Posted by Amanda Chapel
How social media can make your CEO look like a Clown
Poor Harris Diamond. Tough to be a CEO these days especially in the communications business... especially for a mega firm like Weber Shandwick. Today, as a consequence of the ubiquitous and accessible Web, some of the very things you profess -- and subsequently sell -- can often be in conflict with the unified face your clients hire and trust. In reality, there is no unified face today and that makes it tough not to come off looking like a clown.
As to Harris, the phrase, “got his tit a wringer” comes to mind. In light of Race for the Cure below, scratch that. Maybe “got his balls in a vice” (defined as “when a man is under extreme stress or pressure, usually from a female, due to a mistake”); that says a lot. Might be a tad graphic though. We could just go totally bland and use the word “checkmate;” as in when the King is threatened but cannot move. “Fucked and stuck;” that works. Ah... how ‘bout “Catch-22,” the no-win double binds found in bureaucratic operation and reasoning. Well, you know what I’m getting’ at.
Here’s how it all played out. Minor Web celeb Jeremy Pepper, a Group Manager at Weber Shandwick, is buddies with Tom Biro, Senior Director at MWW (also an Interpublic Group company). Biro is presently spearheading MWW’s blogola scam on behalf of its client Nikon. Their blogola program is pretty simple: select various otherwise influential and prolific bloggers (similar to a payola campaign with mainstream media); and then bribe them with a $1,200 camera. Smarmy? You bet. Look at the degree to which MWW has gone to whitewash this thing. It’s gotten so bad that the firm’s CEO Kempner is now out there publicly trying to rationalize it (see Kempner Puts Nikon Blogola Program in Spin Cycle).
Bottom line: it quacks like a duck. It’s a bribe whose motivation is purely quid pro quo. Here’s the deal: would Pepper’s boss Bonin Bough have taken the camera? Not a chance. In his words 6/4, “When products are clearly gifts intended to influence one of our blogging team, they are refused and returned.” Furthermore, would Bonin’s boss Harris Diamond have taken the loot? Not a chance in hell! Why? Simple: the perception of impropriety. Excuse me but Weber Shandwick is in the very business of reputation management and promotion. However tempting, $1,200 just ain't worth the risk let alone the potential negative exposure. Period.
And there lies the problem. See... clients hire individuals as they are part of a unified brand. Clients hire Harris or Bonin because of the “incorporated” reputation of the firm and because they deliver a coordinated team. How important is that? It’s critical. In fact, in order to promote and maintain a unified face... companies create policies. “This is how we march together,” so to speak. Or, let’s put it this way: if you’re off the reservation... you are OFF the reservation. You're fired. See, the actions of a loose canon reflect on the face of the organization as a whole, i.e. "one bad apple," so to speak. The problem today is organizations have gone from hierarchical to flat and distributed. In that environment, it is much harder to manage a unified face.
In light of that, the key question is this: what is Weber Shandwick’s policy regarding blogola? The key people to ask are Harris Diamond, the CEO and Bonin Bough, Executive Vice President and Director of Weber Shandwick’s global Social, Interactive and Emerging Media practice.
Here’s where “fucked and stuck,” comes to mind.
In order to understand Weber Shandwick’s guidelines re: blogola, we asked Harris and Bonin if they could forward their blogging policy to us. That’s pretty straightforward. Nothing proprietary about that.
Hell... it's central to their offering. As Bonin claims BIG companies as clients of his group -- General Motors, InterContinental Hotels Group, Electrolux, Unilever, to name a few -- one would think that one of the FIRST things WS recommends is a corporate blogging policy. And CERTAINLY, Weber Shandwick wouldn’t be recommending one if they could not immediately produce their own. Right? In the words of Bonin 6/4:
Here’s where it gets funky. According to our sources: “I don’t know what Harris and Bonin told you, but WS has no policy on employee blogging and related conduct. It’s been written and kicked around for two years but there is nothing in place and staffers have no idea what’s going on in that regard.” And then in a subsequent email from Pepper 6/6, “As for the email exchange with Bonin, not sure what policy you are talking about.”
Of course, the buck then ultimately stops with Harris. He is the face of WS. As such, we then repeatedly asked Harris to provide us WS’s company policy re: blogging. He responded that he offered to speak with us. When one of our staff members called Harris, he did not return our call.
Alright, here’s the CliffNotes version: Ya got a company that’s part of an international conglomerate. Junior gets caught taking what amounts to a bribe. Can’t fire him because his boss hasn’t apparently done his job and doesn't have a policy in place. Can’t write a policy because another CEO in the conglom system just publicly endorsed the practice to save his own ass. Arrgh. Now under public scrutiny, you try to spin it only to get caught lying. Damned if you do and damned if you don’t. Catch-22. Bottom line: Junior’s made his bosses boss looks like a clown.
LESSONS: How to avoid making your CEO look like a clown
1. Be careful to return the bribe once the heat is on; IMMEDIATELY if you get caught. Note: As of this posting, it is our understanding that Mr. Pepper is still in possession of the loot.
Don't argue that you think it's right. Remember it’s the perception of impropriety that’ll kill ya. Perception is reality.
2. Dad, be careful about letting the kids play with the power tools. Keep in mind, these innocently looking blogs are worldwide broadcasting systems... and indelible at that. If junior fucks up and cuts off a toe or worse yet a neighbor kid's foot... it's you who are going to be held responsible. Heed Bonin's counsel above and "remain diligent about updating ethical standards [for this new medium], and maintain adequate training for employees to ensure they are understood."
3. Absolutely, get your act together at the highest levels as a conglomerate. This has been a perfect example of where the stupid assertions of one company needed to then be adorned and respected by another. (Sidebar: Kempner not only recently endorsed blogola; a day later he publicly endorsed Hillary.)
4. Be extra careful about lying. Now, of course, this runs contrary to PR. The point is, if you're going to lie (and you will) don't be lazy. Spend a little extra time not only crafting your message but also making sure you can back it up.
5. Most importantly, practice what you preach. Nothing worse then selling expertise that you apparently cannot deliver for yourself.