Global business executives view public CEO apologies as less effective than other strategies to repair tarnished corporate reputations, according to a new 11-country survey by global public relations firm Weber Shandwick and KRC Research.

“CEO apologies are quickly losing their power to allay public concern now that they are almost expected when a crisis strikes or companies are accused of wrongdoing,” says Weber Shandwick’s chief reputation strategist Leslie Gaines-Ross, architect of the new research. “Taking responsibility by apologizing is important, but more is expected from CEOs in crisis such as greater public outreach on what the company intends to do about the problem on an immediate and regular basis.”

According to nearly three-quarters of the 950 global business leaders participating in the “Safeguarding Reputation” survey, the best steps to beginning the reputation recovery process are announcing specific actions the company will take to fix the problem (76 percent), creating an early warning system (76 percent), and establishing procedures and policies the company will follow to demonstrate its commitment to being a responsible citizen (73 percent). 

Other frequently mentioned strategies for repairing post-crisis reputation are working closely with legal counsel on public disclosures (72 percent), issuing regular public progress reports to address the problem (71 percent) and quickly and publicly disclosing what happened (71 percent).  Many of these action steps help stem hyper-media coverage as stakeholders are assured that the company is being as transparent and proactive as possible under the circumstances.

The majority of global business executives believe that responding to bloggers post-crisis is not an effective way to begin the recovery process, regardless of region. Less than four in 10 (39 percent) believe that engaging with bloggers who may have the facts wrong is a good idea in rebuilding lost reputation.

“Perhaps business decision-makers around the globe believe that companies should concentrate on fixing the problem and understanding what went wrong before turning their attention to correcting online conversations,” says Gaines-Ross. “This is not surprising since our research also reveals that only a minority of companies pay attention to online coverage of their company’s reputation.”

Only one out of every five global business executives (20 percent) believe that keeping the CEO out of the media after a crisis helps restore reputation.

“CEOs are the public face of their organization and in times of turmoil are expected to be visible and forthright about any problems that arise on their watch,” says Gaines-Ross. “In addition to straightforward CEO communications, companies can begin restoring equity in their company name by publicly stating problem-solving actions, making crisis preparedness a priority and setting clear responsibility standards.”

“Leaders need to better understand the rules of engagement as they increasingly find themselves in the spotlight for wrongdoing or mounting crises,” says Weber Shandwick president Andy Polansky. “Considering that nearly nine out of 10 global business executives see an increasing trend in damage to corporate reputations, it is wise to identify the best recovery strategies now.”