How company bosses come across online becomes more important when the firm is going through a difficult patch.

In Times of Crisis Company Leaders Must Act as Personal Guarantors of the Firm’s Brand Image

PRIME Research, a global communications research firm, has just illustrated how a company’s reputation is linked to the image of its top management. PRIME Research’s newly-published report on Personal Branding focusses on what happened at Yahoo!, a story which clearly shows that top managers should not underestimate the far-reaching effects of their online pronouncements. Recent months have seen three different CEOs heading up the US online information search specialist: Carol Bartz, Scott Thompson and Ross Levinsohn. According to the report, media confidence in Yahoo! over this period has fluctuated considerably, and this has mainly been due to the strong personalities at the helm and the way in which the company’s Board of Directors responded to the situation.

Rocky reputation

PRIME Research reports that between the forced exit of Carol Bartz and Scott Thompson taking on the role of CEO, 43 of the most influential media channels expressed a negative opinion of the brand, with 40% of the information carried by these channels having a negative tone. What was the reason for this lack of confidence? Fadhila Brahimi, a Personal Branding consultant, thinks that “the explanation lies in the way Carol Bartz’s personal brand was managed.” In order to express her dissatisfaction with the way she was fired – over the phone – she vented her feelings widely in the media, denigrating the brand and representing herself as a victim. Similar media statistics were also logged when Scott Thompson left the company. This time, however, it was a lack of communication on his part that damaged both his own reputation and that of the brand. He was in fact fired for giving incorrect information regarding his qualifications.

Actions speak louder than words

So what can a brand do to revive media confidence when the impression it’s conveying is that it doesn’t know how to manage the departure or even the recruitment of its employees? According to Fadhila Brahimi, “the right way to go was that Yahoo!’s governing body – i.e. the Board of Directors – should step in and profile itself as a decision-maker in its own right”. And that doesn’t necessarily mean pouring out statements on to the networks, either. “What is interesting in this case,” points out the Personal Branding expert, “is that it wasn’t verbal communication that was required; what people needed here was a clear response from Yahoo!’s governing body.” The simple fact of recruiting a new CEO was enough to demonstrate that the brand was planning to pursue a policy of clarity and leadership. “And this is what customers are looking for these days,” concludes Fadhila Brahimi. In other words, the crisis impelled people to look beyond company results and product quality and place their trust in the personality and integrity of those at the top of the company hierarchy.