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KETCHUM'S ONLINE MAGAZINE YEAR 2008    ISSUE 3

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EXPECTATIONS & FRUSTRATIONS: HOW THE PUBLIC PERCEIVES CORPORATIONS AND CEOS

It has been apparent for some time now that corporations and their leaders are being held to higher standards than perhaps ever before. Advocacy groups routinely call companies to task for perceived “sins” ranging from providing minimal employee benefits to not giving enough consideration to how business affects the environment. And the impact of such criticism can go beyond negative media coverage to actually dragging down stock prices.

Clearly, corporations cannot adequately respond to these heightened expectations unless they have the proper depth of understanding. With this in mind, last summer, Ketchum conducted a survey that examined expectations of companies and their leaders around the world. Called Expectations & Frustrations: How the Public Perceives Corporations and CEOs, the survey polled Influentials – individuals who influence change in society – in 11 countries. While reiterating the well-established fact that public trust of the corporate world is low, the findings also reveal interesting insights about how and why various stakeholders might judge corporations.

We've already begun to put some of these insights to work for clients around the world, but we also want to share the results with a broader audience. The bottom line of the survey is that the expectations of Influentials often are not being met. But perhaps even more often, corporate performance against those expectations simply isn't being communicated well. Either way, there is a gap between what consumers expect and what they believe companies deliver. This issue of Perspectives outlines the survey's key findings and offers thoughts on how public relations and corporate communications, in particular, can help narrow that gap.

In our “Viewpoints” section, John Weckenmann, a Ketchum partner and head of the agency's North American Corporate Practice, talks about the “three E's” that are at the core of unmet expectations, and Rob Flaherty, a senior partner and Ketchum's newly appointed president, discusses the gap in expectations between developed nations and developing countries. We also asked Tom Nicholson, executive director of the Arthur W. Page Society, to talk about reactions to Page's recent white paper, The Authentic Enterprise, which also outlines some of the corporate communication challenges that our survey hits upon. Tom talks about reactions to the white paper in a one-on-one interview.

Finally, since many of our survey findings speak directly to the challenges facing CEOs, we've gathered a panel of experts whose jobs are to help chief executives communicate. These experts, who are either heads of corporate communications or speechwriters for CEOs, share their views and experiences in our “Roundtable” article. By and large, they point out that effective communication is just as much about what a CEO does as it is about what a CEO says. We wrap up the issue with a few key survey statistics in “Street Smarts.” To see how your expectations match up to those of Influentials around the world, take our brief poll just to the right of this letter. There, you also will find the results from our last reader poll on marketing to women.

Once you've read the issue, I'd love to hear your thoughts on our survey or your own related experiences. E-mail me at ray.kotcher@ketchum.com.

Best regards,

Ray Kotcher
Senior Partner and Chief Executive Officer, Ketchum