Thursday, December 30, 2010

Effective Goal Setting for 2011

Dear Readers,

As we prepare to usher in the new year, many of us will be reflecting on our past and setting new goals for 2011.  Appended below is an article I wrote on effective goal setting which I hope you'll find useful.

Happy 2011 and may all your dreams and wishes come true!

CW Fong

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Effective Goal Setting

In any journey, knowing the destination is logically the beginning. Unfortunately, in their journey to success, few people start with the destination in mind. Without this focus or established goal the journey will be fraught with many pointless and unnecessary detours and reversals.

Goals then are the compass that provides direction and purpose to our actions. However, merely having goals is equivalent to merely possessing the compass. Knowing how-to set goals is then equivalent to possessing the knowledge and skill to using the compass proficiently.

To be functional, goals must be SMART. SMART being the acronym for Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic and Time-specific. Satisfying these five criteria alone is however not enough. In order for goals to be powerful and compelling, they must also fulfill the following conditions …

Step One: Know the Sacrifices and Higher Purpose

In the pursuit of any goal there will be sacrifices that need to be made. It is therefore important that after setting your goal, you then question your own willingness to make the necessary sacrifices to achieve it. If by doing so you find that you are unwilling to make the required sacrifices, you can then either choose not pursue the goal, or adjust it such that the sacrifices are ones you are willing to make. Once you have decided what you are willing to sacrifice, you have in effect made a commitment to achieving this goal.

In line with this, it is also necessary that you seek to understand the higher purpose you have for setting this particular goal. To do this, you simply ask yourself the question, “What is important about achieving this goal?” Repeatedly asking yourself this question, you will reveal the higher meaning of why you want to achieve this goal. It is this higher meaning that, more often than not, will give you the more compelling reason to achieve your goal.

Step Two: Collect Evidence and Retain Control

As part of setting well-formed goals, you must also define specific “evidence” of you achieving or, at least, moving towards your goal. This is an important step in the process as it serves the twin purpose of motivation and feedback. Motivation in the sense that nothing motivates you more than seeing yourself succeeding; and feedback in the sense that it is important to know if what you are doing is putting you on track to achieving your goal. If it is not, then adjustments to your plans can be made.

In addition, stated goals must also be those within your control. In life, there are many things that are beyond our control. Setting goals that depend on others or nature’s compliance is futile and is doomed to failure. Instead, goals must be focused on what we can control. We may not be able to control how someone else responds, however we can control our own behavior such that it increases the chance of the other person responding the way we want. In other words, the process is within your control and the outcome is not. You must trust that if you follow the process, you will get the desired outcome. This is a goal that is within your control.

Step Three: Use Self-to-Self Comparisons

The third condition to setting compelling goals is to use self-to-self comparison. No matter what we want to believe, in life no two persons start from the same point. Comparing ourselves to others, especially in the initial stages of our journey, often leads to discouragement. It is more important, and useful, to do self-to-self comparisons to judge your progress, or success, based on where you were and where you are now. Save the self-to-others comparison till you have had a reasonable time to progress.

Rest assured, that by adopting and adhering to the concept of Never-Ending Process of Improvement (where you constantly and relentless improve daily no matter how small the improvement), you will soon be comparing yourself with the best.

Conclusion

Many people know how to set goals, however, few achieve their goals as there is more to it than being SMART. Keep in mind these three conditions and you will be on your way to success. So go ahead. Set those goals and achieve it!

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

TSA vs The Patroit Pilot: Chris Liu Whistleblower Pilot

CNN today reported the on-going controversy between the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) and Chris Liu's (The Patriot Pilot) personal crusade to expose the nation's faulty airport security.

In response to Liu's claims that security at San Francisco International Airport (SFO) was a “farce”, the airport responded by (a) claiming that Chris Liu has presented “false and misleading information;" (b) clarifying that the door in Liu's video led only to an employee lunchroom and not the main airfield as Liu had suggested; and (c) stating that “San Francisco International Airport is proud to both an innovator and a trendsetter in aviation security," and that "SFO meets, and in many cases, exceeds every federal security requirement."

In responding to this potential crisis, the TSA appears to have adopted the standard twin crisis response strategies of (a) denying the existence of a crisis by “attacking the credibility” of Chris Liu; and (b) bolstering the organisation's reputation by “benchmarking SFO against federal requirements”.  Using comments posted on CNN's website in response to this article as a measure of effectiveness, it appears that the TSA's approach has been effective in containing this crisis.  Discontent with TSA, while present, appear to be a follow-on from their earlier poor handling of the enhanced pat-downs and full-body scanner image controversy.

Well done TSA!

Monday, December 27, 2010

The Velcro Effect: When is Enough Enough

I came across an interesting 2001 study, conducted by Coombs (the father of Situational Crisis Communications Theory) and Holladay, that showed an organisation's failure to properly handle a past crisis causes stakeholders to perceive the organisation as having more responsibility when a new crisis erupts. Interestingly, the same study showed that a favourable reputation (gained from the handling of a previous crisis or from other Public Relations efforts) is no better than a neutral reputation. This effect where a negative reputation “attracts and snags additional reputational damage” is known as the Velcro Effect.

So what can PR Managers and Crisis Communicators learn from this study?

Firstly, and most obviously, all crisis must be properly managed. Failure to do so will put the organisation at a disadvantage when another crisis occurs.

Secondly, and less obvious, is that in the event a crisis is managed poorly, efforts need to be made to repair the organisation's reputation. However, since empirical evidence show that there is no difference between a favourable reputation and a neutral reputation, PR Managers and Crisis Communicators can reasonable cap their efforts at returning the company's reputation to “neutral” and hence refrain from unnecessarily expanding resources where no advantage is to be gained.

All companies exist for the purpose of maximising shareholder returns.  As such PR Managers and Crisis Communicators must constantly keep the company's bottom-line in mind and tailor their PR and Crisis Communication Plans accordingly.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Crisis Communications: Singapore Teaching Scholar Jonathan Wong Pleads Guilty to Child Pornography Charges

Singapore's The Straits Times today reported that Jonathan Wong received a suspended 2 year sentence for possessing child pornography videos.  People interviewed by The Straits Times expressed mixed views on the severity of the sentence, with most being surprised (and outraged) by the leniency.

Rebuilding his Life

From a crisis communications perspective, the next question is how does Jonathan Wong rebuild his life.  As I have mentioned in an earlier post, in the era of social media, the approach of avoiding media attention in the hopes of allowing public scrutiny to fade is no longer an option.  Internet reports by news agencies and blogs (like this) will ensure that the issue remains "alive" for a long time to come.  And the longer Jonathan remains silent on the issue, the greater the information balance will tilt towards the negative.  As I have opined before, Jonathan Wong must tell his side of the story.

As a crisis communicator, my advice to Jonathan Wong is that he must address the public perception of him.  Due to his silence on the issue, the stereotype of someone like him being a "monster" or "social deviant" has shaped public perception - this is demonstrated by public outrage on the perceived light punishment meted out to him.  Jonathan should therefore seek to "humanise" himself by expressing remorse, showing contrition and generally showing the public that he is just a human as them.  In addition, if Jonathan can also show how his family and friends are standing with, and helping, him work through this crisis, it will encourage others to come out to show support.  In essence, Jonathan should reframe the issue to one where (a) "everyone makes a mistake"; and (b) "where remorse or contrition or punishment has been meted out, offenders should be given a yellow-ribbon.

In short, while everything seems stacked against Jonathan at this moment, all is not lost.  Jonathan can rebuild his life by engaging the media and "humanising" himself to the stakeholders.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Press Release: Timing is Everything

In issuing a Press Release, an often overlooked consideration is the timing. Timing is important as the mainstream media (MSM) has a finite amount of print space, and depending on whatever else is considered newsworthy on that day, may add or subtract from your Message.

I know that I have said in an earlier post that delaying the Press Release in the hopes of having another crisis mask yours is not advisable. That however does not mean that you should not capitalize on opportunities. My earlier statement is made in the context that a long delay in being "open" about your crisis is dangerous as leaks may put you on the information defensive.

Using the Jonathan Wong (MOE Scholar Pleads Guilty to Child Pornography Charges) case as an illustration, assuming the MOE wanted to announce more information about the case but knew that the MSM would be reporting another incident of a teacher being charged in court for sending lewd messages to a student, it would be unwise for the MOE to release it on the same day. Having "two incidents" will allude to a pattern which will be damaging for the MOE. The MOE would be wise to delay the release by about a week, or seek to time the release with another on-going crisis i.e. Singapore's comments on its neighbors as revealed on WikiLeaks.

Hence, in my opinion, PR Professionals must (a) always consider timing when planning a Press Release; and (b) balance the need for being "open", with the need to control the crisis.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Delivering the Truth is the Duty of the PR Professional

In response to my earlier post on the Pierre Png road rage incident, I received a comment that PR Professionals are not interested in the truth.

While I can understand the reader's perspective, I am afraid that delivering the truth is the duty of the PR Professional.  This is because social media has created a perfect information environment in which nothing stays hidden forever.  Any PR Professional that encourages, or allows, his client to be less than truthful is being irresponsible.

So if PR Professionals only deal in the truth, why then do we need them?

The answer is simple.  While the truth will always reveal itself, unfortunately the manner in which is does is not predictable.  Leaving it to chance may then result in the "truth" taking on a life of its own and going off in tangents that are not beneficial to the company.  In some instances, minor incidents may be blown out of proportion and result in the destruction of the company's reputation and brand image. 

Hence, in the era of social media, the PR Professionals' role is to deliver the truth in a controlled manner with the interest of the company and its stakeholders in mind.  Delivering the truth is thus the duty of the PR Professional.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Red Cross finds $90k has gone missing

On 6 Dec 2010, the Singapore Red Cross Society (SRCS) reported that one of its employee had misappropriated $90,000.  In a positive example of how crisis communications in the era of social media should be done, the SRCS' response incorporated the 5 essential elements of an effective crisis communications plan.  As a result of their effective response, Asia One News reported on 8 Dec that "donors here remain confident in the charitable efforts of the Singapore Red Cross Society." 

Firstly, the SRCS was timely and open in managing this crisis.  The SRCS made the police report on 3 Dec (Fri) and the SRCS issued a press release on 5 Dec (Sun).  Secondly, the SRCS was 100% truthful about the circumstances leading to the misappropriation and accepted responsibility for the error.  Thirdly, the SRCS ensured that their message was broadly communicated and that it had an Internet presence.  This was engendered via the issuing of a press release and then following up with the posting of an open letter of apology by it Secretary General on the Society's website.

The SCRS' crisis communication plan allowed the Society to successful gain the information initiative.  By doing so, the Society (a) established/ reinforced its credibility in the eyes of stakeholders; (b) allowed the Society to frame the incident as a one-off lapse; and (c) prevented the crisis from spiraling out of control via a lack of information.  The SRCS' handling of this crisis is a classic example of how crisis communications, when done correctly, can mitigate any negative fall-out.

If there is however one thing that the SRCS could have done better, it is to capitalise on this opportunity to reinforce its brand image.  This the SRCS could have done by simply incorporating the Society's Vision or Values into the various Messages being released.

Overall, a job well done for the crisis communication team at the SRCS.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Wikileaks: U.S. Agencies Warn Unauthorized Employees not to look at WikiLeaks

On 3 Dec 2010, CNN reported that the White House Office of Management and Budget sent a memo "forbidding unauthorized federal government employees and contractors from accessing classified documents publicly available on WikiLeaks and other websites using computers or devices like BlackBerrys and smart phones."  The memo stated that the publishing by WikiLeaks does "not alter the documents' classified status or automatically result in declassification of the documents.  To the contrary, classified information, whether or not already posted on public websites or disclosed to the media remains classified, and must be treated as such by federal employees and contractors, until it is declassified by an appropriate U.S. Government authority."

While I can understand the US Government's legal intent to continue to maintain the security classification of the documents and hence maintain its case against Julian Assange, I think the approach of forbidding federal government employees and contractors from viewing the cables is an epic crisis communication mistake.  This is because, like it or not, the information is already out there and instead of using finite resources to restrict employee usage, the US Government should instead be capitalising on it.

My proposal is simple.  To win the battle for social media, the US Government must focus on achieving two things - (a) gaining and maintaining the information initiative; and (b) dominating the blogosphere by having information superiority.  To do this, the US Government needs to embrace their employees (especially their employee bloggers) and convert them into "ambassadors" for the US Government.  In this instance, federal government employees and contractors should be proactively engaged by their senior management to ensure their understanding of the principles and values of the US Government, the Government's  political and military objectives, the context within which the memos were written.  It is only with this clearer understanding of "management's thinking" will federal government employees and contractors be able to "speak up" (as third-party endorsements) and explain the rationale for the US Government's actions.

In addition, if the US Government's employee blogger numbers are large and their blogs well followed, their postings will then enable the US Government to gain the information initiative while simultaneously "drowning out" the anti-establishment voices giving the US Government information superiority in this crisis.

Hence, as I have advocated before in my earlier posts, I strongly believe that Internal Communications, and not Internal Censorship, is the key to gaining the upper hand in this cablegate crisis. The White House's decision to forbid federal government employees and contractors from reading WikiLeaks cables is thus a bad decision that will hurt it in the long run.

Celeb road rage? Pierre Png: I confronted him because he showed me finger

On 3 Dec 10, a Citizen Journalist (CJ) posted a story on The Straits Times Online Media Print (STOMP) website alleging an incident of road rage by a local celebrity.  Within days the story received over 19,100 page views, garnered 57 comments and was picked-up almost immediately by the mainstream media (MSM).

From a crisis communications perspective, Pierre Png could have handled the incident better.  Pierre did well when he sought to regain the information initiative by promptly telling his side of the story.  This then enabled STOMP and the MSM to include his side of the story in their reports which then "balanced" the CJ's claim.  A "no comment response" would have implied guilt and would likely have spiraled the incident out of control as rumors would have filled the information vacuum.  (See my earlier blog posting where "no comment says more than you think").

Pierre could however have done better in the following few areas:

a. Choice of "Tone".  Essentially, Pierre chose to come across as a "reasonable man".  While his response sought to make him appear as "mature", "rational" and "humble", Pierre's lack of anger is not congruent with a person who is falsely accused. (See my earlier blog posting on the Brad Lau Saga).  Pierre's side of the story would have greater credibility if he had expressed some anger over being falsely accused.

b. Personal Attack.  In his response, Pierre made a personal attack against his accuser by calling his a "coward".  As the aim of a crisis communication strategy in incidents like this is to reduce media interest as quickly as possible, making personal attacks is counter-productive.  This is because it is likely to instigate the CJ to seek "revenge" and this will drag the story out.  In this instance, Pierre would have done better to keep the attention focused on himself as the "victim" to garner greater support from interested stakeholders. 

c. Framing the Crisis.  Pierre also failed to frame the crisis to his advantage.  In any incident, crisis communicators should seek to elevate the issue at hand to one concerning socially accepted values.  In this incident, a good frame would be one of fairness i.e. why pick on me just because I am a celebrity?  Elevating the issue to this "level" will then make it harder for the accuser to continue attacking Pierre.  This is because continuing an attack would likely turn stakeholder support against the CJ.  Additionally, an issue of "fairness" will also allow Pierre to enlist other celebrities to his cause.

d.  Clear Outcomes.  Pierre's fourth and, in my opinion, biggest mistake is his failure to develop and pursue a clear outcome from this crisis.  In show business, they say "all publicity is good publicity", hence having a clear outcome will enable him to respond holistically to turn this to his advantage.  In my assessment, having a clear outcome would have shaped Pierre initial statement to elevate the issue, would have prevented Pierre from making a personal attack against the accuser thereby prolonging the incident, and would likely have enabled him to "gain" from this incident.

In summary, the key lessons learnt for PR Professionals are these: (a) never use "no comment" as it implies guilt; and (b) develop clear outcomes at the onset of any crisis.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Qantas A-380 Safety Crisis

Singapore's The Straits Times reported today that Qantas' Chief Executive Officer, Alan Joyce, has put the blame for the Qantas A-380 incident squarely on the shoulders of the Rolls-Royce's Trent 900 engine. The report quoted Alan Joyce as saying that “it was a new engine and it was absolutely clear that it had nothing to do with anything Qantas was doing”. Alan Joyce went on to substantiate his claims that in Qantas' own “research”, people are “aware that this is a Rolls-Royce problem” and that the “vast majority of people know that there's a problem with the design of the engines.” In his own assessment, Alan Joyce felt that Qantas' handling of the incident had probably enhanced its brand rather than damage it. When questioned about other incidents that have resulted in turnbacks of Qantas airplanes since the Nov 4th incident, Alan Joyce replied that “hundreds of them take place every year.”

From a crisis communications perspective, Qantas has obviously gone into crisis mode and Alan Joyce's statements are targeted at reassuring stakeholders on the safety of Qantas aircrafts.

My critique of Qantas' crisis communication efforts are as follows:

a. Poor Stakeholder Analysis. In my opinion, Qantas has failed to correctly identify the main stakeholder concern. In scenarios like this, stakeholders can accept that risks are part and parcel of flying. Stakeholder concern is thus whether the airline has in place the necessary measures to minimise the risk. By pushing the blame to Rolls-Royce, Qantas is implying that there is nothing wrong with their procedures. This is however contradicted by reports of several turnbacks that have occurred since the A-380 incident. To me, instead of blaming others, a more effective Message for Qantas would be to reassure their stakeholders on Qantas safety procedures and how it compares, or even exceeds, industry standards.

b. Tone. While I was not at the interview and thus cannot comment on Alan Joyce's actual tone, the “tone” of the newspaper report shows Qantas to be overly aggressive in pushing the blame to Rolls-Royce. Quotes of “our own research”, “a problem with the design of the engines”, and “the incident had probably enhanced its brand rather than damage it” all make Qantas appear desperate. This in my opinion, is more damaging than if Qantas had remained silent. The key lesson for PR Professionals here is the importance of correctly calibrating the Message. This is because it is one thing to raise the possibility of third party culpability, and another to rail-road the third party.

c. Use of Data. As mentioned in an earlier post, the use of survey data to support a Message is a double-edge sword. If the data can withstand scrutiny, then the Message will be believed. If however the data cannot withstand scrutiny, then the company's credibility is all but destroyed. By merely saying that “their own research showed”, it would appear to the lay-person that Qantas may be using questionable data to back-up its claim. In this instance, to make the data more credible, Alan Joyce should have offered more information about the scope of the survey i.e. who conducted it, what was the sample size, etc.

Qantas crisis communication efforts are underway and, by my assessment, off to a rocky start. Let's continue to monitor this campaign and see what else we can learn (both good and bad) from Qantas.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Blogging and the Freedom of Speech

On 25 Nov 2010, CNN reported the release of Kareem Amer from an Egyptian prison. Kareem Amer was jailed for "spreading information disruptive of public order and damaging to the country's reputation," "incitement to hate Islam" and "defaming the president of the republic," according to a statement from the Committee to Protect Journalists.

I am not here to say who is right or who is wrong.  However, assuming the integrity of the Egyptian judicial system, I am supportive of any governments' right to investigate if a crime has been committed and, if so, to take the blogger to task.

This is because, as I have said many times before in the blog, social networking websites like Friendster, FaceBook and Twitter have changed the information environment.  Bloggers can now reach out and influence as many individuals as professionally run news organizations.  Herein lies the danger as unlike professional journalists who abide by a code of ethics, bloggers are unregulated and may be motivated by personal agendas. In addition, the homogeneity of these social communities, and sense of bond among "friends" with common interests, make these communities susceptible to being easily manipulated.

I cite the Greek Riot in 2008 as an example where the death of a student, at the hands of the police, need not have degenerated into nation-wide violent protests. The incident could have remained contained pending investigations by the appropriate authorities. Unfortunately, irresponsible citizens began spreading unsubstantiated accusations of police brutality on social networking sites. This fanned anti-police sentiments which eventually spiraled out of control.  Many analysts are unanimous in their belief that social networking websites were the catalysts in the Greek riots of 2008.

Hence, while I believe that netizens have the right to express their views, the expression of these views must be done responsibly. The inciting of hate or violence is definitely not one freedom I support.  In my opinion, the Egyptian government was correct to investigate this case and, as they deemed a crime had been committed (according to their laws), taken the appropriate actions.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

MacPherson School Slashing Incident: Where No Comment Says More than you Think

On 24 Nov 2010, Singapore's The Straits Times reported the senseless slashing of a MacPherson Secondary School student in Jul 10 by a schoolmate after an accidental bumping incident. The mainstream newspaper concluded its article by stating that the school's principal “declined to comment” when asked about the incidence of fights amongst students in her school, and whether students can come to the school armed.

Once again, we see the use of “no comments” as a knee-jerk reaction to media queries. Unfortunately, the use of “no comment”, while convenient, implies that the school has something to hide. As a person unfamiliar with MacPherson Secondary School, my instinctive reaction to the newspaper report and the principal's decision not to comment gives me the perception that (a) fights occur frequently in MacPherson Secondary School; and (b) the school is a breeding ground for gangsters.

Unfortunately, or perhaps fortunately in this case, a quick research on the school shows the incident to be an isolated one.  And contrary to my perceptions, MacPherson Secondary School is a good neighbourhood school that has commendable achievements like winning the Ministry of Education's Achievement Award (Academic Value-Added) 2009.

From this case, the main take-away for PR Professionals is that saying or declining comment is a comment in itself.  Thus, instead of "making a negative comment", the school's principal should have capitalised on the opportunity to “set the record straight” and correct the mis-perception of MacPherson Secondary School as being a breeding ground for gangsters.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Jonathan Wong MOE Scholar Pleads Guilty to Child Pornography Charges (Part 2)

Having pleaded guilty to possessing child pornography videos, it is likely that Jonathan Wong's scholarship from the Singapore Ministry of Education will be revoked.  In addition, the social stigma of being perceived as a sex offender will stay with him for years to come.  As a young 22 year old with his whole life ahead of him, Jonathan Wong must now manage this crisis to enable himself to rebuild his reputation as well as his life. 

So what must an individual in a situation like this do?

In crisis communication situations involving individuals, it is often the natural instinct for the affected party to avoid the media.  This is based on the belief that avoiding the media will keep the individual "out of the news" which will then allow stakeholder attention to fade away.  This is a mistake.

Unlike the past where news stayed in the publics' eye as long as the newspaper printed the articles, in the era of social media, anything on the Internet is archived indefinitely.  Thus, while avoiding the main stream media may facilitate the fading of media attention, the Jonathan Wong story will remain on the Internet forever.  It is hence my opinion that Jonathan Wong must engage the media to "balance" some of the negative news out on him.

The key take-away for PR Professionals is this.  The information environment has changed.  The practise of avoiding further media attention to allow stakeholder attention to fade is outdated.  In the new/ social media environment, affected stakeholders should not avoid the media, but use it to "tell his side" of the story.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Jonathan Wong MOE Scholar Pleads Guilty to Child Pornography Charges

A Singapore Ministry of Education (MOE) scholar, studying at the University of York, has pleaded guilty to 17 charges of owning child pornography videos.  Identified by the main stream media as Jonathan Wong, the main stream media reported that Jonathan had been publicly caned while he was a student in Hwa Chong Instituition for peeping at students and staff.  Responding to media queries, the MOE issued the standard holding lines of (a) "we are looking into the matter"; and (b) "the Ministry will take the necessary disciplinary action against those scholars who have behaved inappropriately."

From a Crisis Communications perspective, the MOE could have better handled this unfolding crisis. 

Firstly, the MOE's holding line totally missed the key concern of stakeholders.  In this scenario, the fact that Jonathan Wong had been awarded a teaching scholarship despite having displayed questionable behaviour while in school is the key concern on the minds of stakeholders.  Stating that the Ministry would take actions against those who "behave inappropriately" is little consolation for concerned parents.

Secondly, it is my opinion that the MOE lost an excellent opportunity to build empathy with stakeholders by relying on the standard holding lines.  This is because the facts of the incident had presented themselves early enough in the crisis to present the MOE with an opportunity to put them on the same side as the stakeholder.  This the MOE could have done by simply acknowledging stakeholder concerns before going into the standard holding lines.

So what can PR Professionals learn from this?

In this scenario, it appears that the MOE did not conduct a proper stakeholder analysis before responding.  I postulate that if they had, they would have been able to identify stakeholders' key concerns and addressed it in the initial statement.  Hence, the performance of a stakeholder analysis is always a must.

Additionally, this scenario shows PR Professionals that not all crisis should be handled with the standard holding lines.  Sometimes, the opportunity presents itself and PR Professionals should seize these fleeting opportunities to empathise with stakeholders.  Doing this will put the stakeholder on your side which will then enable you to better handle the evolving crisis.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

TSA Full Body Scanner Images Controversy (Part 2)

In my blog posting yesterday, I explained that stakeholders have a hierarchy of values and that because the TSA did not fully understand their stakeholders, they had erroneously believed that the American public would value security over their rights for individual privacy.  Some readers have then asked me what could, or should, the TSA have done better to avoid this crisis.

To me, aside from having a better understanding of their stakeholders, there are 2 things that the TSA could have done better.

Firstly, I would have advised the TSA to initiate a "public consultation" on the introduction of the full body scanners.  While the TSA need not fully accept the publics' views, a public consultation would have enabled the affected stakeholders to be a participant in the decision-making process.  And as a participant, regardless of whether their views are adopted, the participant has a perceived stake in the decision and is more inclined to support it.  Additionally, in the absence of a thorough understanding of the stakeholder, a public consultation is akin to test marketing a product.  In this scenario, it is likely that a public consultation would have highlighted the strong opposition to the nation-wide implementation of the full-body scanners and allowed the TSA to adjust its approach.

Secondly, I would have advised the TSA to engage and develop an "independent" Key Communicator to sell its Message.  In this scenario, the ideal Key Communicators would be the pilots and flight attendants as they are the ones most affected by the implementation of the full body scanners due to their frequency of exposure.  In addition, pilots and flight attendants are seen as leaders in the aviation industry and their opinion would be credible.

Hence, it is my opinion, that the TSA could have avoided this crisis by simply (a) engaging the affected stakeholders via a public consultation; and (b) identifying and buying-in key communicators to sell its Message.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

TSA Full Body Scanner Images Controversy

I am reading with great interest the current controversy, and growing public backlash, surrounding the implementation of full body scanner in US airports.  In its implementation plan, the TSA (Transportation Security Administration) had obviously done their stakeholder analysis and correctly identified the 2 key stakeholders concerns of personal privacy and health concerns.  The TSA then went on to develop a comprehensive public communication package to address these concerns.

So what when wrong?

To know the answer, we must first understand that every stakeholder has a hierarchy of values.  For some, especially in Asian societies, the concept of individual sacrifices for the good of society is widely accepted.  For Americans on the other hand, this notion is not in their psyche and they have been brought-up believing in the pre-eminence of individual rights and freedom.  Hence, in my view, while the TSA correctly identified the issues, they incorrectly believed that in a post 9/11 world, the American public would value public safety over their individual rights for personal privacy.

The key take-away for PR Professionals is this.  While an organisation can correctly identify stakeholders concerns, this is not enough.  To be effective, the development of a communication package must be based on a thorough understanding of the stakeholder including, like this TSA crisis shows, the stakeholders' hierarchy of values.

WikiLeaks and Reputational Credits

In his blog posting titled "Can Singapore weather a WikiLeaks scenario?", David Boey talked about the value of building what I would call "reputational credits" with one's stakeholders before a crisis occurs.  Such "credits" would then provide the organisation with the operating space to effectively manage a developing crisis.

A good case in point is the recent mid-air engine explosion of a Qantas A380 (QF32) that forced an emergency landing at Singapore's Changi International Airport.  From the beginning of the crisis, the probable cause of the explosion was linked to either a design or manufacturing failure of the Rolls-Royce Trent 900 engine.  A part from a brief statement from Rolls-Royce, on the day of the incident, stating that they were working with Qantas to investigate the accident, Rolls-Royce remained silent on the matter until it released its findings four days later.

Even then, when a component in the engine was identified as the root cause, Rolls-Royce merely issued a statement to the effect that they were working with all affected parties to change the component in question.  From all assessments, Rolls-Royce's reputation has remained largely unaffected by this incident.

How is this possible?

One explanation is the strength of Rolls-Royce brand image.  As the manufacturer of luxury cars known for their outstanding engineering, quality and reliability, this perception in the minds of stakeholders has provided Rolls-Royce with the operational space to conduct their investigation, and sufficient reputational credits to acknowledge an error, correct it and move on.

What is important for PR Professionals to note is that these reputational credits were not built overnight and likely took the company many years of consistent branding and Messaging (when dealing with other crisis).  As mentioned in an earlier posting of mine, Crisis Communication Managers must adopt the long-term view and companies must be 100% truthful in all its dealings with their stakeholders.  Short-term "pain" should be endured with the goal of building reputational credits as opposed to taking the easier route of being less than truthful.  As can be seen in Rolls-Royce's recent handling of this crisis, the importance of reputational credits cannot be understated.  So build them while you have the time.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

QF32: Qantas A380 Emergency Landing

Singapore.  (13 Nov 2010)

On 4 Nov 2010, Qantas QF32 was forced to make an emergency landing at Singapore's Changi International Airport after one of its Rolls-Royce Trent 900 engines exploded in mid-air.

In this crisis situation, both Qantas and Rolls-Royce took the information initiative by coming forward to issue a News Release on the day of the incident.  In Qantas' case, its Chief Executive Alan Joyce attributed the incident to a "significant engine failure" and added that Qantas would suspend A380 services until they were completely confident that Qantas safety requirements had been met.  In contrast, Rolls-Royce pledged to work with Qantas to identify the cause and stated that they were making progress in their investigations.

An analysis shows that Qantas was quick to divert blame for the incident by insinuating that an engine design failure caused the incident, while Rolls-Royce chose to allow the facts to speak for itself without accepting responsibility nor attempted to divert responsibility elsewhere.  In a scenario where engine failure can be attributed to either design or maintenance failures, it is my assessment that Rolls-Royce's approach was the more strategic of the two.  This is because in the event that investigations reveal maintenance to be the cause, Qantas would be as trying to divert responsibility for the incident.

Thus, when the root cause of an incident is unclear, my advise to Crisis Communication Managers is to keep your initial News Release neutral.  Stakeholders are demanding but not unreasonable.  They understand that investigations take time and they will give you reasonable time to complete your investigations.  Hence, there is no need to rush to take a position that may eventually harm your company's brand image and reputation.

As in chess, the opening move can often determine the end game.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

The Value of Scenario Planning Exercise

Singapore. (7 Nov 10).  A 1986 Study by Fink, S (Crisis management: Planning for the inevitable. New York: AMACOM) reported that 89% of Fortune 500 companies CEOs believed the inevitability of a crisis impacting their business.  Strangely, in the same survey, only 50% of those same CEOs had developed a plan to handle it.  A more recent 2003 survey by the American Management Association showed that not much has changed.  Of the 146 companies surveyed, only 64% of them had a crisis management plan in place.

So why do heads of businesses acknowledge that business crisis are inevitable, and yet do nothing about it?  Based on my recent conversations with the heads of various companies, they all tell me the same thing - they know that a crisis is inevitable, but feel that it is impossible to prepare for as crisis can take an infinite number of form.  Hence, they feel that their time is better spent dealing with things they can predict.

While I agree with them that it is impossible to predict the exact nature of a crisis, I explained that effective crisis preparation does not require them to identify the exact nature of the crisis.  This is because aside from the actual Messages to be used, effective Crisis Management and Crisis Communication is also about having the right procedures in place.

In today's connected world, an incident can escalate to a crisis in a matter of hours.  Employees and managers must therefore know basic crisis management procedures like (a) what they can or cannot say and (b) how or who should handle media queries.

My proposal to them is to conduct scenario planning exercises to (a) identify existing procedural gaps; and (b) practise and familiarise key appointment holders in the thought processes behind dealing with a crisis communication situations.  While the context of the exercise is likely be different from any actual crisis the business will face, working through scenarios will inevitably better position the business to manage a crisis.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Nothing but the Truth: Poll Shows that Young Singaporeans Are Proud of Their Country

Singapore.  (3 Nov 2010).

YahooNews! Singapore published an article today by Angela Lim quoting Education Minister and Second Minister for Defence, Ng Eng Hen, as saying that over 90% of students are proud to be Singaporeans.  Mr Ng's statement is likely linked to last week's question posed by Nanyang Technological University student Mr Lim Zi Rui to Senior Minister Goh Chok Tong about how many young people are losing their sense of ownership in Singapore.  Since Mr Lim's comments, the Internet has been set ablaze with many netizens questioning the validity of these figures and the government has gone into Crisis Communication mode.

As mentioned, Crisis Communication in the Era of Social Media occurs in a perfect information environment.  Anything posted on the Internet becomes permanent and Crisis Communication Messages must be based on 100% truth.  In this instance, while Mr Ng did not lie, he may not have been 100% truthful.  A netizen found a 2007, Ministry of Education Executive Summary for the Committee on National Education which supports Mr Ng's statement that 90% of students are proud to be Singaporeans.  The Report however also went on to state that 14% of Primary 6 students, 20% of Secondary 4 students, and 23% of University students surveyed disagreed with the statement that "if I could live anywhere in the world, I would still choose Singapore as my home."

While Mr Ng cannot be faulted for telling a lie, I suspect his credibility (as well as the government's) will be impacted as stakeholders expect their elected leaders to tell the whole truth.  Half-truths will only create doubts in the stakeholders mind and affect the credibility of any future statements.

The key-lesson for PR Professionals from this incident is that we operate in a perfect information environment.  Crisis Communication therefore requires the company or organisation to be 100% truthful.

Last call - Tiger Airways must get its act together

Singapore.  (3 Nov 2010).

The Straits Times today published a Forum letter on Tiger Airways frequent cancellation and rescheduling of flights, and the poor level of customer service.  The letter went on to question Tiger Airways' decision to add more flights and destinations when it is clear that they are unable to cope with existing demands.

From a crisis communication perspective, it is important for Tiger Airways to adequately address the writer's concerns in a timely and honest manner.  Timeliness is important as the peak travel season is around the corner and failure to address stakeholder concerns can impact the airline's bottom line.  Honesty is necessary as the 'perfect information environment' will reveal any lies and being dishonest will impact the airlines credibility and reputation.

In this instance, travel during the year-end school holidays constitute a significant portion of the airlines operating profits and stakeholders are making travel plans will likely be affected by this negative publicity.  The response by Tiger Airways must therefore seek to reassure stakeholders on Tiger Airlines' reliability.  However, "words" can only do so much and if a pattern of non-performance exists, it may be necessary for Tiger Airways to initiate some sort of service assurance guarantee where non-performance will entitle the customer to some sort of "compensation".

The main take-away for PR Professionals from this incident that we must be aware of the "bigger picture" and its impact on the company or organisation we serve.  PR Messages, aside from protecting the Brand Image of the company, may also need to integrate with sales and marketing to be effective.

Let's continue to monitor this and see how Tiger Airways respond ....

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Balance of Power between Main Stream Media and Social Media

Singapore.  (28 Oct 10)

I came across an interesting blog posting titled "Poor online PR" by Ian Tan.  In his 24 Oct 10 posting, Ian cited the "power struggle" between the traditional main stream media (MSM) and the newer Social Media (SM), and suggested that the former still held the upper hand when it comes to influencing the masses.  Ian holds this view as he believes that the majority of people still rely on the MSM for information.

While I agree with Ian that the MSM enjoy greater credibility with stakeholders due to their professional structure, I disagree that they hold the upper hand over SM especially in crisis communication situations. 

As mentioned in my earlier posting titled Perception is Reality, I believe that organisations that can seize the information initiative will be able to shape stakeholder perception by framing the issue in its favour.  This in turn puts the organisation in an advantageous position as the human tendency to selectively filter information to fit the initial perception perpetuates the perception - real or imagined.  Being human, MSM reporters are not immune from this and it is inevitable that some of their reporting will be "biased".  Thus, it is my opinion that in a crisis it is the SM that holds the upper hand and this is where organisations should weight their efforts.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Perception is Reality

Singapore.  (23 Oct 2010)

Harvard Business Review Today published another interesting blog posting by Jeffrey Pfeffer titled Shape Perceptions of your Work Early and Often.  In his blog posting, Jeffrey stated that it is not so much what you do, but what people think you have done that makes perception reality.  This perception in turn becomes self-sustaining as people tend to assimilate new information in ways consistent with their initial perception.  Jeffrey cites a New York Times article highlighting that during President Obama's term, Americans' income taxes went down by $116 billion.  This is however a little recognized fact as about half of those responding to recent public opinion poll thought their taxes had remained the same, a third thought they had gone up, and about one in ten said they did not know.
To the PR Professional, Jeffrey's article reinforces the need for Crisis Communications Managers to not only frame the crisis, but to seize the information initiative early.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

How Forethought Separates the Good from the Great

Singapore.  (21 Oct 10)

Harvard Business Review Today published a blog posting by Jeff Sibel on how forethought or forward planning separates the good companies from the great companies.  In his posting, Jeff says that great companies constantly "chip away at the edges of uncertainty, to make bets based on past experience."

To me, Jeff's posting reinforces the need for PR Professionals to "product test" all their Messages before releasing it to stakeholders.  Unfortunately, this crucial step is often missed on the basis of time sensitivity i.e. need to get ahead of the media cycle.  While I agree that getting ahead of the media cycle is important, PR Professionals need to balance the two.  A "poor" Message communicated on time is likely to do more harm than a "good" Message communicated slightly late.  One only needs to look at the botched branding of the Chevy Nova in Spanish-speaking countries, where “No va” means “It doesn’t go," to see the importance.

Hence, my message to PR Professionals is to test, test and test all Messages before their release.  While a full-scale focus group involving a representation of your stakeholders is ideal if time permits, a quick poll of the people in your office (or with an independent consultant) will usually identify important tweaks to enhance the effectiveness of the Message.

Like Jeff, I believe that forethought (or more specifically in this scenario - product testing) is what separates the great PR Professionals from the merely good.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Product Recall: Tylenol 8-Hour caplets 50 count

Singapore.  (19 Oct 10)

McNeil Consumer Healthcare, a subsidiary of Johnson and Johnson, today announced the voluntary recall of Tylenol 8-Hour caplets 50 count.  This is the latest in a series of recalls this year for non-prescription cold and pain medicine. Last month, William Weldon, CEO of Johnson and Johnson, delivered a mea culpa and an admission of guilt that his company had let the public down through the numerous drug recall.

If you refer to my earlier posting on Themes and Messages, Johnson and Johnson's latest Message continues to be consistent with the company's Theme.  The mea culpa (as defined by Wikipedia as "an admission of having made a mistake by one's own fault (one that could have been avoided if the person had been more diligent)) is yet another Message that "Johnson & Johnson's first responsibility is to its customers."

It is my assessment that if Johnson & Johnson continues to consistently communicate this Message, Johnson & Johnson will once again not only weather the recalls, but strengthen it brand image in the process.  This is an excellent example of how important developing and selecting the correct Theme is to the crisis communication process.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

McDonald's: Happy Meal Resists Decomposition

Singapore. (16 Oct 2010).

YahooNews carried the report by The Upshot on New York City-based artist and photographer Sally Davies' latest project. In the project, Davies left a McDonald's Happy Mean out in her kitchen to see how well it would hold up over time. According to Davies, after 6 months, “the only change that I can see is that it has become hard as a rock.”

In response to Davies’ project, McDonald’s responded by issuing a statement defending the quality of the chain’s food and dismissing Davies’ work as something out of “the realm of urban legends.” McDonald's then went on to reiterate that (a) McDonald’s hamburger patties in the United States are made with 100% USDA-inspected ground beef; (b) are cooked and prepared with salt, pepper and nothing else — no preservatives, no fillers; and (c) our hamburger buns are baked locally, are made from North American-grown wheat flour and include common government-approved ingredients designed to assure food quality and safety.

I have three observations on McDonald's crisis communication approach to this incident:

a. My assessment is that McDonald's PR Department is unable to assess if this incident will become a crisis and they have hence decided to adopt a scaled response (read my earlier post).

b. From a crisis communication perspective, McDonald's crisis communication approach is to frame the incident as an "urban legend" and then reassure stakeholders that McDonald's abides with all legal requirements on food safety. As I mentioned in my earlier posting on the Brad Lau saga on the importance of Tone, McDonald's muted response to an attack on its quality of food is (in my opinion) an indirect admission of guilt. If they could prove conclusively that Davies was wrong, they would have denied it outright and probably threaten her with legal action.

c. McDonald's has adopted the correct approach of not lying in their response. This is extremely important as any outright lie, if caught, may significantly damage the company's brand image beyond repair.

Let's continue to monitor this incident to what happens. My assessment is that this is likely to blow over and McDonald's scaled response would have enabled them to get ahead of this incident.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Research: Daily Source for News

Singapore. (14 Oct 10). 

SG Polls conducted an online straw poll asking Singaporeans if they will "read the Straits Times today."  The survey findings (424 respondents) are as follows:

22% - Yes
10% - Yes, on the web
32% - Yes, on a mobile device
17% - Yes, in multiple ways
19% - No

A key-take away from this survey is that of those who said yes, 72% of them used new media platforms for their daily news.  This is almost 3 out of 4 persons and is further evidence supporting the need for an Internet presence in crisis communication situations.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

tell3000

Singapore (13 Oct 10).

I recently came across Pete Blackshaw's book "Satisfied Customers Tell 3 Friends, While Angry Customers Tell 3,000."  Similar to my research, Pete's research also showed how, what he calls "consumer-­generated media," allows a single disgruntled cus­tomer to magnify his com­plaints to an audience of millions.  In this new information environment, effective crisis communications, requires companies to be perceived as open, transparent and trusted.

In Pete's opinion, companies need to establish and proactively maintain a customer relationship that is authentic, listening and responding.  In his opinion, a good company blog is an effective tool as illustrated via Pete's analysis of how pivotal Dell's and AOL's company blog proved in mitigating their crisis.

A quick research of the major listed companies in Singapore show that these companies are not maximizing the potential of their company websites.  To their management, the company website is essentially a static information counter for customers and investors to "pull" information.  This is a mistake, as I have mentioned in an earlier posting, efficacy of the crisis communication message is dependent on the perceived credibility of the source.

Thus, as crisis occur unexpectedly and credibility cannot be developed overnight, crisis preparation efforts must include the creation of an interactive company website that is open, transparent and trusted.  The presence of such a website pre-positions the company with a strategic edge in its crisis communication plan.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Themes and Messages

Singapore.  (10 Oct 10).

When consulting for companies in crisis communication scenarios, I often hear their in-house PR Professionals use the words "Themes" and "Messages" to explain their choice of press statements and sound-bites.  Unfortunately, many of them do not fully understand the difference between the two, and this is extremely dangerous as the selection of the correct Theme is fundamental to an effective crisis communication plan. 

So what is the difference between the two?

Themes are the over-arching idea/concept which the PR Professional wants the stakeholder to conclude, while messages are individual pieces of information which the PR Professional uses to "build" the Theme in the stakeholders' minds.  Themes are therefore never directly communicated but are deduced by the stakeholders.  For commercial companies, the Theme is usually aligned to the attributes of the company's (or product's) Brand Image.  Generally, Themes are "universal" in nature and remain constant, whereas Messages are contextual and will vary from incident to incident.

Allow me to use the April 2010 voluntary recall of over 40 infant and children's OTC medicines by Johnson & Johnson's (J&) McNeil Healthcare to illustrate.

In this incident, McNeil Healthcare's Message was the voluntary recall of the products as they "did not meet the quality standards" of the company.  Following up that Message was another press release from J&J that the company expects the voluntary recall to impinge on second-quarter earnings because of lower sales.  Noticeably absent from both press release was any mention of J&J's Credo which "put the needs and well-being of the people we serve first."  Combined, these two Messages build upon each other and conveys the Theme (J&J's Credo) and lead stakeholders to conclude that J&J puts their customers above profits and that consumers can always trust J&J products. 

Hence, as you can see from the above example, an understanding of the difference between Themes and Messages is important.  A failure to understand the difference, would have resulted in a crisis communication plan that only addresses the incident without protecting or building upon the brand of the company or product.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

RSAF Apache: Internet Presence and Google Keywords

Singapore (3 Oct 2010).

A major impact of social media on the new information environment is that stakeholders now seek information and news from multiple platforms and sources.  Whenever an incident occurs, stakeholders instinctively go to online search engines to "google" for breaking news.

As mentioned in my earlier posting about “google bombs”, search engines like Google rank "popular" websites highest and return them whenever related keywords are searched.  This is a self-reinforcing loop as high rankings lead to even more hits that in turn guarantees the website continues to rank high.  Conversely, a poorly visited company website is unlikely to get a high enough ranking to ensure that the company's side of the story is told.

In the recent incident on the emergency landing of a RSAF Apache helicopter, a search for the keywords "RSAF Apache" on Google returns the website Temasek Review at the top.  This is unfortunate as the Temasek Review is a well-known anti-establishment website and people interested in finding out more about the emergency landing may get a bias view of the incident.  Thus, while MINDEF's Public Affairs Department did well to proactively report the incident and get their initial side of the story out into cyberspace, they may need to apply one of the key lessons from BP's handling of the Oil Spill in the Gulf of Mexico - purchasing Google Keywords.

In BP's scenario, in order to gain control of the information environment, BP purchased Google's search words for "oil spill".  This then ensured that BP's official website was returned at the top of every search and BP's side of the story was readily available (See Diagram 1).

Diagram 1: BP Uses Google Keywords to Control the Information Environment
While the RSAF incident has not turned into a crisis and hence may not necessitate the purchase of Keywords, MINDEF's Public Affairs Department needs to monitor the type of stories/ posts being linked to the incident.  Then, should the stories/ posts linked to the incident become exceedingly negative, the appropriate counter-measures taken.  In the mean time, MINDEF would do well to push out more positive stories to balance the reporting.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Internal Communications

Singapore.  (29 Sep 10)

Following up from my 2 Sep 2010 posting on "SIA Crew Warned over Facebook Use" (where I advocated that organisations should seek to engage and educate employee bloggers to make them ambassadors for the organisation), I received a comment that an employee is unlikely to use his personal blog or facebook account to support the company's cause.

While I fully agree with this observation, I must clarify that the primary purpose of engaging the employee blogger is not to seek his support of the company's cause, but to minimise potential opposition based on the lack of information or facts.  In addition, most bloggers want to be seen as objective and rational, and an engaged blogger is more inclined to come to the defence of the company if criticised by an outsider.

Hence my proposal to engage employee bloggers has, as its primary objective, the prevention of negative publicity.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Google Bombs

Singapore.  (28 Sep 2010).

The Straits Times today ran an article on the practise of "google bombing" - the process of linking a person's, or organisation's, name to a negative keyword. 

Often times when a crisis occurs, and the organisation is not proactive in framing the crisis by pushing out its side of the story, negative keywords may become linked to the oganisation.  With the proliferation of information technology, and the creeping acceptance of citizen journalism as a credible alternative source of information and news, an organisation's online reputation is now just as important as its' real world's.

Hence, as I have advocated in my research findings, the establishment of an Internet presence during the early stages of a crisis is crucial.  This presence will not only allow the organisation to frame the crisis, but also pre-empt the formation of a "google bomb".  Additionally, the Internet presence will further ensure that the organisation's position and reputation continues to be "represented" in cyberspace while simultaneously "drowning out" negative postings. 

In the era of New Media, Crisis Communication is not just an issue to be addressed in the mainstream media.  In the era of New Media, Crisis Communication must also be fought in cyberspace.  Hence, Crisis Communication in the Era of New Media does not end with the fading of mainstream media interest, but only ends when the organisation has achieved information superiority in cyberspace.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Role of Truth in Crisis Communications

Singapore.  (26 Sep 2010).

At a recent presentation to a group of executives on crisis communication, I was asked what role absolute truth played in crisis communication.  While the executive acknowledged the fact that in the modern information environment nothing can be hidden forever, he posed the question in the scenario that being less than truthful at the point of the incident may (a) "buy" time for public outrage to subside; or (b) allow some other incident to over-shadow it

Basing my response on my research findings (where being 100% Truthful was one of the 5 components of effective crisis communications), I replied as follows:

Being "less than truthful" at the point of incident is a technique of crisis communication.  In the case of the former (i.e. buying time time to allow public outrage to subside), I believe that it will only delay the outrage.  In addition, once stakeholders discover that they were lied to, the organisation would face an additional level of crisis.  In the case of the latter (i.e. hoping for some other crisis to over-shadow the incident), while this is entirely possible, it is unfortunately beyond the control of the organisation to ensure that something does happen.

I then reminded the executive that the objective of crisis communications is the protection (and where possible, the enhancement) of the company's brand value.  As such, the crisis communication approach adopted should be aligned to the organisation's strategic objectives and espoused values and brand.  Being less than truthful, or being out-right deceptive, will therefore do more harm than good when the truth is discovered.

In short, in a crisis, many executives may be tempted to adopt approaches that may be less painful in the short-term.  These approaches will however usually have more negative implications in the longer term.  PR Professionals and Crisis Communications Manager must thus ensure that the crisis communication approach adopted not only addresses the incident, but is also be aligned to the organisation's strategic values and branding.

In essence, think long term.  Not short term.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Conversations with a Director of Public Relations

Singapore.  21 Sep 2010.  I had an interesting conversation with the Director of a Public Affairs Department recently where we spoke briefly about my concept of being pro-active (open) in releasing information about incidents to gain the information initiative and to frame the incident.

Essentially, the Director felt that such an open approach would (a) bring unnecessary attention to the incident and make it into a crisis; and (b) given the size of the organisation, there are dozens of incidences that occur daily which can shake stakeholder confidence in the management.

My response to his concerns were as follows:

a.  Perfect Information Environment.  In today's perfect information environment nothing will remain hidden forever.  Current "successes" where not highlighting incidences have kept it out of the news is, to me, a fallacy.  I believe that the incidences did not become a crisis not because no one knew about it, but simply because it was not considered newsworthy.

b.  Not all Incidences become Crisis.  The fact that these numerous minor incidences were not picked-up by the main-stream media only shows that stakeholders have accepted that such incidences will happen.  As such, reporting it is unlikely to make it into a crisis.

In short, my thinking is that organisations should augment their current approach of ad hoc news releases with monthly or bi-monthly press briefings.  These press briefings will then enable the organisation to "control' the media cycle by allowing the organisation to (a) "frame" incidences; and (b) allow the organisation the opportunity to "mask" potential crisis without being accused of hiding the truth.

In the end, one of my key take-aways from our conversation is that the approach an organisation adopts towards crisis management is very much dependant on its view and understanding of the information environment.

To be more effective, an organisation must know that the information environment has changed and adopt new methods to deal with it.

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