The World Wide Web is viewed as a magic wand by many businesses-at least until they encounter a crisis that threatens their reputations. Then it hardly matters at all. So says a majority of the 685 business "influentials" that were recently interviewed by public relations giant Burson-Marsteller. In a survey of senior executives (including chief executive officers), financial analysts, business media and government officials in 65 countries, 95 percent said they didn't utilize the Web during crises. Ironically, a company's web site is the first place that many members of the public go to find out how it's responding to a crisis. One might think, therefore, that businesses would use the medium as a means of providing background, explanations and solutions to the problem. "Web-based communications give senior leaders the most immediate channel for delivering messages of vital importance to key internal and external audiences," says Andy Nibley, global head of Burson-Marsteller's "interactive" operations. But, says the firm, "only 5 percent of senior executives believe using their company's web site is an effective tool in crisis management and corporate reputation turnaround strategy."
A full 81 percent of those surveyed do believe that the threat to corporate reputations is greater than two years ago. They estimate that it would take 3.2 years fully to recover from a crisis today. Often the situation can be headed off, or at least mitigated, if executives are alert to a number of "red flags" that indicate a failing corporate reputation. They include low employee morale, a higher focus on internal politics than doing the job well, the departure of a top executive, CEO celebrity trumping CEO credibility, and employees speaking of customers as nuisances. All of which helps to explain why just 39 percent of the surveyed North Americans desire to be CEOs, compared with 49 percent in Asia-Pacific and 73 percent in Latin America. In addition to the usual concerns about stress and public scrutiny, respondents worried that the greatest burden of responsibility in times of crisis falls, naturally, on the person in charge: the CEO.
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