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Virtue or Vice?

This week the voice of our blog comes from the students. One year ago, Eleonora, Valentina, Eugenio, Chiara, Lèa and Alessio wrote a post about the reputational crisis that involved Vice. This crisis was due to episodes of sexual harassment within the offices, topic that last year was much discussed. Today this concern is less topical, but this post remains an intresting reflecion about crisis and reputation management.

Enjoy it!

 

Virtue or Vice?

 

Imagine a company created by Millennials for Millennials. Expectations would definitely be high, right? Would you imagine a communication that speaks your language, a smart workplace completely devoid of the old things that Millennials criticize so much? And what would happen if this company admitted that it had created a workplace permeated with sexism and completely devoid of those common values of the generation to which it is addressed, but also of which it was composed?

This is what is happening to the well-known Canadian information company VICE. They are not only facing a heavy reputational crisis in terms of the work environment and governance, but it even seems that they do not want to totally cut with the figures the factors that led to this serious crisis.

 

On December 23 2017, Emily Steel reported a number of sexual harassment cases in the Vice work environment with a New York Times article. This complaint cited among some authors, even the current president of the company. With the publication of the article, the news started spreading very quickly on Twitter receiving several retweets. Vice did not take long to get his answer: on the 24th of December 2017 wrote a letter of apology to its staff, recognizing that he failed as a company in creating a safe and non-discriminatory job. But this was not enough: Sandra Miller, a Vice Executive, described the work environment within the company as "toxic", where space was given to foul language and sometimes misogynistic attitudes. This seems to have been justified by an agreement that was accepted by the new recruits: they basically consented to the possible use of unconventional languages and actions. This was interpreted as a way of creating a work environment in which misogynistic and sexist attitudes towards women were justified.

Indeed, as a company, you have to be very careful when it comes to choosing the right words and the good examples. The virality of the social media makes it dangerous if the message is misinterpreted.

Despite the apology from the company and the change of corporate policies on sexual violence, there have not been any major reputational changes concerning vice. In fact, the CEO Shane Smith, after publicly admitting that his leadership had failed, resigned, but chose to keep the role of president of the company. It is a questionable decision since he is the image of the company. This choice, therefore, did not help to solve the reputation problem that arose after the previous events, but it seemed only an attempt by the company to rebuild its corporate image and not a sincere intention to solve the actual problem.

 

Accessing the company website shows the irony of this crisis: Vice has published countless articles about sexual violence in night clubs, in the food industry, the hotel industry in general in the workplace. It is therefore natural to ask oneself as a company that denounces and condemns certain events, instead it can have as many its own company DNA: how can one trust a company like that? I would ask myself. Hence the importance and therefore the severity of this case.

Certainly, the crisis has been amplified and probably also generated by the strength of the #metoo movement, which is always pointing out that sexual harassment is more widespread than we thought in an extremely ingrained manner, in countless sectors of work. After the film industry (the case of the Hollywood producer Weinstein in fact originated this movement), after the music industry, and after multiple scandals in the world of politics, slowly this movement is bringing out cases of sexual violence also in the industry of information. Vice is in fact the only one to deal with a badly profound reputational crisis and that therefore, will require profound changes rearrangements to build their own image, but it is not the only one to have been involved in the sector: in fact, also Fox (in particular Fox News) and the BBC has had to lay off members of their staff as a result of complaints made to them.

 

Antoniazzi Eleonora
Persichetti Valentina
Pletto Eugenio Alberto Maria
Ptrich Chiara Maria
Roy Léa
Sabbatini Alessio

References

 Booth, S. A. (2000). How can organisations prepare for reputational crises?. Journal of Contingencies and Crisis Management, 8(4), 197-207.

 Etter, M., Ravasi, D., & Colleoni, E. (2017). Social Media and the Formation of Organizational Reputation. Academy of Management Review, amr-2014.

 Fombrun, C. J., Ponzi, L. J., & Newburry, W. (2015). Stakeholder tracking and analysis: The RepTrak® system for measuring corporate reputation. Corporate Reputation Review, 18(1), 3-24.

 Gotsi, M., & Wilson, A. (2001). Corporate reputation management:“living the brand”. Management Decision, 39(2), 99-104.

 Smaiziene, I., & Orzekauskas, P. (2009). Reputational crisis: saving the most valuable a company’s asset. Economics and Management, (14), 522-527.