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Survey: Trust in CEOs drops 12%, trust in the Media drops 5%

For the past 17 years, the folks at Edelman have been surveying the people of the Earth to find out who they trust, who they don’t trust and why. Governments are often on shaky ground and the media comes and goes, but this year the survey respondents didn’t have any favorites. In fact, they came back with the largest-ever drop in trust across all four of the measured institutions: government, business, media and NGOs (non-profits).

In short, we don’t trust anybody anymore.

Media took the biggest hit with a decline of 5 points. Just slightly over 50% of those surveyed said they trusted businesses and NGO. Government trust only dropped 1 point, but they were already – and still remain – the least trusted institution in half of the countries surveyed.

Edelman 2017 Trust Barometer

But it’s not just the institutions themselves that have failed us, people have given up on people, too. Though government leaders are still the least credible people on the planet, CEO credibility dropped 12 points, hitting an all-time low.

It’s shocking, but not really surprising; not with arrest warrants going out to Volkswagen executives.

Who do we trust? 60% of respondents said they’re more likely to trust company information from an average Joe, than a technical or academic expert.

They’re also more willing to listen to an employee than a CEO on topics such as employee/customer relations (53%), financial earnings (38%), crises (37%), innovation (33%), industry issues (32%) or programs addressing societal issues (30%).

That last part is the silver lining for companies battling to protect or save their reputations. Instead of putting your CEO behind a podium, set your employees loose on social media. If this survey is to be believed, they’ll have a much better chance of swaying public opinion that you’ll have with press releases and promises.

Of course, you’ll have to gain your employees’ trust before they’ll speak on your behalf and that could be tricky.

A majority of the global population surveyed worries about losing their jobs due to the impacts of globalization (60%), lack of training or skills (60%), immigrants who work for less (58%), jobs moving to cheaper markets (55%) and automation (54%).

As if that wasn’t bad enough, 53% of those surveyed said “the current overall system has failed them—it is unfair and offers little hope for the future.”

On the upside, survey respondents said that businesses were the only one of the four institutions capable of making a difference in their community.

Kathryn Beiser, global chair of Edelman’s Corporate practice says,

 “Business is the last retaining wall for trust. Its leaders must step up on the issues that matter for society. It has done a masterful job of illustrating the benefits of innovation but has done little to discuss the impact those advances will have on people’s jobs.”

Regaining the public’s trust won’t be easy but it starts with honesty, transparency and leadership. Profits are important; it’s what keeps the doors open and the paychecks coming. But it can’t be “profits above all else”.

Time for a little soul searching. If Edelman surveyed your customers, employees and the people in your community, where would your company fall on the old Trust Barometer?

Chipotle sued again! Its reputation continues to be less than picture-perfect

5gzu5_4cnw4-nordwood-themesFast casual food chain Chipotle is taking another sharp hit to the old reputation, but this time it’s not about food or wages.

Leah Caldwell is suing the chain because she says they’ve been using a photo of her for marketing without her permission. To make matters worse, the photo in question has been altered to make it appear as if Ms. Caldwell was sipping a beer with her burrito and she’s not happy about it.

The photo was taken more than ten years ago, but Ms. Caldwell says she remembers exactly how it went down. She was eating. The photographer took her picture. Then he asked her to sign a release. She refused. After that it gets muddy.

At some point after the fact, the photographer turned the photo over to Chipotle (presumably as part of a large batch). The company altered the photo for use in an advertisement, then blew it the photo and hung it on the walls of several different franchise locations.

In 2014, Ms Caldwell happened to visit one of these franchises (incredibly, 3,000 miles away from the one where she was originally photographed) and recognized herself on the wall.

Imagine her surprise.

Once she got over the surprise, she decided to sue for what she considered to be a fair price for the use of her image – $2 billion dollars or Chipotle’s entire net income from 2006 through 2015.

There’s no question that using someone’s likeness without a release is against the law. The question in this case is who exactly broke the law? Who was responsible to make sure all of the i’s were dotted and the t’s were crossed?

The photographer asked for a release, so he knew he needed one. When he didn’t get it, did he intentionally ignore the fact or was it an accident. It’s hard to imagine that that one image was so special he’d risk his career to use it. It’s more likely that it was added to the pile or that someone else chose it from the roll of film.

After the photographer, comes the designer who created the advertisement. Did he or should he have asked to see the release?

Next we have the advertising execs who had to sign off on the ad. Should they have asked to see the release?

Clearly, each person depended on the due diligence of the one before him. The one person who probably didn’t even see the ad in the first place is the company’s CEO and yet he’s the one named in the suit. Why? Because the buck stops at the top and ultimately, he’s responsible for the actions of those who work for him. (The photographer is also named in the suit.)

In the grand scheme of things, this was a small mistake that wasn’t perpetrated out of maliciousness. But all the public sees is the headline – Chipotle is getting sued, again. It doesn’t matter if they’re guilty, even if they win the case, they’ve lost another battle with the reputation gods.

Today’s takeaway: it’s important to have checks and balances throughout the company so that a small mistake doesn’t turn into a reputation nightmare. Double checking may slow down the process, but a little time lost now beats everything you’re going to lose if you end up in court.

Image: Unsplash
Source: Sacramento Bee

Did Mariah Carey’s camp make her NYE disaster worse?

mariah-carey-new-yearEven if you went to bed before the ball dropped, you’ve probably heard about Mariah Carey’s much-talked about performance on Dick Clark’s New Year’s Rockin’ Eve.

No?

Here’s the short version. She started to sing “Auld Lang Syne” when suddenly the music switched to one of her hits – one she says she hadn’t planned on performing. Then she began making comments about “vocals” being missing and monitors that weren’t on, “trying to be a good sport here,” she says before finally giving up and walking off stage.

What was clear to the millions of people watching both in Times Square and on TV, was that Mariah was supposed to be lipsyncing her hits but couldn’t get it right due to technical difficulties. It’s live TV. It’s Time Square at midnight on New Year’s Eve. It’s cold. The fact more things haven’t gone wrong in the past 10 plus years is a testament to the hard-working ABC production team. Happy New Year.

On the morning after, the embarrassing slip-up grew turned into a New Year’s Eve disaster to rival that of the SS Poseidon.

To protect the singer’s reputation, her camp accused ABC of causing the entire debacle. Even worse, they suggested that it wasn’t just a case of incompetence, that it was actually a choreographed ratings grab.

The root of the problem appears to have been with Mariah’s ear piece which, according to her, wasn’t working properly. She claims she reported the problem before the show began but was assured that it would be fine. It wasn’t fine. She couldn’t hear the music and thus wasn’t able to sing.

Sounds reasonable.

But after pointing fingers at ABC, the production company shot back with a few barbs of their own:

“In very rare instances there are of course technical errors that can occur with live television, however, an initial investigation has indicated that dcp had no involvement in the challenges associated with Ms. Carey’s New Year’s Eve performance.”  Sources for Dick Clark Productions also noted that Ms Mariah refused to rehearse prior to the show, sending her stand-in to stand-in for her during the run through.

The statement from the production company went on to say:

“As the premier producer of live television events for nearly 50 years, we pride ourselves on our reputation and long-standing relationships with artists. To suggest that dcp (Dick Clark Productions), as producer of music shows including the American Music Awards, Billboard  Music Awards, New Year’s Rockin’ Eve and Academy of Country Music Awards, would ever intentionally compromise the success of any artist is defamatory, outrageous and frankly absurd,”

It is absurd. Really.

ABC could have cut to commercial, or switched to the West Coast feed but they didn’t. Perhaps Mariah could have asked them to stop the track so she could simply sing just as she’s sung a thousand times before – but she didn’t

Perhaps, in all the noise and confusion, nothing could have been done to change the way it went down. It’s live TV. Things happen. Things that are a lot worse than this. The real damage is not what happened on New Year’s Eve but what happened on New Year’s Day and is still happening as all parties play the blame game.

Mariah’s camp may think they’re protecting the singer’s reputation with these accusations but they’re actually making her look worse. Even if the production team was at fault, a simple “there were technical issues and I’m sorry it wasn’t up to my usual standards” would have made this a non-issue by the end of the Rose Bowl. The world understands technical issues. What they don’t understand is an experienced performer throwing shade on the production company named for a beloved star.

What’s rough is the fact that Mariah herself is still taking the blows when she’s clearly already put the incident behind her. But those blows are going to continue as long as her staff continue to give the press sound bites like: “She should have walked off and thrown the mic at somebody’s head — that would have been a great moment”

Reputation lesson for today: watch out for the people who are trying to protect you, because they could be doing you way more harm than good.

Airbnb’s Big Apple reputation spoiled by new bill & lack of customer concern

au07bmlw1na-adrian-williamsOver the last few years, Airbnb has worked hard to build up its reputation as an economical, immersive and trendy alternative to booking a hotel room when you travel.

Instead of staying in a corporatized hotel or getting chummy with your neighbors at a traditional bed and breakfast, Airbnb (the ‘bnb’ is a reference to the original bed and breakfast concept) lets you stay in someone’s home without that someone around to crowd you.

But as popular as the service is, the company has had to navigate more than its share of bumps in the road and it’s beginning to impact their reputation – particularly in New York City.

From the beginning, Airbnb has had to fight two fights; the hotels that don’t like losing their customers to an alternative business model, and residents who don’t like the steady stream of strangers moving in temporarily next-door.

Thanks to a push from both of these factions, Gov. Cuomo of New York just signed a bill that is hitting Airbnb harder than its ever been hit before. As of Nov 1, any person who offers to rent their living space for less than 30 days will be subject to a fine of up to $7,500.  Sounds harsh, but here’s an interesting fact; actually renting out your apartment to someone for less than 30 days has been illegal in New York City since 2010.

Illegal – and yet Airbnb still has 1,000’s of available listings in the city. A few weeks ago, Mr. and Mrs. Sacks booked one of those listings. They paid out $2,000 for a ten night stay (quite cheap for NY) and arrived thinking their accommodations were all taken care of.

24 hours later, they were given the boot after a neighbor complained and threatened to call the cops. The owner of the unit blamed the Sacks, saying he’d warned them to be “discreet”.

The couple called Airbnb to complain and the response they received was in keeping with the company’s good reputation. They were offered a full refund and accommodations at another Airbnb or a local hotel. If they chose the hotel (they did, for obvious reasons), they would be “reimbursed for up to $150 a night”.

At this point, it sounds like Airbnb did everything they should to keep the customer happy and protect their own reputation. One problem, you can’t buy a decent hotel room in New York for $150 a night. In fact, the couple had to pay $809 for the first night at a Holiday Inn and $249 a night for the next 9 nights.

Luckily, the couple had the funds to cover the trip, but it’s not every traveler who has an extra $2,000 in his pocket while on holiday.

The story hit the papers with headlines that included the words “horror”, “nightmare” and “cautionary tale” along with the name “Airbnb”. Even if you accept the fact that things go wrong – especially when you’re dealing with a collection of independent landlords – there’s still the matter of rentals being illegal in the city. Airbnb knew this but didn’t take any steps to shut down the offending listings. They allowed customers to walk into a bad situation. Their excuse? That they’re just a web host? That they’re no more liable for illegal listings than Craigslist is if someone lists a stolen car for sale?

Legally, that may be true but it doesn’t matter to the general public. We expect the companies we do business with to be experts in their field. We don’t see Airbnb as blameless third party. They’re the overseers. They’re the matchmakers. They’re responsible for steering us in the right – or in this case – the wrong direction.

That means, they’re also responsible to make things right when a booking goes wrong. A refund is a good start, but if they want to protect their reputation, that have to do more than make the customer whole again. They have to offer enough to cover the emotional stress as well as in the full cost of switching accommodations. There are cities in the US where $150 will buy a nice room, New York isn’t one of them.

To be clear, we’re not talking about Airbnb’s legal responsibility here. That’s still up for debate and they’re already in talks with the city to find a “compromise”  in regard to the new law. All we’re discussing here is the impact unhappy customers can have on a company’s reputation. Especially high profile customers who decide to tell their horror story, not just to friends and family, but to the press.

When a customer is unhappy, you can reply in a way that protects your reputation or you can reply in a way that actually improves it. Airbnb chose the first option. Which one would you choose?

Which company messed up its newspaper apology letter? Samsung or Wells Fargo?

When two of the world’s biggest companies make big mistakes, how do they say they’re sorry?

By taking out big newspaper ads, of course.

But even though both Samsung and Wells Fargo chose the same destination, they arrived via two very different routes. Did they both accomplish their mission? Let’s take a closer look.

Both companies ran full-page apology ads in major newspapers across the country. The Samsung ad appeared on November 7th.  The Wells Fargo ad dates back to early September.

Samsung opens with this greeting:

“To our valued customers,”

While Wells Fargo goes with:

“Moving forward to make things right”

And there’s another version that says:

“To Wells Fargo customers: Our commitment to you”

In just four words, Samsung comes off sounding humble and apologetic. Wells Fargo sounds cold and ready to move on.

After the greeting, Samsung falls on the sword:

At Samsung, we innovate to deliver breakthrough technologies that enrich people’s lives. An important tenet of our mission is to offer best-in-class safety and quality. Recently, we fell short on this promise.

For this we are truly sorry.

Wells Fargo doesn’t.

“Recently, we reached settlements with… over allegations that some of our retail customers received products and services they did not want.”

“Allegations” implies that you doubt it’s true, but we all know it’s true.

The Wells Fargo ad continues. . .

“We truly regret and take full responsibility for any such instances and have refunded those customers who incurred fees. We have also made many improvements to make certain our ongoing focus is on helping you succeed financially.”

That’s pretty close to an apology and yet it doesn’t quite make it to the finish line. I suspect the lack of explicit “sorryness” is a legal issue. By saying, ‘hey there were some bad people, we found them out and now we’re moving on’, it seems like the company as a whole isn’t really responsible for what happened.

Then there’s Samsung, going all in by the end of the ad:

“Most importantly, safety remains our top priority. We will listen to you, learn from this and act in a way that allows us to earn back your trust. On behalf of our 12,000 employees across the country, we are grateful for your ongoing support and again, we are truly sorry.”

The most telling bit might be the very last line of each ad. Samsung’s letter is signed by their CEO. Wells Fargo’s letter isn’t signed by anyone. Again, that makes it seem as if the CEO of Wells Fargo is sidestepping the blame.

What’s important here is not what the ads actually say, but how they are perceived. Both acknowledge that mistakes were made and both promise to be more vigilant in the future. But side by side, Samsung’s ad sounds more like a genuine apology where Wells Fargo sounds like legal doubletalk.

Here’s what Andy Beal has to say in his book Repped. It’s under the heading of “Sincerity”.

Most online reputation attacks happen because at some point you not only let a stakeholder down, but you didn’t apologize for doing so. If you’re going to resolve this attack quickly, then you had better apologize quickly. Not one of those “we apologize for any inconvenience this may have caused” non-apologies, but a sincere, heartfelt apology. . . . Saying I’m sorry has repaired many damaged reputations.

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