Archive for the ‘behaviour’ Category

Courageous, colourful quotes get you noticed, and probably knighted

“Those with the strongest views that the price of Australian houses “must” fall typically either don’t own one, don’t really know what they are talking about, or both.” – Rory Robertson, Macquarie Bank interest rate strategist

The above quote ran in this column by Michael Pascoe today. Perhaps its because my introduction to the British economy came courtesy of Robert Peston’s book, Who Runs Britain?, but from an outsider’s perspective I’d have to say that there’s a dearth of colourful spokespeople in the market. However, when I thought for five seconds about which British individuals I could imagine using a line like this, three names came to mind:

  • Sir Richard Branson
  • Sir Phillip Green
  • Sir Stuart Rose

And aside from wealth and knighthoods, that’s something the three individuals listed above all have in spades. Personality.

For business managers, PR people and spokespeople generally, this is brilliant news, because it means that if you’re prepared to say something colourful, the chances are you’ll get noticed.

The problem is, you can’t rely on media training alone to give you the colourful quotes. These have to be a reflection of your own personality. Media training, or presentation skills training, or even night classes in interpretive dance will help you to express that personality in a way that’s right for your audience.

At the end of the day though, that expression comes down to having the courage to share a bit of yourself with the rest of the world.

Twitter terror: why business managers should be afraid of social media

In the past I’ve been rightly accused of getting a bit wordy on here with some of our more analytical posts, so today we’re going to try something a bit different.

Here’s a proposition I want to test before I do something as stupid as say it in public, and we’d welcome your feedback.

There are two reasons why business managers should be afraid of social media. Only two. Here they are:

  1. You are doing something you shouldn’t be, and people will find out.
  2. You are not doing something you should be, and people will find out.

The only caveat I’m going to put on the above is that what you “should be” or “shouldn’t be” doing is of course open to interpretation. But then, that’s why you have a PR department…

Thoughts, criticisms and opinions all welcome, but please try to stay on topic.

Communicating change in a crisis context

In a couple of weeks, our Change & Internal Communication team will host one of their world-famous discussion forums, this time looking at the relationship between change and communication. While a crisis isn’t usually the same thing as a change management programme, often times a change programme can be the trigger for a crisis.

Often we’re asked to define what we mean by “crisis”, and I tend to work on the broad principle that a crisis is anything that prevents you being able to get on with business as usual. By contrast, an issue is something that you’d proably have to deal with as part of your typical day-to-day workload (so in this example a customer complaint is an issue, 200 customers protesting outside your flagship store is a crisis).

By definition then, any kind of organisational change carries with it the potential to spark a crisis of monolithic proportions. Here are a few examples of the kinds of things that can go pear-shaped in a big hurry:

  • Redundancy / restructuring programmes
  • Appointing a high-profile new supplier (or ditching an old one)
  • Pretty much anything involving the implementation of new technology
  • Re-vamping an established and much-loved brand
  • Collective and enterprise bargaining negotiations

If you’re in London on 10 March I’d strongly recommend trying to get along to our event. You can register your interest by clicking through to Scott McKenzie’s blog post announcing the event. Members of Hill & Knowlton’s Issues & Crisis team will also be there (including yours truly if you fancy providing some in-person feedback on the quality of our blog posts!).

For those who can’t make it we’ll revisit this topic after the event to share some of the key points from the discussion.

PS about half an hour after posting this the BBC was sporting enough to post this story on anticipated public sector strike action in reaction to proposed cuts to civil service redundancy terms. You know you really want to come to our event now!

Why Message Development is important

From time to time on this blog we talk about the importance of driving communication through organisational behaviour, and how this can be of great help to crisis managers because it gives you a solid base from which to start managing the fallout of a crisis. This is possibly even more integral to strategic issues management, i.e. where we work with a client to turn a potential issue into an area where they can establish a competitive advantage.

However, a recent conversation with a design agency highlighted that the infamous “key message” is something that, while still a fundamental part of any communication strategy, is also increasingly likely to be overlooked.

What brought this home was hearing said design agency recycle a quote we often use ourselves: “If you want someone to think you’re funny, don’t tell them you’re funny. Tell them a joke.”

The issue we need to clear up is as follows. I agree one hundred percent that your behaviour needs to demonstrate the message you’re trying to convey (i.e. display congruence). But that’s kind of the point – you need to work out what your message is first.

The “what” of “what you say” really is more important than how you say it, because it actually is what you’re saying. What you say should be what you want your audience to understand. If you don’t (can’t?) define what that is, how will your audience ever know what it is that you want them to do? Here’s a great presentation by Dr Vincent Covello from the Centre For Risk Communication in the US that explains in great depth a number of tools we regularly use for developing crisis messages. The fact they’re needed at all should say something about their importance.

This is particularly important for issues and crisis managers because invariably we want our audiences to do something, usually within a very short time frame. If it’s a product recall crisis then we want people to return affected products (in the first instance we often want them to stop eating those products). If it’s a gas leak and we want people to evacuate then we need to tell them that – driving up and down their street in a fire truck will not, on its own, convince residents that they need to get out of the area.

Similarly for a consumer PR campaign – if we want an audience to do something (e.g. share this blog with a friend), we actually need to tell our audience that’s what we want them to do (seriously, please share our blog with friends and colleagues).

The point is, until you know what you want your audience to do (your objective), then you can’t know what you need to tell them to get them to do it (your key message). And until you can define your message, you can’t work out how you’re going to deliver it (your strategy) with any real effectiveness. After all, if you don’t want people to think you’re funny, why on Earth would you tell them a joke?

Hence – message development. It’s not sexy, it’s rarely fun and frankly it’s one of the hardest parts of communication planning because every single person in your organisation will have a different view of what it should be. But communication is a process-oriented discipline, and so this is absolutely in the must-have basket.

Think of it from your customer’s perspective. If you as an organisation can’t clearly and simply define what you do, and articulate what you want your customer to do, how will the customer ever know what they’re meant to do (i.e. buy some stuff)? The principle is the same for any audience you care to think of.

This is why we spend proper, quality time developing our clients’ messages at Hill & Knowlton. That’s not to say every campaign, project or issue requires a dedicated messaging workshop – in fact, most don’t. But if you can’t write your key message on the back of your business card inside of 30 seconds, you probably need to spend some time working on it.

In the first place, it ensures everyone involved in your project is talking about the same thing in the same way – which is essential for building any kind of consistency or momentum. And in doing this, it focuses communication efforts on the thing that’s really important – meeting your objectives. Not until your message is right should you be worrying about big events and column inches.

Getting this right can be a real challenge, but the investment pays for itself in spades because good message development saves you time and money for months (sometimes years) to come.

If it’s done well.

Strong messages will stick around for the long term and can be incorporated into any relevant campaign activity – regardless of medium or channel. They should form the basis for every single piece of communication you deliver for that campaign or crisis or organisation, and they should be reinforced by corporate behaviour that is congruent with what the message actually says.

Only then will people think you’re really funny.

Social media: friend or foe?

As I mentioned earlier this week, last night I attended the Social Media: Friend or Foe? event hosted by our Change & Internal Communications team here at Hill & Knowlton. This event represented a bit of a break in format for our recent events. Rather than the traditional expert presentation followed by a Q&A, our host and Head of Internal Communication, Scott McKenzie, challenged the audience to field two debate teams from amongst their number.

This was a great approach for a number of reasons, not least because it highlighted that there’s not really such a thing as a “social media expert” (one of the problems of a medium that changes exponentially while you’re asleep). In this context then, the challenge for our guests and attending H&K-ers was to coordinate either a Friend or Foe argument, and the results were particularly interesting given our debate teams.

From a crisis management perspective the outcome of the debate isn’t nearly as important as some of the observations the debate itself triggered. Some of the more poignant among these were:

  • As social media becomes more pervasive it also becomes less social. (this is similar to the old “alternative” music debate – if everyone’s playing “alternative”, doesn’t that just make it mainstream?)
  • As mobile technology continues its upward evolution it becomes a social media lifeline. How then does a company possibly enforce a social media ban amongst its workforce if they have their own mobile phones in the workplace?
  • When it comes to engaging with audiences via social media, you have to be brave because you cannot be selective. This was from our very own global Director of Marketing Technology, Niall Cook (or follow him on Twitter here).

For crisis managers then, the key take-away from the night was this: social media is here to stay. So deal with it.

This cold, hard truth has several important ramifications, which are not exactly new, but are definitely more pronounced with the rise of online networks. Here are three of the more confronting ones:

  • The “how” of a story supercedes the “what”. Relatively simple issues, the kind that used to be classed as “just the cost of doing business”, now take on a life of their own. All it takes is one connected individual to decide they don’t like the way your organisation has behaved, and it’s enough to start a landslide. Snowflakes and skiers have known this for years.
  • The relevance of social media to your primary target audience is irrelevant to your actual crisis. It used to be that if a special interest group took offence, you could rationalise your level of engagement on the basis of whether or not that special interest group had any bearing on your ability to continue doing business. Now, though, if that otherwise irrelevant interest group can stimulate significant attention in their own right, then to the world’s media that actually is a story. It may still have no bearing on what your original problem was…but by now, that no longer matters.
  • Yes, engaging with a social media-based crisis does reinforce a positive feedback loop. So, think carefully before you do it. This is a real sticking point in the crisis vs. digital communication debate because the pro-social media camp is very much singing the “two-way communication promotes transparency” hymn. Fact: that statement was just as true before the internet was invented. It was just harder to tell if you weren’t holding up your side of the deal.

The point then is that you don’t have to get on facebook/Twitter/foursquare/insert-your-preferred-platform-here in order to engage with your audience. So have a good, hard think about whether you even should. Absolutely, the odds are you should engage with your audience. But if they’ve created a space on a social network that’s akin to an old-fashioned lynch mob, why on Earth would you do it there? Be creative and find a better solution (do something completely out of the box – actually meet the leaders of the mob one-on-one, for a coffee and a chat).

It’s all pretty daunting stuff, and depending on which school of thought you subscribe to it will make the lives of crisis managers either infinitely more difficult, or somewhat less painful. And the reason for that is a simple one: how people respond to your corporate behaviour is well and truly beyond your control. So instead, we need to take a leaf out of our Internal Communications colleagues’ handbook, and focus our efforts instead on what our corporate behaviour actually is in the first instance.

In other words, do the right thing by people and chances are, they’ll do the right thing by you.

(For any readers who haven’t yet, you can also check out Scott’s Collective Conversation blog here)

Climate change: highlighting the importance of behaviour as communication

Last night I attended the launch of the Advance Green Network at Australia House in London. This network seeks to bring together ex-pat Australians, and their colleagues, to help get people involved in the quest for a more sustainable future.

Keynote speaker, Howard Bamsey, Australia’s Special Envoy on Climate Change, made the point that in the lead-up to the UN Conference on Climate Change, COP15, what governments around the world are looking for are commitments. And this is the basis for this post – on an issue such as climate change, the public requires not a communication solution (ugh), but a behavioural one. What is it that I/you/we/they can do that actually makes a difference? And…will you do it?

This differentiation can be a difficult one for issues and crisis management. If your crisis is an oil spill, a plant explosion, a tsunami or any one of a hundred other things that visibly change the world, then your response involves actually fixing something – either patching it up, or eliminating the source of the problem. Clearly that’s behavioural.

The challenge comes with reputation-based issues where there’s a desire to deal with the symptom rather than the cause. Anything that falls under the general heading of “complaints” is usually a good example, i.e. product faults, customer service incidents, automated “help” lines and the like.

In these instances our first reaction is usually to deal with the complaint, and if that’s successful then that’s usually the end of the issue (in our eyes). The problem with this approach though is that it never deals with the cause of the complaint – we just slot into a pattern of complaint, fix, complaint, fix, wash, rinse repeat. Until one day we realise we’ve accrued dozens of complaints, made hundreds of refunds or lost thousands of pounds worth of sales.

For crisis managers then, it’s important when these niggling issues arise to take five minutes out from the problem, and really consider if fixing it requires us to say something, or do something. Think about the message you send by acting, rather than placating. Actions speak louder than words, and for good reason.

Had a call from Watchdog?

The BBC’s Watchdog has welcomed back presenter Anne Robinson, prompting this story in PR Week. A question we often get at Hill & Knowlton is: “We got a call from Watchdog. What should we do?” Obviously that depends on what you did in the first place, but here’s a tip from Senior Associate Director, Peter Roberts: “However trying the situation, Watchdog offers businesses the opportunity to demonstrate their sincerity and ability to listen.”

It’s important to remember that the role of consumer advocates, and programmes like Watchdog, is to look at a story or issue from the consumer’s perspective. That’s a deliberate apostrophe because we’re talking about one consumer, up against the world. It’s no surprise then that many stories do come off with an anti-corporation slant.

However, it’s also important to remember that “the media” doesn’t exist for its own amusement. It’s a conduit of information between a subject (in this case the corporation or the consumer’s experience) and an audience (lots of other consumers).

So it makes sense that if consumers didn’t have complaints, there’d be little cause for these shows to exist. Of course we all have things we’re not happy about so following the argument to that conclusion is extreme – the point is this: if you get a call from Watchdog then dealing with the response is one thing. But spare a thought for why they’re calling you in the first place. Maybe there’s something that really does need fixing.