Wednesday, June 11, 2014

A Lesson in Crisis Communications: Roy Ngerng and the “suicide bomber” strategy

The Roy Ngerng saga continues with his recent termination by his employer Tan Tock Seng Hospital. Despite Ngerng’s own initial admission (on his Facebook page) that he was "expecting the termination" as he "had been distracted at work", Ngerng now claims that his termination is politically motivated. This change in tact is not unexpected as it is in line with Ngerng’s “escalate at all cost” strategy.
 
As a crisis communications consultant, there is much we can learn …
 
Irrational Opponent. From the very beginning of the crisis, Ngerng has been single-minded in his pursuit of political capital. For what ends, we can only speculate and only time will tell. At each turn of the political “chess match” between PM Lee and Ngerng, Ngerng has consistently out-maneuvered the PM. This is because PM Lee has assessed Ngerng to be a rational opponent and thus each of PM Lee’s move was calculated based on a rational response by Ngerng. Alas, this was not to be the case as Ngerng is not acting rationally. Much like it is impossible to stop a suicide bomber willing to sacrifice his own life for a cause, Ngerng’s consistent escalation of the situation is pushing PM Lee into unchartered territory.
 
Lesson for Crisis Communications. In a crisis communications situation like this, it is important to determine the opponent’s end game. Knowing this will not only give you an indication of his likely strategy and his response to your moves, but in the case of a “suicidal blogger” necessitate a change in strategy.
 
Building upon the suicide bomber analogy, Ngerng’s outcome is a foregone conclusion. The damages awarded is likely to be substantial (remember Ngerng had asked Han Hui Hui to state that his comments have received more than 1 million views). Ngerng will thus unlikely be able to pay the damages and will eventually be made a bankrupt. The question that remains is how many Ngerng “kills” in the process and whether he can pick the place and time of the “explosion” so that it can become a rallying cry and catalyst for other anti-government activists to follow.
 
In this scenario, the PAP’s playbook of seeking legal recourse for defamation has worked against them. Ngerng  has used this well-known strategy in his favor and has literally set PM Lee on a collision course. Any attempts by PM Lee to cease his court actions will portray him as afraid of Ngerng and undermine his credibility. The only thing, as a crisis communications strategy, that PM Lee can do now is to let the legal process run its course and work to minimize the body count and divert the explosion to a time and place with the minimal of impact.
 
While we at SG Social Media Guru do not condone or support Roy Ngerng in any way, and we in fact condemn the manner in which he is seeking political change, we do however acknowledge that he is indeed a good chess player.
 
In short, in a crisis communications situation, never assume that your opponent will behave rationally.
 
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Important Note: This post is not a political commentary but is used to derive learning lessons with regards to crisis communications. We welcome discussions on the merits of the crisis communications ideas discussed, but will delete political commentaries.

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