Friday, November 10, 2006

Getting More Than Goodwill From Corporate Reputation

How do your employees feel about your firm? Are you getting the most favorable analyst ratings? Do your investors and shareholders approve of your vision and direction?

How your constituents — customers, employees, investors, shareholders, financial analysts, the media, interest groups, regulators, partners/resellers, and suppliers — view your corporate reputation directly affects, either positively or negatively, your bottom line.

Each group is unique in how its behaviors can positively or negatively affect a company’s reputation and bottom line. For instance, favorable employee opinions can result in longer employee retention and higher morale, which reduces employee acquisition and training costs and improves productivity. Bad morale or publicity can cause an employee exodus. Favorable ratings from financial analysts can help improve share price, but more tangibly, they can lower the cost of capital and generate greater interest in the company’s bonds amongst the investment community. Meanwhile, an endorsement from an influential community interest group can open doors for powerful partnerships, increase acceptance among customers, employees, and analysts, and could even generate increased interest within the investment community.

The chart below shows examples of profitable behaviors by constituency group. Each of these constituent behaviors is trackable, measurable, and can be directly related to a desired financial outcome. The key to achieving those outcomes is to set reputation goals that tie in directly with your business goals, then to create metrics that measure performance against them.

Constituency groups are not "one size fits all", however. Some companies have unique needs and adjust the groups within the circle to fit. For instance, Bill Margaritis, senior vice president of worldwide communications and investor relations at FedEx, includes “emerging markets” as a distinct constituency group because he feels you have to communicate differently with people in markets you are entering than you would with people in markets in which you already have an existing reputation.

Judi Mackey, senior vice president and director of the U.S. corporate and financial practice of public relations firm Hill & Knowlton, splits consumer customers and B2B customers into separate buckets because she feels consumers seldom base their purchase decisions on a corporate brand (unless there is a scandal). Conversely, she’s found that if a corporation behaves badly, it influences B2B customers more.

To truly understand the benefit of cultivating positive constituent behaviors and maximizing them to your company's advantage, consider the following example:

Retail investments giant Company A invests $2 million in a public relations campaign in a mid-sized market centered around a donation to revitalize youth sports facilities, in return receiving naming rights on a prominent Little League complex. Its rationale for making this gesture is to enhance the image of the company as a community-minded local organization and to associate its brand with the youth and vitality of sports.

Given these objectives, Company A measures the effectiveness of its investment in terms of the change in attitudes amongst the local customer, prospect, employee, agent, legislator, and vendor constituent groups. It develops elaborate surveys on key brand equity attributes and measures the pre-post differential in the affected market vs. nearby control markets where there are no such sponsorships. It also measures the number and nature of media “hits” received in the local press and calculates the value of that exposure if it were paid at rate card for each media.

So when all these indicators respond positively, what does Company A tell the shareholders? “The campaign was a huge success! The attitudinal shifts are through the roof. And we generated over $2.5 million in free media exposure, giving us an ROI of 25% on the media value alone!”

Compare Company A’s approach to retail investments giant Company B, which makes a similar investment in a different market, but does so against the stated goals of:

  1. increasing the number of “power agents” (those doing more than $10 million annually in sales) from 38 to 54;

  2. improving employee retention in their local call centers from 70% to 85%; and

  3. getting a local ballot initiative on the legislative calendar to create greater flexibility for the introduction of new products.

Company B’s strategy is to achieve the objectives above by influencing the agents to carry more of its products, giving employees more reasons to feel pride in their association with the company, and providing legislators with a basis for supporting legislation that some may consider controversial.

Like Company A, Company B painstakingly measures shifts in key brand attributes amongst the key audiences. And it measures the amount and nature of media coverage it receives in the local press. But the firm also measures the number of agent-to-power-agent migrations, employee retention rates, and the week-by-week progress of its target legislation. So when it comes time to report back to the board on the campaign effectiveness, the board can relate not just that attitudes have improved amongst the key constituency groups, but more tangibly that:

  1. the firm increased the number of power agents to 57, which has a forecasted net present value (NPV) of $1.4 million;

  2. employee retention fell slightly short of the 85% goal at 82%, but the expected savings in recruiting and retraining are still worth $1.8 million NPV based on employee tenure and productivity; and

  3. the ballot initiative is in the right committee of the state assembly and a straw poll of legislators suggests a 65% likelihood of passage within the next six months, which would translate into a probability-adjusted $4.2 million in incremental net profits from new product sales.

Bottom line: The managers in Company B can report to shareholders that not only have they improved attitudes among key audiences, but the investment they made in enhancing the company’s reputation has achieved short-term payback of $3.2 million, for an ROI of 60%, plus the prospect of a longer-term payback of an additional $4.2 million. And that’s before the value of any incremental media exposure is taken into account — which sophisticated investors know is not really worth the rate-card value of the exposure, unless the company had intentionally planned to forego other advertising or communications expenses in achieving it.

So what did Company B do differently than Company A? It set expectations for the investment it was making in more financial, tangible terms, and then developed the framework for measurement in terms of the expected economic behaviors it intended to create. Sure, it included the attitudinal shift surveys to diagnose the effectiveness and consistency of its message. It just didn’t stop there.

Have you had any bottom line success from tracking, measuring and cultivating the benefits received from positive constituent behavior? Feel free to share your story here. MarketingNVP and your industry peers would love to hear from you.

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