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Reputational assaults on senior leadership are now a serious threat to companies, finds survey

Members of the public have a vicious appetite for attacking the personal reputations of senior company executives, such as CEOs and company founders, finds new research.

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Reputational assaults on senior leadership are now a serious threat to companies, finds survey.

Members of the public have a vicious appetite for attacking the personal reputations of senior company executives, such as CEOs and company founders, finds new research.

A new 2,000-person survey, conducted by specialist public relations agency Transmission Private, found that 83% of people would seek to express their anger with a senior executive publicly, such as on social media, if they objected to their behaviour in some way.

The results shine a light on the personal reputation risks that company leaders and business owners face on a daily basis when making difficult, and often unpopular, business decisions.

The research is published at the same time as consumers continue to demand more from companies in terms of their ethical conduct. The results show that it is not just businesses that run the risk of high-profile public backlashes in response to ill-advised business decisions — but senior executives, owners, and Board members too.

Luke Thompson, Partner at Transmission Private, said:
 “We have found that reputational attacks are increasingly taking a highly personal dimension. Stakeholders know where to hit successful individuals where it hurts most and, increasingly, that is their personal reputation.

“Company leaders need to spend just as much time talking about their personal reputations as they do about their corporate brands. Senior company leaders are at significant risk of personalised attacks and need to take judicious, careful and reasonable action to keep these risks under control.”

The results revealed that boycotts were the most popular way to shame senior executives publicly. In fact, more than a third of respondents (34%) said they would stop using a company’s products if they were disappointed in an executive’s actions. Additionally, 1 in 10 said they would write to the media or post on social media (10% and 11% respectively) and nearly a third said they would tell others, such as friends, family, and business colleagues, about the executive (29%) if they were disappointed in their behaviour.

The results also revealed that younger members of the public posed the most risk to senior executives’ reputations. According to the survey, the younger the respondent, the more likely they were to turn their anger and personal frustrations into a political campaign. Amongst 18-to-24-year-olds, almost a third of respondents said they would sign a petition to show their anger with a company, and a huge 23 percent said they would attempt to participate in a protest against an executive’s behaviour.

Jordan Greenaway, Managing Director of Transmission Private, said:
“We are increasingly advising companies to ensure that they have protections in place to manage the reputations of their senior management, shareholders, and Board members. This now needs to become part and parcel of effective risk management within companies.

“Companies should monitor all their senior executives’ names on social media and elsewhere to spot reputation risks before they become full-blown crises. It is not enough to monitor mentions of the company’s name alone. You will be missing half of the picture.”

Luke Thompson added:
“Companies and executives must be especially judicious when it comes to managing their reputations amongst younger people. Younger consumers are much more likely to turn their personal grievances into a highly politicised, highly public social media campaign. This is clearly dangerous and needs to be carefully monitored.

“If a campaign takes on a political dimension, it is much more likely to flare out of control dramatically. Political stories attract more interest from the public and media; this opens the door to a vicious cycle of negative stories.”

Transmission Private is the leading global strategic communications adviser to successful individuals, families, and their companies. The poll was conducted by OnePoll, which is a member of ESOMAR and employs members of the MRS.

Transmission Private publishes a monthly newsletter that tracks the future of reputation management for private clients.

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Transmission Private publishes a monthly newsletter that tracks the future of reputation management for private clients.