Saturday, May 27, 2017

Crisis Communications: SPH Announces the Appointment of Ng Yat Chung as its CEO

On Friday, 26 May 2017, Singapore Press Holdings (SPH) announced that they will be appointing Mr Ng Yat Chung as its Chief Executive Officer with effect 1st Sep 2017. Ng, takes over from Mr Alan Chan Heng Loon who is retiring after 15 years at SPH.

While this may seem like a normal corporate announcement, it is far from it. The news of Ng’s appointment drew the ire of Singapore netizens as Ng is the former soldier turned CEO under whose watch the national carrier was sold to France’s CMA CGM - the world’s third-largest container shipper. To make matters worse, only last week, the French-based group reported that it had turned around the loss making NOL since taking it over in June 2016.

(Note: Personally, we believe the turn-around had a lot to do with CMA CGM’s size and market dominance.)

Lesson Learnt – Need to be Proactive to Frame the Narrative

Considering that SPH is in the “communications” industry, it is surprising that they opted not to proactively manage this announcement. Granted, this crisis is more political than business-related, the reality is that perceptions matter. With this hanging over the head of the CEO-designate, there will be employee morale as well as trust issues to address.

Using our Impact Assessment Matrix, we can be seen that news of Ng’s failure as the CEO of NOL would have high credibility. Even if our assessment that the impact will be high against the Government (and employees) and the SPH Board felt otherwise, some form of response to address Ng’s history and appointment is necessary.


crisis communications impact assessment matrix


As any PR professional will tell you, the best time to address potential issues is before they happen and not after. A proactive approach would have allowed SPH to frame the narrative to let the naysayers counter them, rather than let the naysayers dictate the “battle” with SPH responding. The latter places SPH in a defensive posture which is not the best place to be in a crisis management situation as you will be forced to react to what is being said.

Conclusion

In summary, we will never know what was the thinking behind the Board's decision not to prepare the ground for this announcement. At the very least, the announcement could have been delayed by a few weeks to let the story of CMA CGM’s success at turning NOL around subside. As communications professionals, we believe that SPH could have managed this better.  

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