In this session from Techonomy 2011 in Tuscon, Ariz., Dan Hesse, CEO of Sprint Nextel Corporation, explains how endowing a company with a distinct personality, and literally giving it a human face, can be a powerful business decision. A 2008 ad campaign that featured Hesse as a spokesperson for Sprint on television helped improve the company’s reputation.
Hesse: Early on in 2008, you mentioned it, just me being on the TV commercials, this notion of transparency and knowing who you are. The ad agency came to me in early ’08 and said, “We’d like there to be a face on the company,” because people in terms of this communication, communication with employees and others, they want to talk to somebody there. They like this contact back and forth. They said, “As part of transparency we think it will be helpful for the company for you to go out on television.” It was the beginning of ’08, which was an election year, and as in every election year all business is demonized. There were no CEOs on TV at all. They said, “Exactly. That’s why you should go. It’ll stand out. Very few CEO ads work, but if they do work they work pretty well because people know it’s a real person versus an actor, and if it doesn’t work we can just go to plan B and go to another ad.” Corporate reputation, which of course includes customer service, but trust is a very big element—the Reputation Institute each year measures the 1500 largest companies in the world in what they call corporate reputation. They survey with opinion leaders, customers, businesses, et cetera. In 2010, when we were doing a lot of this, including the social ninja and including going on TV commercials or what have you, of the 1500 largest companies in the world, Sprint’s corporate reputation improved more than any company in the world.