Saturday, September 24, 2011

Last Minute Cancellation of Night Safari Halloween Horrors Event by WRS' CEO Isabella Loh

Much has been said about the sudden cancellation of the Halloween Horrors event and the possible personal agendas that may be behind it. As a Public Relations (PR) Professional, our job is to stay above the fray and to help our client communicate the “correct” message. In this instance, using the negative fall-out as a gauge, it is safe to assume that Wildlife Reserves Singapore (WRS) did not quite communicate their message as well as they could have.

So what can PR Professionals learn from this incident? To me there are 2 key lessons:

Internal Stakeholders and Communication Policies. One factor that aggravated the crisis for WRS is the appearance of a “divide” between the management and staff. Media reports included “leaked” information and “anonymous” sources that contradicted the official statements of the CEO. While I am the last person to support a cover-up, I however firmly believe that any organization facing a crisis must portray a united front. Without dwelling into the possible group dynamics in this incident, WRS could have (a) communicated the intent and rationale for the cancellation to all internal stakeholders before going public; (b) put in place a Communications Policy that clearly stated who is authorized to speak with the media (both main stream and social) and, more importantly, what is to be said. This internal alignment would have, in my opinion, limited the perception of a management-staff divide.

Appropriate Use of Social Media. While I acknowledge that the speed of Social Media is a game changer in crisis communications, Social Media is nonetheless still a tool. In other words, organizations should be aware of its impact, but should not allow it to dictate what must be done. To illustrate, it was observed that Isabella issued an apology to the Singapore Polytechnic (SP) interns via Facebook as opposed to face-to-face. This, in my opinion, lacks the sincerity of an apology and comes across as pandering to the masses. A more effective approach, would have been for Isabella to apologize to the SP interns in person, and thereafter issue a Facebook posting publicizing it. In fact, a face-to-face apology may illicit some  understanding from the interns would could be included in the Facebook posting.  Social Media is after all only a tool for crisis communication and not the communication.

In short, this incident has highlighted the increasing importance of employee brand ambassadors in the era of social media. To strengthen this aspect, organizations must have in place a good internal communications framework and the supporting communications policy.  This incident has additionally highlighted the dangers of PR Professionals forgetting that Social Media is a tool for crisis communications and, while it is an important consideration, it should not be the communication.

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