. The Transom .

Monday, February 26, 2007

Tiger Woods as my CFO

This post will be somewhat limited to the St. Louis area in terms of name recognition, but the concept is relevant across the country. Last week Karen Foss was hired by Ameren UE, our local electric utility, as its new vice president of public relations. Ameren has come under some fire in recent years for increasing prices, decreasing responsiveness, and the debacle at the Taum Sauk reservoir. So what better way to combat a growing image problem than bring in some fresh blood to lead the communications, right? Sure. Only one problem. Ms. Foss has no public relations experience. Zip. Nada.

For 25 years Ms. Foss was a television anchor woman in Kansas City and St. Louis. Granted, she was one of the more respected, well-liked media personalities in the area for a long time. But a public relations whiz she is not. In the announcement, Ameren stated that Ms. Foss would have a team of eight reporting to her. Can you imagine what they must be thinking, knowing that the intern probably has more PR savvy than the boss?

Why would Ameren make this bone-headed move? Because its heart is in the right place, but its brain took the day off. Hiring someone with a strong media background is a good move for most any PR firm. That experience can add valuable insight to a media relations team. But hiring someone ONLY because of media name recognition and having them lead the communications efforts with no real knowledge of PR is a clear-as-a-bell sign that you're looking to buy some credibility. And folks, you can't buy credibility. In this case, Ameren did the exact opposite of what it set out to do. When we see Ms. Foss being interviewed on TV about why Ameren screwed up again, are we going to believe that she speaks for the company, or as a hired celebrity? I think it's the latter.

Ameren essentially turned its communications effort into an ad campaign. Hire a well-known personality and have them say great things about the brand. Entertainment up, credibility down. Well done, Ameren. I expect its next hire to be Tiger Woods as CFO. Why? Because he's got a lot of money, which must make him overly qualified for the CFO seat.

2 Comments:

  • Not only does Karen have her work cut out for her with external communications and reshaping Ameren’s image, but now she has a major internal communications problem. Many employees are angry as they just found out their bonuses will be slim to nonexistent. With the unlucky timing of the two events, who are they blaming for taking their pay?? Karen Foss and the hefty salary she was given. To this I say ‘good luck Karen’. It’s going to be a long and bumpy road ahead and should be an interesting story to follow...

    By Blogger Angie Dulle, at Tuesday, February 27, 2007 7:21:00 AM  

  • A very good point. While the external credibility of her position is in doubt, certainly she has an internal problem as well. The best thing she can do is not be afraid to learn from her team. If she pretends to know how the business works from day one she will lose the respect of her team.

    By Blogger Rob Amberg, at Wednesday, February 28, 2007 8:08:00 AM  

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