Saturday, December 23, 2017

What Makes Contents Go Viral ... A Singapore Example

CW Fong & Associates was recently hired to help raise awareness for a client's Facebook page. Leveraging on the recent spate of scams where Facebook accounts were cloned in a bid to secure fraudulent charges,  we decided to produce a public service type announcement.

Conceptually, we combined the factors of "trending" and "practical tip" to produce the following graphic for Talking Singapore. Singaporeans were asked to share the graphic as a warning to their friends not to accept a 2nd friend request. As the screenshot shows, the content went viral with 3,197 shares (at the time of this article) with REACH in excess of 150,000. The best part is that the content continues to get shared and as the client's name is prominently featured in the graphic, awareness is high.

viral contents singapore agency

While no one can guarantee that a content will go viral, CWFA has developed a framework - marrying art and science - that increases the probability. So if you manage the social media accounts of your organization, we can help.

Sunday, December 3, 2017

Social Media Marketing - Why Native Advertising

The only constant in social media marketing is that it is constantly evolving. As marketers continually try to beat Facebook's and Google's algorithms to put their product/services in front of larger audiences, Facebook and Google respond by tweaking their algorithms to ensure that users only get relevant information.

Today, Facebook marketers will tell you that Facebook's algorithm limits your organic reach to approximately 5% of your fan base. Thus, unless your fans interact with your content, or you pay Facebook to boost your content, social media engagement is virtually non-existent.

This is why savvy social media marketers have turned to native advertising.

Conceptually, native advertising is a form of indirect advertising. Instead of being product/service focused, marketers will create contents that are reader focused (i.e. relevant) and likely to generate a response from netizens. The product/service is then subtly embedded within the content.

This has several advantages: (1) being "relevant", Facebook's algorithm will show it netizens; (2) as the content resonates with netizens, they are likely to interact (like, share or comment) with it and this will help amplify it (together with the product/ service) to a wider audience than it might originally have reached.

One of the more successful native campaigns we ran was a Public Service Announcement. Following from the SMRT train collision at Joo Koon station, Singaporeans were all angry at SMRT and attacking it any chance they could. We felt that this was unfair and many of SMRT employees were working hard and they should not be the targets of misplaced anger. We, therefore, executed a native campaign to urge Singaporeans to show their support for SMRT workers.

Our "ad", launched on our affiliate site (Talking Singapore), garnered over 337 interactions, 81 comments, and 202 shares. Total reach recorded was over 80,000 within 48 hours. Much more interaction than an outright appeal might have received.  

social media marketing agency singapore smrt native advertising

If you want to leverage on native advertising to boost your company's sales, email us at anna[a]

Saturday, November 25, 2017

Trump Is Not The Fool We Think He Is … He is the Master Communicator

Like many in the corporate communications industry, I used to ridicule Trump’s “flawed” messaging and apparent lack of understanding of how communications work. I was shocked that he could blatantly push out his own versions of the facts (in obvious contradiction to irrefutable evidence); and label established journalists and media outlets like the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal and CNN as purveyors of fake news.

More importantly, I was dumbfounded to learn that Trump’s supporters continue to support him despite being presented with undisputed facts that he, for lack of a better word, lies to suit his own agenda. Although anecdotal, my sense is that the harder mainstream media tries to discredit Trump, the stronger Trump’s support base becomes.

Being a student of communications, I realized that I must be missing something. The fact that Trump won the Presidency and the fact that he continues to maintain his support base must mean that he is doing something right. My insight came when I chanced upon a study that mapped the flow of information on social media during the US Presidential Election in 2016 (and some postulate even today). In the map, which I have summarized and simplified below, it is interesting to note that almost none of Trump’s supporters read mainstream media.

trump communications strategy analysis

         What this means is that when Trump speaks (or Tweets), he is literally only speaking to his support base. Hillary supporters and the mainstream media are just the unintended audiences. It thus does not matter if what Trump tweets contradict facts. Relying on his network of pro-Trump influencers, Trump’s own message gets amplified to his support base without the fact-checking of mainstream media.

The diagram also shows, there are also no overlaps in communications between Hillary and Trump supporters. This is not surprising as political discussions can be emotive and is generally avoided in society. Mainstream media therefore plays the role of the Fourth Estate (or fourth power) in tandem with the legislative, executive and judiciary.  Without the Fourth Estate, democracy will fail as people will not know the truth and will be unable to effectively exercise the power of their votes by making an informed decision.  

This is something which Trump has masterfully done. By discrediting mainstream media as a source of information for his supporters, Trump has effectively removed the only people in US society that can counter his misinformation. Trump’s supporters therefore live in an echo chamber which rejects contradictory information. Ironically, with each attempt that the mainstream media makes to discredit Trump, this only gives Trump more ammunition to further portray mainstream media as working in a conspiracy against him and this in turn strengthens his support base.

So what are the implications for Singapore? There are a few ….

Firstly, unlike the US, Singaporeans to a certain extent still rely on mainstream media for the news. As such, to ensure that misinformation is corrected, mainstream media’s role as the fourth estate must be ensured and protected. Thus, even as readership and viewership continue to shift to social media and sustainability becomes an issue, the Government must intervene to sustain mainstream media but at the same time allow mainstream media to continue to act independently. Additionally, nefarious actions to label mainstream media as the purveyors of fake news need to be acted upon as the credibility of mainstream media cannot be allowed to be diminished.

Secondly, as we can see in the Trump example, misinformation can only spread if it is amplified via a network and is self-reinforcing. It is therefore important that social media sites (and individuals) who deliberately create fake news be taken to task. While I agree that it is often difficult to distinguish between fact and fiction, citizen journalists need to be held accountable for their actions. There is a big difference between free speech and responsible speech and it is my belief that rights come responsibility.

Thirdly, the silent majority must speak up. As I study the political discourse on social media in Singapore, one thing has become apparent to me. Rational minded Singaporeans have become unwilling to challenge fake news on social media. This, in my view, is due to the deliberate attempt by anti-government supporters to deliberately label and attack anyone who has a pro-government opinion as being government lackeys (i.e. a PAP IB). By making it “painful” to express an alternative view, anti-government supporters are effectively undermining the democratic process they claim to champion.

In summary, Trump is not the fool many communications professionals make him out to be. Trump understands the nature and power of social media and is using it to his advantage. Singapore would do well to study Trump’s communications strategy and learn the right lessons. 

Saturday, November 18, 2017

SMRT - A Case Study of Failed Crisis Communications

These past few months have been challenging for SMRT to say the least. From daily train disruptions to the flooding of the MRT tunnel to the recent train collision at Joo Koon, nothing seems to be going right for the company and CEO Desmond Kuek. Public calls for Desmond to be held accountable by the Government are growing by the day and we suspect that his days are numbered.

SMRT ceo desmond kuek accident joo koon

But let us put aside our personal angst and see what we can learn from this ....

According to our crisis communications framework, stakeholders attribute culpability based on the 3 factors of locus of control, predictability, and controllability. As such, if a crisis is perceived to be something the CEO has control over, can foresee to happen and has the ability to prevent, culpability will be high.

While some might argue that the collision at Joo Koon station on 15 November 2017 was an accident and hence beyond Desmond's control, this would be the case if it was an isolated incident. But taken in the context of all that has been happening at SMRT, stakeholders view the accident as more of the same and hence something Desmond should have foreseen to happen and should have prevented.

They say hindsight is 20/20, but Desmond's decision to cite "deep-seated cultural issues" as the cause of SMRT's woes was a big mistake. In crisis communications, the objective is to reduce or de-link stakeholders attribution of culpability to the organization in the 3 factors. As the CEO, the proverbial buck stops with him and citing cultural issues only served to reinforce the point that Desmond is fully responsible for everything that is happening at SMRT.

In our opinion, SMRT would have managed this crisis better if they had focused their messages on reducing attribution in the factors of locus of control, predictability, and controllability. In the case of the flooding, this could have been done by emphasizing the multiple control measures, system redundancies and layers of checks. Hence, the failure was not something management could reasonably be expected to foresee or prevent (lack of predictability and controllability). As for the collision, we understand that Thales is the vendor in charge of upgrading the signaling system. Thus, while SMRT cannot shirk responsibility, it should share the failure with Thales. In this incident, the objective should have been to reduce public perception of SMRT's locus of control. Having said all this, Desmond Kuek's comment about deep-seated cultural issues will negate any efforts to stem the tide against him. 

To be honest, crisis communications is more art than science. This, however, does not mean that science has no place in crisis communications.


If you found our comments on this crisis useful, check out our online crisis management course on Udemy.

Saturday, November 4, 2017

Best Crisis Communications Course in Singapore is Now Available on Online (Udemy)

The best crisis communications course in Singapore has now been made extremely affordable for Singaporeans. Based on 20 years of professional experience working with Small and Medium Enterprises, Multi-National Corporations and the Government of Singapore, this course teaches proven Framework that participants can use to manage any crisis. 

The Framework was developed, refined and validated through real-world experience, will guide participants through a deliberate thought process to the most logical actions to take when dealing with a crisis.

CW Fong & Associates was established in 2011 after our Principal Consultant and Trainer retired from the Singapore Armed Forces. Back in 2011, social media was just gaining a foothold and it was not yet as influential as it is today. Recognizing that social media’s role in communications would only grow, we decided to specialize in social media and its impact on communications. As this was literally a new field, there was little formal work done on social media’s impact on communications. We then published my own white paper on a Framework for Crisis Communications in the Era of Social Media.

Between 2012 and 2014, we had the privilege to consult with and train over 100 SMEs and MNCs. This allowed us to validate, and when necessary, refine the Framework that we teach in the course. In 2015, recognizing the regional demand for good crisis communication training, we expanded our services and have since worked with Public Listed Companies as well as the Government Ministries for countries like Myanmar, Brunei and Malaysia.

In recognition of the quality of our work, some of it has been publishing in leading magazines, books and professional newsletters. Of significance, our thought leadership in the subject of crisis communications was cemented when the Institute of Public Relations Singapore, published our white paper in their newsletter. Additionally, our Principal Consultant has been regularly interviewed by international news organizations for his views on crisis communications and social media. Three of the more renown being BBC News, Aljazeera and Channel News Asia.

The training outcome for this online course is to equip participants with the knowledge and basic skill to effectively manage a social media crisis. Specifically, participants will be taught how to identify a crisis, assess its impact and what actions to take.

Best Crisis Communications Course in Singapore is Now Available on Online

To find out more, click on the following link (COURSE). We look forward to sharing our knowledge and experience with you.  

Friday, November 3, 2017

SMRT Flooding Incident - Why SMRT's Apology Failed

The public backlash from SMRT's apology for the train disruptions caused by flooding in the North-South Line (NSL) is instructive for the student of crisis communications.

crisis communications smrt flooded NSL apology

Afterall, what SMRT's management did was according to the textbook. The incident happened and they promptly came forward to acknowledge and accept responsibility. So why then are people still angry?

Unfortunately, while they did follow the textbook to promptly come forward to acknowledge the incident and accept responsibility, their apology (bow and all) lacked the key element of contrition. In the crisis communications textbook, any apology offered must be accompanied by a form of contrition. Simply saying "I am sorry" is perceived lip service and is deemed as insincere. Stakeholders want to see you "pay" for your mistake. Thus, in this instance, the lack of contrition rang hollow and Singaporeans anger towards SMRT did not abate.

Examples of successful apologies are those used by celebrities in the United States. Whenever they are caught for drink driving or substance abuse, their apology to their fans for letting them down is often accompanied by self-admission into a rehab centre. Unless the celebrity relapses and runs afoul of the law again, all is usually forgiven and their careers are back on track after the short stint in the rehab centre.

So if you are ever in the position to advice your CEO or Chairman of the Board in how to apologise, remind them that they need to offer contrition. If they are unwilling to, then it is better not to apolgise at all.

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

SAFRA Mount Faber vs Koh Jee Leong

Two weeks back, a Mr Koh Jee Leong turned up at the SAFRA Mount Faber gym wearing a tank top with the words "gay but not yet equal." He was subsequently told by the gym manager that other gym users were unhappy with the political statement and had “reported” him.

safra mount faber gay koh jee leong

Considering the conservative nature of Singaporeans and the blatant attempt by Mr Koh to push his agenda, this simple incident could have resulted in a major PR crisis for SAFRA and MINDEF. If Koh was denied usage of the gym, he would talk about it online and make a hue and cry about being denied his rights to free expression. In fact, even when Koh had gotten his way, he also pushed his agenda online.

SAFRA however did well to manage this incident and, in our opinion, came out smelling like roses. In crisis communications, we always say that good communications cannot overcome bad policies, and in this instance, SAFRA did well as their policy towards Koh was spot on.

As a MINDEF related organisation, SAFRA could not discriminate against any Singaporeans – especially one who had served NS. At the same time, SAFRA also had to operate a club for all Singaporeans. In this instance, SAFRA’s response was instructional.

Strategically, SAFRA did well to shift the issue away from free speech (or LGBT) to one about respecting each other’s views. In SAFRA's communications with Koh and the complainants, SAFRA’s position was clear: (a) SAFRA’s role (as a club) is to create a positive environment for all members; and (b) where members disagree, SAFRA’s role is to then mediate between the parties to seek common understanding.

In short, successful crisis management is not about spin or fanciful methods of saying things. Successful crisis communications begins with having a sound company policy. 

Tuesday, July 4, 2017

Crisis Communications – Developing Effective Messages

Crisis Communications – Developing Effective Messages

Crisis communications has come a long way. Today, in a crisis scenario, organizations recognize the need to communicate their side of the story quickly by pushing out positive and supporting narratives. To do this effectively, good crisis communications practitioners ensure that the messages used address the concerns of the target audience.

However, in cases where there is a need to persuade the target audience towards a particular view (or to take a specific action), targeting concerns alone is insufficient. In this situation, messages developed must also factor the beliefs and attitudes of the target audience towards the organization.

crisis communications effective messaging

Allow me to illustrate using the on-going dispute between Lee Hsien Yang (LHY) and Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong (LHL) over Lee Kuan Yew’s wishes for 38 Oxley Road. For LHY to communicate his messages, all he has to do is to target the concerns Singaporeans have about abuse of power. Singaporeans will pay attention to the message as it is something that they are concerned about, as Singapore is built upon the rule of law and that no one is above it. This was demonstrated by the significant interest both in the main stream media and the online space.

However, if LHY wants to persuade Singaporeans that LHL had abused his position and power as Prime Minister (PM) of Singapore, it is not so easy. LHL has led Singapore well as its PM and Singaporeans do not believe that LHL would abuse his position as PM. Thus, while they will “listen” to the snippets of information that LHY releases (in the form of redacted emails) alluding to LHL’s abuses of power, most Singaporeans are not persuaded. In fact, a survey conducted by the independent market research consultancy Blackbox Research showed that an overwhelming 40% did not believe LHY and wanted more proof.

In short, effective communication can be done by simply targeting target audience concerns. Persuading a target audience is not as simple as it requires the communications professional to target beliefs and attitudes. Thus, as part of crisis management planning, organizations need to shape target audience perception of the organization before a crisis happens. When a crisis happens, it is too late.

Sunday, June 25, 2017

38 Oxley Road - The Battle for the Narrative

38 Oxley Road – The Battle for the Narrative

The 38 Oxley Road saga continues to hog the headlines in Singapore. This is not in the least due to the fact that Lee Hsien Yang has deliberately chosen to release information in drips and drabs to keep the pressure on his brother – Lee Hsien Loong.

(Once again I must caveat that this is not a political blog and we do not side with either party. The purpose of this blog is to understand the battle of the narratives which is an important aspect of crisis communications.)

Since this saga began slightly more than a week ago, Hsien Yang’s end game and his narrative have become increasingly clear. Hsien Yang wants the political destruction of his brother Lee Hsien Loong and he has adopted three main narratives that target Hsien Loong’s power base – "LHL lies", "LHL abuses his power" and "LHL practices nepotism". To Hsien Yang, it does not matter who he hurts in the process. All that matters is that Hsien Loong must be destroyed.

To that end, each and every post (message) that Hsien Yang, Lee Wei Ling, and family have released tries to build upon these narratives. The key messages that Hsien Yang and his team have been pushing are:
  • LHL has said different things to different people about his thoughts for 38 Oxley Road
  • a secret ministerial committee was formed to stop the demolition of 38 Oxley Road
  • the members of the committee were not revealed to him or Lee Wei Ling
  • Ho Ching falsely represented PMO in lending items NHB when she had no official appointment in the government
  • Lucien Wong was appointed Attorney General as a reward
Hsien Yang is a brilliant strategist. Even his father Lee Kuan Yew described Hsien Yang as being extremely shrewd. By constantly repeating the above messages (supported by “evidence” in the form of redacted and piecemeal email correspondence), Hsien Yang is brilliantly playing on the emotions of Singaporeans. Hsien Yang is targeting perceptions that some Singaporeans (rightly or wrongly) hold about Lee Kuan Yew’s era of government. Unfortunately, such perceptions still abound and carry over to the government of the day even when it no longer exists.

Hsien Yang’s strategy is thus highly effective as it targets existing vulnerabilities in the target audience and uses the psychological operations (PSYOP) technique of themes and messages. In themes and messages, messages are consistently fed to the target audience alluding to the theme. Done correctly, the target audience will cognitively piece the messages together and eventually self-derive the theme. As the theme is self-derived, acceptance is strong and near impossible to dislodge. The power of this technique is that the messages do not need to be based on truths.

38 oxley road psychological operations narratives

In contrast, Lee Hsien Loong has adopted a strategy of restraint and message of facts. This is perhaps due to his desire not to drag the family name through the mud, but it is more likely due to the fact that his actions, as an individual, cannot be separated from scrutiny as the actions of the Prime Minister. Hsien Loong’s is thus in a no-win position. His decision to address Hsien Yang’s accusation openly and transparently in Parliament is his only available course of action. Until then, Hsien Loong has no choice but to ride out the asymmetrical attacks by Hsien Yang and hope that level heads will prevail in Parliament.

For now, all we can say is that Lee Hsien Yang is winning the battle for the narrative. Let’s see what happens on 3 July 2017. 

Saturday, June 24, 2017

Right-Sourcing Your Social Media Marketing

Social Media Marketing Companies

If you are a US-based company and you are looking for a cost-effective way to manage and grow your social media accounts, think Singapore. While countries like India seem the logical choice - given the high asymmetries between the US dollar and the Indian Rupee - we are not talking cheap-sourcing, but right-sourcing.

When you add everything up, Singapore is your best option for the following reasons:

Network Connectivity. Singapore’s has been ranked top in the world for having the highest average peak Internet connection and third in the world for average Internet connection speed. This is important because when you right-size, you want to ensure that your business partner will not suffer from slow, or intermittent, internet connection. It will be worse if there is downtime in connectivity. Singapore’s world-class Infocomm infrastructure ensures that you are always connected.

social media marketing singapore

Language. Singapore’s official language is English and the country has been ranked Number 1 by Pisa (Programme for International Student Assessment). Pisa, run by the OECD, ranks students from 70 countries in their proficiency in maths, reading and science. As the primary language used in US social media is English, you can rest assured that contents generated from your Singapore-based agency will be of the highest standards.

Strong Legal Framework. Singapore is also well-known for its efficiency and incorruptible legal system. Singapore is ranked ninth globally in a rule of law index released by US-based advocacy group World Justice Project (WJP). The WJP study ranked Singapore top in two of eight categories. Of significance is regulatory enforcement, which is attributed to the city's low crime rate and respect for due process. Having a strong legal framework ensures that your proprietary information stays proprietary.

Global Citizens. Singaporeans are also the most traveled. According to a survey by VISA, Singaporean households are projected to be the world’s 7th Top Overseas Travel spenders within the decade. Singaporeans currently spend close to USD22 billion on overseas travels with the United States continuing to be a popular study as well as tourist destination This exposure to international markets is critical for social media companies as it will enable them to develop contents that are modern and trending.

Time Difference. When it comes to social media services, time to market is important. The time difference between the US and Singapore is almost 12 hours which is ideal. Clients can decide what they want, task us at the end of their work day and have the contents ready the next morning when they come in to work. This minimizes lag time and speed is essential in any social media marketing campaign.

Lower Cost. We don’t like to use the word cost but, unfortunately in business, it is always about the bottom-line. Salaries in Singapore are considerably lower and the average Singapore-based graphic designer earns an annual salary of USD21,000 in contrast with a US-based designer that earns USD45,000. Manpower overheads are therefore lower in Singapore which means we can offer competitive rates to our US-based clients. As we mentioned earlier, we think cost is a dirty word as cheap does not mean good. Hence, while a Singapore-based social media marketing company cannot be cheaper than an India-based firm, the quality of our work is comparable to that of a US-based company.

salary of graphic designer singapore

Don’t Out-Source. Right Source.

In short, if you are a US corporation looking to right-source their social media marketing, using a Singapore-based social media agency is your best option. CW Fong & Associates' team of professional social media managers are ready to provide you with world class quality at an affordable price.

Persuade. Change. Influence.

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Making Sense of the Messages – Lee Hsien Loong vs Lee Hsien Yang Saga

Making Sense of the Messages – Lee Hsien Loong vs Lee Hsien Yang

In our opinion, politics provide the ideal context to study the art and science of communications. This is because politics, at its essence, is a contest for the hearts and minds of voters. Nowhere else will you find a more intensely fought battle with thrust, counter-thrusts and counter counter-thrusts with a definitive winner once the ballot boxes are counted.

The ongoing saga between Singapore’s Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong (LHL) and his brother Lee Hsien Loong (LHY) over 38 Oxley Road is no exception. Without going deeply into what is being said (and who is right), let us talk about the communications approached being used by Hsien Yang.

lee hsien loong hsien yang 38 oxley road

Lee Hsien Yang the Guerrilla

Being a former General in the Singapore Armed Forces, LHY is well-schooled in the art of war. Recognizing his numerical disadvantage, LHY has adopted a guerrilla approach as his strategy. Through the use of strategic pinpricks (single message Facebook posts), LHY is attacking LHL’s source of legitimacy to be the Prime Minister of Singapore - character, conduct, motives, and leadership. With the end state being LHL’s removal from office, LHY’s key messages are that LHL has misused his position and influence over the Singapore government and its agencies to drive his personal agenda. To muster allies, LHY has wisely chosen to imply that the system has few checks and balances - to prevent the abuse of government – and this has open the door for the opposition to join in the attacks. LHY is also wisely controlling the narrative by continually releasing “damaging” accusations every few hours to keep LHL’s (more cumbersome) communications machinery off-guard and playing catch-up. This is a well-known military concept of information warfare where you defeat the opponent’s decision cycle (OODA loop).

The prognosis for Lee Hsien Loong could be better ….

Our assessment is that LHL has identified LHY’s strategy and end game, but has either not identify LHY’s centre of gravity, or chosen not to attack it. LHL and his team have thus far been defending, with the occasional counter-attacks to push LHY back into the “jungles”, but LHL has not acted to decisively defeat LHY. This is precisely the approach that LHY is counting on, as time is on his side and every day the battle protracts, is one more day to build his base of supporters.

As military history has shown, the "base of the people" is the key lifeline of LHY’s guerrilla movement. An apathetic or hostile population will make life difficult for LHY and force him to capitulate. In our opinion, LHL has to aggressively mobilize the population to speak out against LHY by: (1) clearly demonstrating the damage that LHY’s actions have on Singapore and the livelihood of Singaporeans; and (2) actively and directly refuting LHY’s allegations.

In the realm of politics, LHY has drawn first blood and has explicitly stated that his end game is the political destruction of LHL. LHL, in our opinion, needs to stop thinking as an elder brother and act as the leader of a nation to come out the winner from this saga. Family or not, LHL must fight and fight to win. Any less, and LHL may win the battle but lose the war.

Monday, June 19, 2017

Crisis Response Strategy - What the Professionals Know

Crisis Response Strategy

Many a time when dealing with a crisis, crisis communicators search for a single counter message to rebut the issue. While in most cases there will be this single message, in more complex scenarios, a single counter message may not exist. In such scenarios, a two-phase response would be required.

crisis response strategy

Let us take the example of a malicious statement by a respected personality against your organization. Most organizations would immediately attack the personality’s credibility and dispute the statement. In our opinion, this is not a good approach. This is because the personality is respected and thus, much of what you say would be dismissed. Such an approach may also be perceived as your organization’s attempt at character assassination which will be serious consequences on your brand and reputation.  

At CW Fong & Associates, we would recommend that organizations adopt a 2-phase approach to countering the malicious statement. In phase 1, the objective of the messages would be to factually dispute the contents of the malicious statement. Once the validity and accuracy of the contents have been proven false, phase 2 can be conducted to discredit the personality. If you had successfully disputed the contents of the malicious statement, your subsequent messages aimed at discrediting the personality will be more effective.

Some PR professionals might argue that you can do both at the same time. This is true. We are not saying that you cannot do both simultaneously. We are just suggesting that: (a) having a magic bullet may not always be possible and; (b) sometimes it may be more effective to adopt a 2-phase strategy in your crisis communications plan. 

Friday, June 16, 2017

The Lee vs Lee Saga – a question of public figure vs private individual

Our View: The Lee vs Lee Saga – A question of public figure vs private individual

lee vs lee sage

The online saga happening between Singapore’s Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and his siblings (Lee Hsien Yang and Lee Wei Ling) highlights an important issue for crisis communications – the separation of the public figure from his private individual.

What PM Lee is facing now is not something new, and many political leaders and top CEOs have had, and will continue to have, this problem. What it boils down to is this … can a person have a successful professional life, if his home life is not perfect. Does being an insensitive husband or a less than supportive father, make you any less capable to lead a country or run a business. Now some will argue that the issue facing PM Lee is more serious. We would agree, but short of wild accusations, no real proof of wrong doing has been tendered by his siblings. But let’s not get into a political discussion, as this is not the intended topic of this post.

On the issue of whether a public figure can separate his professional life from his private life, we believe that it is both possible and impossible – depending on the indiscretions. Let us explain.

When a person is appointed as a CEO (or elected to public office), along with the role comes certain public expectations which are: (a) directly related to the performance of the professional role; and (b) additional considerations that the public had when they were appointed. Unless the indiscretions directly conflict with any of these two expectations, issues in private life will not cross over to impact the professional life.

If we use the example of PM Lee, Hsien Loong was elected by his peers to be first amongst equals and to lead the country till the next general elections. As part of being appointed Prime Minister by his peers, PM Lee was expected to constantly put Singapore and Singaporeans as his primary concern above everything else.

Hsien Yang’s and Wei Ling’s attacks against Hsien Loong attempts to paint him as an unfit leader as he is allegedly using his position as Prime Minister to deny fulfilling his father’s (Lee Kuan Yew’s) desire to have 38 Oxley Road demolished. While on the surface, the attacks appear concerning, Hsien Yand’s and Wei Ling’s line of attack is actually counter-intuitive as it reinforces the reason Hsien Loong was made Prime Minister i.e. he puts Singapore and Singaporeans above his personal and even his family wishes. Despite being a filial son who wants to fulfil his late father’s wishes, PM Lee has instead chosen to do what is best for Singapore and Singaporeans.

Thus, in this instance, we believe that Singaporeans will be able to separate between PM Lee’s private life (his family quarrel over 38 Oxley Road) and his professional role as the Prime Minister of Singapore. It is therefore our assessment is that, no matter the outcome of the quarrel with his siblings, PM Lee will still be PM Lee until the scheduled succession he has announced will take place after the next Singapore General Election in 2021.

Thursday, June 15, 2017

Why Workers' Party Silence on AHPETC May Not Mean Guilt

On 2 May 2017, PwC called for an inquiry into payments made to the former Managing Agent (MA) of the Workers’ Party (WP) Town Council - FM Solutions and Services (FMSS). According to the PwC report, the circumstances surrounding the selection of FMSS as the MA of AHTC show it was done by design, with FMSS assured of the job two months before it was formally appointed in August 2011. This revelation "put the propriety of all payments made under two managing contracts to FM Solutions and Services into question." PwC added that while its report does not look into potential criminal liability, "the circumstances may warrant further investigations by the relevant authorities as to the relevant potential offences". Since PwC’s call on 2 May 2017, apart from WP’s response to the Straits Times that they would “study the report”, there were no comments from AHTC on PwC's findings.

Silence May Not Mean Guilt

WP’s silence since the report is surprising, but it cannot be taken to imply guilt.

In crisis situations where there may be criminal or civil liabilities, legal advisors prefer that the organization say nothing. This is because any statement issued can have legal implications. Additionally, in the event that the case does go to the Court, a statement would reveal the likely defence strategy which will put the defence at a disadvantage. In Singapore, publicly speaking about a case pending before the Court is considered sub judice and carries with it serious legal penalties. In this instance, however, as the AGC has not filed any charges, the WP does have a window of opportunity to issue a statement if they choose to do so.

While remaining silent is the logical approach, the silence is deafening and accentuates the narrative that the WP is guilty.

WP response to PWC AHPETC report


What can an organization facing such a situation do?

Without seeking to influence Court proceedings, organizations caught in this limbo can work to inoculate themselves against the negative publicity. Conceptually, what this means is that the organization should push out information that contradicts what the crisis is implying. Using the example of an organization facing a lawsuit over an industrial accident, the organization should work to amplify their good safety record, their extensive safety programmes and safety awards that they have won. The intent of doing this is to "brand" the organization as one with a good safety record so that when stakeholders subsequently hear information that conflicts with this, they will discredit what the new information.


Putting aside partisan views about the WP, WP’s silence cannot be taken to imply guilt. For that, we will need to wait till the authorities conclude their investigations and the case decided in a court of law (if it goes that far).

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Our View: The Arrest of Syaikhah Izzah Zahrah Al Ansari

Singaporean’s muted response to the arrest of 22-year-old Syaikhah Izzah Zahrah Al Ansari under the ISA caught many by surprise. Many were expecting the announcement by the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) to trigger fear and anger, but nothing of the sort emerged. Instead, judging from online comments and conversations with the man-in-the-street, Singaporeans went about life as normal. Few, if any, were heard talking about this.

arrest of Syaikhah Izzah Zahrah Al Ansari

From a crisis communications perspective, this is instructive.

We can only postulate that the Singapore Government’s ongoing rhetoric of “not if, but when” had a dampening effect that forestalled any adverse reactions. Being told almost daily that there will be a terrorist attack in Singapore has likely psychologically prepared Singaporeans to accept that there will be terrorists in our midst and, by extension, arrests would be inevitable. Thus, when the announcement of Izzah’s arrest was made, Singaporeans were already expecting it and hence the non-reaction.

This bodes well for Singapore, as when an actual terrorist attack occurs, we believe that Singaporeans will react positively and we will quickly return to life as normal – defeating the desired outcome of the terrorists.

While the community’s outward non-reaction is a positive sign, what we cannot be sure about is whether there will be an “inward” change in sentiments towards the Malay Muslim community. We hope not, as this is the other objective of terrorism - to engender the marginalization of Muslims. What the marginalization serves to do is to reinforce the terrorists’ message that secular society rejects Islam and its practitioners. Radicalised Muslims will then use this as the rallying call for its members to rise in Jihad against the infidels that persecute Muslims. It is a vicious cycle.

Hence, Singaporeans must resist the instinct to generalize the actions of Izzah to the broader Muslim community. To fight terrorism, Singaporeans must instead recognize Izzah’s actions as that of an individual (a bad apple if you will) and continue to embrace our Muslim brethren.


Sunday, June 11, 2017

True Fitness - Time to Demonstrate, Not Talk

True Fitness (and True Spa) are in the news again. One day after the sudden closure of its outlets in Thailand, True Fitness shuttered its operations in Malaysia.

Ironically, a True Group spokesman had told Singapore's TODAY newspaper on Friday that operations in Singapore and the Group's planned expansion in China would not be affected. We are not sure if the statement on Friday was PR-speak, but with the closure of outlets in Malaysia, the time for statements is over. True Fitness needs to act to restore confidence with its Singapore customers. 

In crisis communications besides words, sometimes actions are required to convey a message. In this instance, any further statements by True Fitness themselves would lack credibility due to the subsequent closure of its Malaysian outlets on Saturday. True Fitness Singapore needs to therefore demonstrate its financial health and this can be done via the publishing of its financial statement or, via a statement of support by a credible third-party.

Customers are generally willing to give an organization the benefit of doubt. But when everything points to a company in crisis, the time for talk is over. 

true fitness singapore closing

Friday, June 9, 2017

A Company in Crisis - True Fitness

True Fitness ceases operations in Thailand, but the company assures Singaporeans that it will be business as usual in Singapore.

true fitness singapore crisis
Scene from True Fitness Thailand
If there is ever a company at the brink of a crisis, it is True Fitness. Unless the company can act fast to reassure its Singapore customers, creditors, vendors and employees, a run on the company appears inevitable. In its current weak financial health, any loss of confidence - and loss of income - will force it to close.

So far, it appears that True Fitness has not taken this concern seriously. Apart from a brief statement to the media, True Fitness does not appear to be making any efforts to assure its Singapore stakeholders. Their Singapore Facebook page makes no mention of the closure in Thailand and there are no messages of reassurance.

If True Fitness thinks that ignoring the issue is the best approach they are wrong. Social media has started to "talk" and friends are advising friends to cut their losses. Momentum has started to build and will, unless measures are taken to mitigate it, result in a run on True Fitness.

In the era of social media, nothing can be hidden. Personal accounts of how True Fitness actively collected outstanding payments from customers in the days leading to the closure paints a narrative of how the company "cheated" its Thai clients. This is further aggravated by more personal accounts of how True Fitness is not helping their Thai customers recover personal items left in the lockers of the now shuttered premises.

True Fitness needs to get ahead of the story and start shaping it in its favor. Singaporeans are already making references to the similarity between this and the 2016 closure of California Fitness. There is a strong feeling of deja vu, as California Fitness also made a similar statement saying that business will be as usual in Singapore.

The key lesson from the Bill Ng-FAS Fiasco

The recently concluded Football of Association of Singapore (FAS) Election, the first in the FAS’ history, has much to teach the communications professional. What will surely stick in the memory of Singaporeans is how Bill Ng’s startling disclosure of a $500,000 “donation” to the FAS ended in his arrest together with that of former FAS president Zainudin Nordin, FAS general secretary Winston Lee, and Bill’s own wife Bonnie Wong.

bill ng fas election arrests

The key lesson is that any statement issued, especially in an election type scenario, needs to be red-teamed. This is because the message is not what you say, but what the recipient understands. In Bill Ng’s case, we assess his intention was to portray himself as a magnanimous benefactor of local football and hence a white knight who should be elected as President of the FAS. Instead, the message as understood by the authorities was that Bill Ng was abusing his position as the Chairman of Hougang United FC and Tiong Bahru FC to line his own pocket.

What Bill did is, unfortunately, not uncommon. C-Suite executives – especially those who are frequently in front of the camera - tend to become complacent believing that they can handle the media. History however frequently proves that you cannot underestimate how a message will be interpreted and how it can easily be taken out of context. In fact, the more frequent you are in front of the camera, the more important it is for you to prepare, as it is the “rookie” mistake that are the career enders.

From what we can tell, Bill’s disclosure was pre-meditated and hence could have easily been avoided, or rephrased if he had simply bounced it off his confidants. If it was not pre-planned, Bill’s off-the-cuff remark is precisely why many politicians avoid election rallies. In matters of high-stakes, it is better to remain silent, than to afford your opponent and his supporters fodder to attack you with.

So, the next time you face the media, do not only prepare your talking points. Do test them out to see if your audience will indeed understand the message you are trying to communicate.

Thursday, June 1, 2017

Crisis Communications: Role of the Spokesperson - Sean Spicer

The role of a spokesperson is not easy and Sean Spicer, White House Press Secretary, will definitely attest to that.

role of spokesperson in a crisis

Since taking on the role as White House Press Secretary, Sean has had to be many things to many people. To the White House, he needs to be the face of Government and to communicate what is in their best interest. To the public at large, Spicer has been expected to tell the whole truth even if it is not in the best interest of the White House. And to the media, Sean Spicer is supposed to be their first-hand source of information about what is going.

The recent “covfefe” Tweet by President Trump is a good case in point. For a spokesperson to do his job well, the spokesperson must firstly be aware of what is actually happening. Unfortunately, in this instance (although there are many other examples), Sean seems totally oblivious to what is going on. When asked what “covfefe” meant, Spicer could only reply that "the President and a small group of people know exactly what it means ". This literally confirms that Sean (and the White House communications team) is not aware of what is going on in their own White House.

Why this matters is that Sean Spicer’s credibility as a spokesperson is all but destroyed. If a spokesperson for an organization is seen to be unaware of what is going on, he essentially cannot be trusted. And once the trust is lost, nothing that he or she says will mean anything to anyone.

This is the conundrum facing many crisis managers. Tell the spokesperson too much, and there is a risk of information being leaked. However, tell the crisis manager too little and the spokesperson will look inept and lose credibility. It is definitely a delicate balance.

Our Advice

As a spokesperson, remember that your role is to help communicate information on behalf of your organization. To do this, your credibility as a source of information is essential for you to perform this role effectively. This then means that you need to be honest in what you communicate. If you do not have the information, say so. Providing misleading information will undermine your credibility and make your ineffective as a spokesperson. As I have mentioned earlier, your value to your organization is as an effective communicator of information. As such, your first duty to your organization is to protect your credibility – at all costs.

Being a spokesperson is not easy and you will often be conflicted. However, if you remember that you were hired to communicate and to communicate effectively, you will be better able to navigate the many demands of your job.

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