Consumer attacks on brand leaders now a serious threat to companies

by | Apr 19, 2021 | Public Relations

The public is developing a vicious appetite for attacking the personal reputations of senior company executives, such as CEOs and company founders, finds new research from specialist public relations agency Transmission Private. The firm’s new 2,000-person survey found that 83 percent of people would seek to express their anger with a senior executive publicly, such as on social media, if they objected to their behavior in some way.

The research corresponds with consumers’ continued 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—shining 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.

Consumer attacks on brand leaders now a serious threat to companies

“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,” said Luke Thompson, partner at Transmission Private, in a news release. “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 personalized attacks and need to take judicious, careful and reasonable action to keep these risks under control.”

Boycotts are the most popular way to shame senior executives publicly

In fact, more than a third of respondents (34 percent) 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 percent and 11 percent respectively) and nearly a third said they would tell others, such as friends, family, and business colleagues, about the executive (29 percent) if they were disappointed in their behavior.

Consumer attacks on brand leaders now a serious threat to companies

Younger members of the public pose 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 behavior.

“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,” said Jordan Greenaway, managing director of Transmission Private, in the release. “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.”

“Companies and executives must be especially judicious when it comes to managing their reputations amongst younger people,” Thompson added. “Younger consumers are much more likely to turn their personal grievances into a highly politicized, 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.

Richard Carufel
Richard Carufel is editor of Bulldog Reporter and the Daily ’Dog, one of the web’s leading sources of PR and marketing communications news and opinions. He has been reporting on the PR and communications industry for over 17 years, and has interviewed hundreds of journalists and PR industry leaders. Reach him at richard.carufel@bulldogreporter.com; @BulldogReporter