Trust remains elusive marketing goal

Dow’s ‘Triple Bottom Line’

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Atkins cited Dow Chemical Co. as a business that has gained trust among investors through a reporting program launched in 1999. Called Triple Bottom Line, the program sets goals and requires performance reports in three main areas: economic prosperity, environmental stewardship and corporate social responsibility.

In its 2001 annual report, Dow added a special section providing an overview of its corporate governance system.

Dan Cohen, a partner at Deloitte Consulting and author of a new book titled “The Heart of Change,” said this kind of commitment by corporate leaders is necessary to regain public trust.

Like Atkins, Cohen believes businesses will only re-establish trust if they first change their internal processes. “In the wake of what’s been going on, organizations have to rethink their whole approach to their stakeholders,” he said. “If you don’t have credibility, how can you gain trust?”

Nor is it enough to declare an intention to follow new government regulations, Cohen said. Companies must change behavior to correct problems, then communicate messages about exactly what they’ve changed.

The message must be “simple, short and heartfelt,” Cohen said. “If it’s not, how are people going to believe it?”

NYSE’s trust campaign One organization that is working to promote trust in American business is the New York Stock Exchange, which last month debuted a TV and print campaign developed by BBDO Worldwide, New York. Building on an existing campaign with the tagline “The world puts its stock in us,” the new print ads are running in BusinessWeek, Forbes, Fortune and other publications.

The TV and print ads show ordinary investors, such as a fireman and a school teacher, asking for accountability from the companies in which they invest. The print ads state that companies on the exchange must meet the highest standards in order to be listed.

“We felt we needed to go out and show investors that the companies [on the NYSE] were not just adhering to, but living up to in a very big way, the revised standards,” said Bob Zito, exec VP-communications, at the NYSE.

In August, the NYSE board of directors approved new listing requirements, following a February request from the Securities and Exchange Commission to review its corporate governance standards. The new standards are designed to ensure that investors can easily and efficiently monitor the performance of companies and directors.

Jim Speros, chief marketing officer at Ernst & Young and the new chairman of the Association of National Advertisers, said recent accounting scandals have forced professional services firms to take a hard look at how they communicate quality and trust.

“They have to redouble their efforts in examining all methodologies and processes and how they ensure quality,” Speros said. “They have to drive a culture where it’s appropriate to say no, and not accept everything that they’re told.”

At Ernst & Young, that meant creating the new position of “quality czar” in September. The position, which has yet to be formalized and given a title, currently is held by Susan Frieden, the firm’s northeast practice leader for transaction support.

The accounting firm is also in the process of reviewing all of its marketing activities, Speros said. “The tonality of the messages you’re more likely to see going forward from many professional services firms will be more serious than in the past,” he said.

Echoing the comments of many other executives, Speros said: “Trust has to be earned.”

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