness to turn the CEO into a
micro-celebrity. But there are potential pitfalls in focusing on a
Corporate PRO Jonathan Flint, Citigate Dewe Rogerson MD of financial
services, insists companies are bigger than just one individual, however
senior. So any company planning to raise its profile on the basis of a
single figure is at risk because not every CEO stays around forever. 'A
company reputation is based on many things - process, performance,
products - not just people,' Flint says.
PR activities should ensure a company has a broadly based and robust
strategy rather than focusing on one area, he maintains: 'Expertise lies
with the consultancies and particularly with the leading players because
that's where the intellectual capital lies.'
This may be so, but in some cases PR firms can work themselves out of a
job, says corporate agency Fishburn Hedges CEO Neil Hedges: 'As the CEO
learns the art and becomes more self-sufficient, it is a compliment to
the consultancy if the company withdraws and becomes less dependent on
What stops companies going it alone completely, Hedges claims, is simply
a lack of time: 'PR is quite time-consuming and if CEOs were left to
read the DIY guide, I suspect it would not be long before it gathered
dust and PR moved down their agenda. Even a powerful figure such as Sir
Richard Branson does not do all his own PR himself.'
Indeed, far from supporting the view that CEOs can be trained in
communications and left to their own inadequate devices, senior business
potentially PROs say it can be a risk to build or maintain a firm's
reputation without external help.
Financial and corporate agency College Hill Associates CEO Alex Sandberg
says. 'We act for 100 companies and have ten years' experience of doing
it. There are ten partners here. If you multiply that, you can see that
an agency has far more experience than any individual might have over
their career. With larger-than-life CEOs who ride roughshod over
advisers, whether PR or financial, ultimately it ends in tears. Why
would one be so arrogant as not to take advice?'
Genasi insists it was not his intention to foster dangerous notions of
self-sufficiency in CEOs: 'I wanted to open their eyes to the importance
of reputation and PR. Once you know more about the issue you realise
there's more to it than you thought.'
The book includes input from 32 external PR advisers, on what makes a
great campaign and how to use external PR to good effect. Genasi says
this survey acted as 'a type of confession box for PR advisers', who
could come in, secure in their anonymity, and talk openly about what
Genasi terms 'the daily waste they see in their work with clients'.
The consultancy market's rapid growth in recent years must indicate that
overall satisfaction levels are strong. Consultancies are providing
fewer commodity services and instead are moving up the chain,
increasingly reporting to CEOs or to S-VP level comms chiefs. That is to
be welcomed, even if a PR savvy CEO is a frightening prospect.