I read an interesting article last week on the topic of corporate transparency after Uber's CEO was forced by his investors to step down. The author signals that there is a profound shift happening across the brand landscape.
Essentially, what happened to Uber the other week follows persistent accusations of pervasive sexism and sexual harassment at the company. A February memo was circulated telling employees not to have sex ‘if you are in the same chain of command’, and apparently the CEO berated a driver and the subsequent video went viral (as it's wont to do). Thus, Uber's CEO Travis Kalanick bowed to external pressure from investors including Benchmark, Menlo Ventures and others to stand aside on June 21st.
There’s a lot of talk right now about how this action heralds a new era for Silicon Valley. Does it mean no more uber-Bro CEOs (ahem, pardon the pun), who wish only to be liked, and expects staff to love them no matter the consequences? Let's hope it does.
More interesting to me is, as the author points out, the fact that this development means something meaningful is happening in the brand universe. And that lowering of your brand equity can raise fundamental questions in the minds of prospective customers, investors, and in my chosen area, within B2B Analyst Relations.
What did it mean to be a brand, or a major brand's CEO? Look back 10, maybe 20 years, and major corporates were simply thought of as a non-entity, a big black box of corporate-ness. Now businesses are increasingly glass boxes which show signs of cracks, it's now important to signal that every member of an organisation matters. And that others are taking note.
Everything from Harris Polling's Millennial Brand Equity Index or Kantar's annual BrandZ: Top 100 Most Globally Valuable Brands rankings are important barometers for how the public views brands, but what does this say to your external universe of influencers? How important is your brand perception, particularly in B2B?
I'd argue it is increasingly important. Recent research from the industrial psychology perspective finds it's one of the top reasons younger employees move on from a company: it's not that they don't value the work, they do, it's that they lack trust in senior management. And it's the reason many of us leave a position we enjoy - a lack of transparency.
Industry analysts, like external consultants and tech media publications, can pick up on negative rumours, from sites like Glassdoor and CrunchBase - and it's why news sites like TechCrunch, Light Reading, Telecom Ramblings and Business Insider excel at reporting on rumours - especially when it's precisely the kind of rumours that emanate outward from within the organisation.
So how do you turn it around, and prep your spokespeople before a series of potentially high-stakes interviews? I'd argue for this:
- Prepare: If you have had a troubled start, or recent wobbles at the helm, agree with your Comms/marketing team what you plan to say well in advance of any meeting. If you're looking for analyst-specific advice, I outline in a recent post what to prepare in your first Analyst Deck.
- Avoid: Don't deflect from awkward questions. Confront them head on - arrive pre-armed with a solid Q&A and crisis messaging document in place before a series of briefings.
- Invest: in PR Crisis Management & Analyst Relations specialists.
- Realise: the summer period is secretly a blessing. This is especially true if you're newer to B2B tech. So, rather than take the summer off, take this time to hone your AR, PR and Social strategy and key messaging document before September hits.