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How America Can Win an Olympic Gold for Its Economy

Last week, I wrote a piece for U.S. News on the contrast between the United States’ stellar Olympic record and recent hits to the country’s reputation in the press.

Over the last few weeks, as the United States competed and mostly won in the international sports arena at the 2012 Olympics in London, the country itself seemed to suffer from a reputational setback in headlines from many prominent media outlets including Time magazine (“The History of the American Dream: Is it Still Real?”) and the Wall Street Journal (“Why Capitalism Has an Image Problem”). Why is it that while our athletes still seem to be excited about both working hard on representing the United States in the most competitive environment on the planet and embracing America itself as a concept (note the many tears welling up as the flag raises and the national anthem is played), a cloud seems to hang over both our businesses and the people who work in them?

Read more over at U.S. News.

Responding to the Goldman Sachs Resignation Letter

I’ve been following the response to Greg Smith’s resignation letter in the New York Times with great interest over the past several days. The letter has been analyzed, parodied and discussed at length. What I find particularly fascinating is that the response brings together a number of issues I regularly look at:  the power of social media in shaping public discourse, the importance of corporate reputation, as well as communication strategy.

The Atlantic Wire reported that the letter cost Goldman $2.15 billion in the markets the day it was released, showing the value of reputation, particularly on Wall Street in today’s environment. In the post-Occupy Wall Street environment, large financial institutions are looking to rebuild trust with the public, clients but also their employees. Greg Smith’s resignation was clearly written with this hostile environment in mind.

An internal memo by Goldman Sachs CEO Lloyd Blankfein was published in Bloomberg shortly after it was sent out to employees that had clearly been written with an eye to being released publicly. Blankfein tries to emphasize that Smith represents a minority opinion and that Goldman works hard to do what’s right for clients. His quick response to try to maintain trust with his employees and the public with a well crafted memo was smart, but not sufficient to quell public discourse.

The Associated Press published an article in the Washington Post, entitled, “Goldman Sachs muppet essay only the latest in a proud tradition of bridge-burning”. It explores the human impulse to have a “Jerry Maguire inspired farewell” and therefore part of the reason this letter struck a nerve and went viral. I’m quoted in the article talking about how this is often a way for employees who feel powerless to enact change to feel like they have a chance to take back some of that power.

The social media environment has kept the letter alive through sharing, but also interacting with the letter through parodies–everything from fake responses from Blankfein to sharing of resignation letters from the past. The New York Daily News did a great roundup of some of the best parodies out there, but one of my favorites is a fake resignation letter from the New York Knicks coach Mike D’Antoni (who really did resign the same day as Greg Smith) published in the Wall Street Journal.

Depending on Greg Smith’s future career goals, publishing his resignation letter in the New York Times may not have been wise, but it gives us another opportunity to bring reputation, trust and the power of social media back to the forefront of conversation–and hear a few good Darth Vader jokes as well.

Inside Fukushima – in pictures

I’ve written several posts about TEPCO and what happened in the aftermath of the earthquake and tsunami on March 11 last year. TEPCO recently let a group of journalists and photographers into the Fukushima nuclear plant where three reactors suffered meltdown after the earthquake. The communication strategy behind this is worth a post in itself, but in the meantime the Guardian has posted a slideshow of fascinating pictures from the visit.

Inside Fukushima–in pictures

Komen leader’s latest apology about Planned Parenthood fiasco goes only halfway

Supporters of Planned Parenthood

 of the Washington Post’s On Leadership section posted about Nancy Brinker, founder and CEO of Susan G. Komen for the Cure’s half-hearted apology about the Planned Parenthood de-funding. I couldn’t agree more with Jena’s assessment of the apology using my framework. I’ve posted it below and  you can see the original article here.

In the world of crisis communications, what has the potential to be more damaging than not issuing an apology? An apology that reads like only half of one.

Nancy Brinker’s response to Sally Quinn’s open letter to the Susan G. Komen for the Cure founder and CEO includes an admission that she made mistakes and an apology to those who were disappointed by the nonprofit’s decision to pull its funding to Planned Parenthood. (Komenlater said Planned Parenthood could reapply for funding.) Brinker says she has learned a lot, including that “that we in women’s health organizations must be absolutely true to our core missions, and avoid even the appearance of bias or judgment in our decisions.”

But what she does not say is more telling. Brinker does not say exactly what she is sorry for. She does not explore what mistakes she made. And she does not address several of the points in Quinn’s letter, from the ambiguity of Komen’s decision to allow Planned Parenthood to reapply—though not necessarily be funded—to why her institution’sshifting explanations for its controversial move were so confusing. It’s also interesting that it seems to have taken criticism from Sally Quinn (who describes herself as a longtime friend of Brinker’s in Washington), more so than the outrage of millions of citizens, to elicit such an admission. Read More…

Communications in the MBA Curriculum: The Missing Link

I had previously shared on this blog an article published in BusinessWeek: Public Relations: Coming to a B-School Near You. Ken Makovsky, a Contributing Writer at Forbes has posted a response to the research discussed in that article and on my initiative with the Public Relations Society of America to get communications and public relations content in top MBA program curricula.

We are working on some great initiatives as it pertains to the management communications curriculum at the Tuck School of Business and I am looking forward to sharing the results of our initiative. I have taught Management Communications, Corporate Communications and Corporate Responsibility classes at Tuck in the past. As mentioned in the article, Tuck’s own alumni surveys show that ten and twenty years out alumni rank their communication classes as the most valuable classes they took at Tuck, even if they didn’t think so at the time. 

Please find the original Forbes article here.

Ken Makovsky, Contributor
The Missing Link in B-Schools 

For years, the public relations profession has been suffering from an educational void in the nation’s graduate business schools, where CEOs and other future business leaders are trained.  But could there be some light at the end of the tunnel?  Maybe.

Earlier this month, wrote about recent research commissioned by the Public Relations Society of America, which found that 98 percent of the 204 U.S. business leaders polled believe  that business schools need to incorporate instruction on corporate communication and reputation management  into the MBA curriculum.  Ninety-four percent of executives believe that top management needs additional training in core communications disciplines.  Only 40 percent of the respondents, the article said, rated their recent MBA hires as “extremely strong” at responding to crisis and building and protecting company credibility. 

Spearheaded by PRSA, Paul Argenti, communications professor at Dartmouth’s Tuck School of Business, a pioneer in this area,  will lead a pilot program of four other graduate business schools in 2012-13 to develop a public relations curriculum for coursework consideration.  The hope, the story says, is that the program will be incorporated into the curricula of these schools for the 2013-14 academic year.

The only hitch is that the four other schools have not yet been selected, and there is no indication of who they might be or whether the interest that has obviously been missing for so long finally exists.

Hopefully Argenti’s experience will be persuasive.  He says that, in surveys of Tuck’s MBAs on which courses were the most important in terms of what they actually  use on the job, after graduation, corporate communications always ranks #1 or 2.

All of this makes me hark back to May 2007, when I gave an acceptance speech on this issue following my selection to receive the PRSA-NY John Hill Award for Distinguished Achievement.  After decrying the fact that not one of the top five business schools taught strategic communications, and that in today’s internet world businesses only exist via public consent, I made a suggestion that I thought would help bring about change.

I urged PRSA to organize corporate communications heads of leading Fortune 100 companies to motivate their CEOs to encourage action in the nation’s business schools.  After all, money speaks.  If the CEO of a Fortune 100 company calls the Dean of Harvard or M.I.T.’s graduate school of business, he or she will listen.  But this will not happen unless we, as communicators, push such action.

If we do this on a coordinated basis,  supported by the proof of need shown in the survey cited above plus Paul Argenti’s initiative, this time (after previous tries) the bell should ring.  And hopefully the schools by now finally recognize that there is a whole new set of rules to play by … and it’s in their self-interest to play the economics to their benefit.

Public Relations: Coming to a B-School Near You

Professor Argenti in Bloomberg Businessweek on the Public Relations Society of America is trying to bring corporate communication and reputation management into the MBA curriculum, where a new study suggests it’s sorely lacking. This article was originally posted on Bloomberg Businessweek.

ublic relations is a topic that has long been a lonely stepchild in most MBA curricula, touched upon briefly, if at all, in soft-skills classes that teach writing and communication. That may soon change, thanks to a push by the Public Relations Society of America (PRSA), the largest industry group for public relations professions, which is trying to get business schools to take a more serious approach to teaching MBA students the art of corporate communication and reputation management.

It’s a skill that is sorely lacking, according to a new study the PRSA commissioned earlier this fall of senior U.S. business leaders. Of the 204 respondents, 98 percent said they believe that business schools need to incorporate instruction on these topics into the MBA curriculum, and 94 percent believe that top management needs additional training in core communication disciplines. Only 40 percent of the executives surveyed rated their recent MBA hires as “extremely strong” at responding to crisis and building and protecting company credibility.

One of the first efforts to encourage business schools to start thinking more about corporate reputation management and strategic communication will commence in the 2012-13 school year, when five business schools will participate in a pilot program spearheaded by the PRSA. Dartmouth University’sTuck School of Business will be one of the five schools participating; the other four schools have not yet been named, the PRSA said. Paul Argenti, a Tuck professor and author of the textbook Corporate Communication, is developing the curriculum for the pilot, which can be adapted for full-semester, mini-semester, or seminar-format courses. The class will include lessons on communication strategy, media relations, international corporate responsibility, reputation management, and investor relations. In addition, students will be asked to participate in crisis communication simulation exercises and review case studies on the topic. The hope is that all the leading business schools will incorporate this class, in some format, into their curricula in the 2013-14 academic year, the PRSA said.

Bloomberg Businessweek‘s Alison Damast recently spoke with Argenti about his role in developing the new curriculum and why he believes it is important for MBA students to have a background in this area. Here is an edited transcript of their conversation:

What is the business school world’s current approach to teaching public relations and reputation management skills?

Most business schools have some basic communications training, maybe a writing or speaking class, but I think Tuck is the only school that has had a required class on this subject for 30 years. When I came to Tuck in 1981, I was hired to teach its first corporate communications class, so I put together a required course in communications and the school has been doing it ever since. We survey MBAs asking them which courses they think are the most important, and they say the corporate communications class is No. 1 or No. 2 in what they use on the job when they graduate. The course has included for many years writing, speaking, and corporate and cross-cultural communications. This year we’re adding a whole host of other topics, from negotiations to reputation management. For example, we’ll have a session where students learn to prepare for testimony before Congress, and a guy who teaches acting at the college will be doing a session on personal presence. The gut of the class is being able to think strategically about basic communication strategy. This area has become critical for business leaders, CEOs, functional heads, and other people, but they know so little about it and there is nowhere they can learn this material.

Why did you decide to get involved with the PRSA on this effort to promote better corporate communication skills among MBA students, and do you think this pilot will succeed?

Over the last 30 years, there have been at least four or five efforts to teach communications at business schools on a broader level, but none have really taken off. When the folks at the Public Relations Society of America approached me, I told them I’d be happy to help and we basically stuck with it this time. A couple of people really pushed it and got the job done. I think the reason this could be successful is because it’s not like five professors sitting around a campfire and trying to see how they can make it work. This effort is thousands of people who work in public relations saying, “Hey, this is important and we need your help to get it done.” If we can get a critical mass of schools teaching these skills, then it just becomes something that everyone gets interested in.

I understand that five schools, including Tuck, will be involved in the pilot program next year. Tell me a little bit about the curriculum you’ve designed for these schools and how you foresee this being integrated into MBA programs.

I think we need to start small. If it is in the curriculum at all, that would be a plus. Existing classes that teach presentation skills and writing would be the obvious place to incorporate this. Schools can use my textbook and there’s an instructor’s manual that I’ll tailor for the needs of each of these schools. I’ve written 100 different cases on this topic, and there are a number we are rewriting into shorter cases that, for example, someone who works in public relations could come in and teach without a lot of training. For example, one case I wrote is about Starbucks (SBUX) and how it dealt with the battle over fair trade coffee. I’ve also written a lot of experiential exercises, like one I’ve done on Toyota (TM) that looks at a situation from the perspective of a Japanese executive, a U.S. executive, and someone from the Japanese and the U.S. press.

Why do you think these communication and reputation management skills are so essential for business leaders today?

If you ask CEOs what is important to them and how much time they spend communicating, they’ll tell you it is a huge part of their job. But it has sort of been cordoned off as an area of specialty, and I don’t think people realize the power of it. I was putting together my list of public relations blunders for the year, and I had so many candidates I didn’t know where to stop, from Anthony Weiner to Netflix (NFLX). When you think about it and go down the list, these things don’t have to happen. Most of the time these executives shoot themselves in the foot. Crisis communication has become so important and there is a tremendous amount of differentiation in management today based on reputation and clear articulation of strategy. Now we have to convince the deans and the business schools that this is an important thing to teach students.

The Business Case for Public Relations

This summer, the Public Relations Society of America asked me to do a piece for their series on the business case for public relations. It seemed particularly relevant to share with you now as we reflect on 2011 and the communications challenges individuals, companies and universities have faced over the past year. This piece originally appeared here in July. The rest of the series is great, and definitely worth a read.

Paul Argenti is professor of corporate communication at Dartmouth University’s Tuck School of Business, where he has been a faculty member since 1981. He previously taught at the Columbia Business School and the Harvard Business School. He currently serves as faculty director for Tuck’s Leadership and Strategic Impact Program and Tuck’s executive program for Novartis. Argenti has written several books and numerous articles for academic publications and practitioner journals.

His most recent book — co-authored with Courtney Barnes — is titled “Digital Strategies for Powerful Corporate Communications” (McGraw Hill). Argenti is a Fulbright Scholar and has consulted and run training programs for hundred of companies. (Twitter: @paulargenti)

Name:  Paul Argenti

Childhood ambition:
To be a heart surgeon — I was pre-med until junior year in college

Current livelihood:
Professor of corporate communication at the Tuck School of Business

What changed (i.e., how you became interested in public relations):
I couldn’t stand the sight of blood! I changed my college major at Columbia University from biology to English and went into a Ph.D. program at Brandeis University to become an English professor. Jobs for English professors were hard to come by in the late 1970s — I was blessed to find a two-year appointment teaching “Written and Oral Communication” at the Harvard Business School. I needed more education in business, and went back to Columbia to get my M.B.A. in marketing. The two combined made for a good foundation to start my career.

First public relations job:
Assistant professor of communication at the Tuck School

What you know now that you wish you’d known then:
How fast time goes by — the secret of life is learning to enjoy the passage of time

Best piece of advice you’ve ever received:
My mentor in graduate school told me to forget about being an English professor — that was definitely the right choice for me.

Greatest professional accomplishment:
Getting a Fulbright Scholarship early in my career and my textbook, “Corporate Communication” — out in its sixth edition next year

If you weren’t in public relations, you would be:
A jazz pianist — I love music

Desired legacy:
That I helped my students think about changing the world rather than moving another widget out the door

Make a “business case” for public relations:
Communication is the only way to execute strategy. You can’t execute it if you can’t communicate it. If more senior executives thought about that, then they might do things differently.

Penn State: How Not to Handle a Crisis

The Tuck School of Business asked me to speak about Penn State as an example of how NOT to handle a crisis. I recorded a short video that provides three things to think about when embroiled in a crisis, using Penn State as an example: get it out in the open early, have one central point of contact and try to anticipate how the situation will play out.

You can watch the video here.


Read More…

Netflix: In Bad Company

Originally published by the Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth.

Paul Argenti, a professor of corporate communication at Tuck, keeps a short list of companies that have made howling communications and business mistakes. The pantheon features firms such as Enron, BP, and Toyota—the latter for its mismanagement of a large recall in 2009 and 2010. Now one more company joins the ranks: Netflix.

Over the summer, Netflix not only decided to raise its subscription price by 60 percent, but also to split itself into two businesses: one for online streaming videos, and another, ponderously dubbed “Qwikster,” for DVD rentals by mail. The immediate and vituperative reaction in the blogosphere and on Twitter was a grim preview of the official numbers Netflix released in October: between June and September, the company lost 800,000 subscribers and more than $2 billion in market value.

Netflix has since scrapped the Qwikster plan, but the damage is done. Argenti believes these missteps could ultimately lead to the demise of a business that was celebrated not too long ago for its market penetration and ability to cross technological divides with aplomb. The question is: where did Netflix go wrong? Read More…

The Great Fear

I had the pleasure of meeting Staffan Thorsell of SJT Communication online through our mutual interest in corporate communication.

He calls a corporations’ resistance or fear to communicate “The Great Fear”. We spoke about how it’s often easier for corporations to say nothing rather than to be wrong, but that not communicating is actually a very strong form of communication in itself. Read the full write-up of our conversation over at Staffan’s blog.

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