Sunday, January 29, 2012

Survey Findings: Reputation is the #2 Risk Facing Corporations

Eisner Amper's Second Annual Board of Directors Survey – 2011, reveals that after Financial Risk, Reputation Risk was the top concern for Boards in the United States. With the proliferation of Social Media, this is not surprising. The question is whether your organisation is ready ... Click here to read the full report.

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Thursday, January 26, 2012

SCDF and CNB Chiefs Arrested by CPIB

The Ministry of Home Affairs’ (MHA) crisis management of the arrests of the Commissioner of the Singapore Civil Defence Force (SCDF) and Director of the Central Narcotics Bureau (CNB) has raised a valuable lesson for the crisis communicator i.e. the manner in which potential sensitive news should be released to the public.
In the era of social media, we operate in a perfect information environment.  As such, crisis communicators should always plan on the assumption that nothing can be hidden indefinitely.  In this case, I must accept that the on-going investigations into alleged personal misconduct by Mr Ng Boon Gay and Mr Peter Lim would inevitably become public knowledge and that the MHA needs  to be open about the matter; timely in the release of information; 100% Truthful on the facts of the case; and broadly communicated in both the internet and main stream media\.  In other words, go on the information offensive. 
Going on the information offensive has two key advantages: (a) it allows you to frame the crisis to your advantage; and (b) it allows you better control how the crisis develops.  Crisis Communications is essentially the battle of narratives.  Thus, if the MHA had proactively broken the news that it had “uncovered corruption,” “taken decisive actions against high-ranking civil servants” and that “no one is above the law,” I postulate that the MHA would have been able to frame the incident as a successful anti-corruption operation and averted the current stakeholder issues of wide-spread fraud in the civil service.  Additionally, going on the information initiative obliges your detractors to challenge your statements.  This prevents your detractors from being able to push their own agendas as your chosen “issues” are the ones stakeholders are focused on.
Overall, my assessment is that MHA’s poor management of this crisis stems from a failure to understand that in the new information environment nothing can be hidden forever.  If they understood this, I am certain that they would have opted to go on the offensive.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Crisis Management Case Study: Importance of Identifying the Ultimate Target Audience in Your Message

Panerai Boutique's Ex-Manager Allegedly Absconds with $109k of Client's Money

The Straits Times reported on 19 January 2012 that a former manager of a luxury watch boutique  has gone missing with at least $109,000.  The amount is believed to be payment for watches that have up to now not been delivered.  In the article, Panerai South-East Asia responded that they “intended to honour their commitment to their customers” and that their “key priority is to take care of affected customers to ensure that their client's rights and benefits are well preserved and protected at all times.”  

As a crisis communicator, I am impressed with Panerai South-East Asia's response.  This is because Panerai South-East Asia could have easily shirked responsibility and claimed that as the transactions did not take place in its premises, or that the cheque was not made out to Panerai then it was a private matter.

Panerai's response is an indication of their understanding that there are generally 4 target audiences in any message and the importance of selecting the correct one.  (For a detailed explanation, please go to my earlier blog posting).

In this instance, the apparent target audience are purchasers of Panerai watches i.e. the end-consumer.  However, if you look a bit deeper, you will realize that end-consumers are unlikely to buy directly from the Panerai South-East Asia but more likely from one of many authorized dealers.  Hence, for the end-consumer, it is rare that payment will be made without delivery of goods.  Thus, in this instance, Panerai South-East Asia's message, is not meant for the end-consumer (the apparent target audience), but their authorized dealers who are in effect the Ultimate Target Audience.  In this instance, there are no intermediate or unintended target audience.  

I highlight this as a case study because I strongly believe that themes and messages delivered in a crisis must target the ultimate target audience to be effective.  In this scenario, if Panerai South-East Asia had wrongly identified the ultimate target audience as the end-consumer, then a very different message would likely have been developed and used.  In the situation where the end-consumer was identified as the ultimate target audience, Panerai South-East Asia might have developed messages to reassure end-consumer of the measures in place to safe-guard their buying experience.  Such a message delivered, would be ineffective in addressing the issues/ concerns of the key stakeholder – the authorized dealers.

In summary, in a crisis, the PR professional must clearly define who the Ultimate Target Audience is.  Only then can an effective crisis response strategy be developed and implemented.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Crisis Communication Workshop: Impact of Social Media on Crisis Communications

An event organized by COMAT and GRID MMS ...

Date:         18 January 2012
Location:   *SCAPE 2 Orchard Link

Time:         9:00 AM to 5:00 PM


Sunday, January 15, 2012

“How should we handle strategic communication to win war on terrorism?”

Thanks Mamdoh for the interesting question on “How should we handle strategic communication to win war on terrorism?”

These are my thoughts ...

1. Know the Ultimate Target Audience. Firstly, we must understand that an act of terrorism is a message in and of itself. A quick analysis of the objective of the “message” will reveal that it is to seek publicity for their cause. However, I believe that this is just the Apparent Target Audience. I believe that the Ultimate Target Audience of the terrorists act are the followers and supporters of the cause. This is because, I doubt (and I believe the terrorists know themselves) that no act of terrorism can accomplish what they want i.e. Al-Qaeda desire for a complete break from all foreign influences in Muslim countries, and the creation of a new Islamic world wide caliphate. Hence, in my mind, acts of terrorism have the specific aim of showing their followers that the organization is still active so as to garner support and funds. In fact, simply highlighting that such and such an organization is planning an attack, already gives the terrorist organization street credibility to fuel their cause. Hence, in my opinion, the first thing that Strategic Communication needs to do, is deny terrorists this publicity.

2. Understand the Target Audience. Secondly, I believe that terrorist organizations are not a homogeneous group. Structured like a pyramid, I believe that the top of the pyramid is made up of a small group of vocal and violent people who are fanatical in their beliefs. And, it is this group that plan and carry out the attacks often times at great personal risk to themselves. The pyramid is then made up of a larger second layer of silent but active supporters. It is this layer that provides the top layer with the needed physical and financial support to plan and execute terrorist attacks. In this layer, you will find people who believe in the cause and who are willing to make small sacrifices. They however do not support the cause to the extent of risking their own lives. The third and final layer is the broad base of the pyramid. Here, you will find people that tolerate the actions of the upper two layers, but will not do anything as long as it does not inconvenience them. It is this third layer which the upper two layers believe they act for. With this better understanding of the conditions, attitudes and beliefs of these 3 target audience, Strategic Communications can now better select and use the appropriate Theme and Messages to achieve the desired effect.

3. In short, if you ask me if the war on terrorism can be won? I would say no. This is because we cannot eradicate terrorism completely as there will always be fanatics out there. If however you are asking if we can win by minimizing terrorism, my answer would be yes. Strategic Communications can “win the war on terrorism” if it seeks to undermine the terrorists' credibility and their support base by by turning its silent supporters and the larger population's tolerance against them.

I hope my perspective helps.

Friday, January 13, 2012

Crisis Management: Changing Mindsets to See Opportunities

In a recent discussion with the General Manager of a local FMCG company, I was reminded that the Chinese character for crisis is made up of the symbol for danger and opportunity.

From experience we know that how we respond to a situation is often determined by how we view it. And, in my opinion, it is no different in a crisis scenario. Often times in my work with organizations, I find that in a crisis organizations are too focused on avoiding the “danger” that they lose sight of the fact that they have also been presented with the “opportunity” to build their brand and reputation. This opportunity exists because stakeholders tacitly believe that adversity (just as it does with people) reveals the true "character" of an organization. Thus, how an organization responds will either strengthen or weaken its brand.

For example, if an organization brands itself as placing customers first but responds in a crisis by redirecting blame, then I think the crisis response strategy would have done more harm than good. However, assuming that the organization's initial response is not to redirect responsibility for the crisis, but instead goes the extra mile to address customer's inconvenience at its own expense, then this crisis response strategy would instead strengthen the organization's brand.

Marketing and PR professional will tell you that advertising is expensive. Fortunately, or unfortunately, a crisis will bring with it literally millions of dollars of free publicity. Organizations thus have the choice of either frittering away the free publicity by focusing solely on damage control, or they can spend it wisely by taking actions and making statements to strengthen or build their brand.  Often times, I believe the cost of service recovery will likely work out to be less than on the cost of the publicity given.

In short, when confronted with a crisis, organizations must realize that with the danger comes opportunity. The organization must therefore not focus exclusively on avoiding the dangers, but to seek the opportunity to strengthen and build its brand.

Friday, January 6, 2012

Singapore Ministers' Pay Cut: The Importance of Correctly Identifying Stakeholder Concerns in a Crisis

It is interesting to note the response from the public on the cuts in ministerial pay. This, in my opinion, is a classic example of a “damned if I do and damned if I don't” scenario.

So what can crisis communicators learn from this? 

To me, the main lesson to be learnt is the need to accurately identify the issue or concern of the stakeholder in a crisis.  The  issue of high ministerial is not a new one and has been a thorn in the side of many since it was first introduced.  The opposition parties had been trying to politicize the issue in past elections but failed.  If we look back at the recent General Election, ministerial pay became a political lightening rod only when it became apparent that Tin Pei Ling was all but guaranteed to become a Member of Parliament (and earn the high pay) when she was announced as a candidate in a Group Representative Committee led by the then Senior Minister Goh Chok Tong. This was despite overwhelming public perception that she was not “qualified” for the position.

This, in my assessment, was the trigger that politicized the issue of high ministerial. And, if my assessment is correct, then reducing ministerial salary does not address stakeholders' concerns.  To me, the real issue is the apparent lack of transparency in determining who is entitled to the ministerial pay. Thus, unless this "real" stakeholder issue is addressed, ministerial pay will continue to be at the forefront of public discontent.

In summary, the need to do a proper stakeholder analysis in a crisis can not be understated.  Failure to identify the "correct" issue, will only result in ineffective crisis response strategies being developed and executed.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Singapore Business Review: How Do you Respond to Online Bashing

An article I wrote for Singapore Business Review ...

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Liat Towers Flooding About Turn by the Public Utilities Board (PUB)

In another Public Relations (PR) faux pas, the Public Utilities Board (PUB) has now admitted that high waters in the Stamford Canal contributed to the flooding at Liat Towers. This was after a PUB spokesperson issued an earlier statement essentially attributing responsibility to the pumping capacity of Liat Towers' flood prevention system.

Contrary to what many think of as crisis management, in today's day and age of 'perfect information', crisis communicators cannot change the facts of a crisis. The days in which “spin doctors” hide the truth and lie to stakeholders has gone the way of the dinosaurs. The most that a crisis communicator can do, is help frame the situation in a manner that better helps stakeholders deal with their anger and manage any possible brand or reputation damage to the organisation.

As such, one of the first rules for crisis communications is to always determine the truth before making a statement. And, in the event that the truth cannot be determined in time to stay ahead of the news cycle, state so in your statement. Stakeholders, while unforgiving, are reasonable and can accept (within a degree of tolerance) that it will take time to determine cause and effect.

While there is unlikely to be any further fall-out from this faux pas, the damage to the PUB is that all future statements will be tainted with doubt about their accuracy. I cannot say for certain what were the circumstances that led to the issuing of what turned out to be an inaccurate statement. But I must caution PR Professionals that while the organisation is your pay-master, your true value to the organisation is in managing its credibility in the eyes of the stakeholders. Thus, in circumstances where doubt exists over the accuracy of a statement, as a professional, you must stand your ground and not let it happen. 

Victim of Online Vigilantism in Singapore - What should you do?

Over the weekend, a sales manager became the latest victim of online vigilantism in Singapore. He was on his way to trading in his BMW 5 S...