Archive for the ‘crisis communication’ Category

People in glass houses

This may come as some surprise to people who know me but for once I have been loath to enter a debate and share my opinion, but this afternoon my will broke and I could no longer hold back. Yes I am going to share my view on the issue of Blackberry and their ongoing outage.

Firstly I have to declare an interest; I am a Blackberry user and have been for over nine years and despite it taking over life, I am a fan, they do what they say and despite the hard life I give them they don’t tend to let me down. Equally I am not an Apple or Android knocker – to be honest I have more important things to argue about.

What I am passionate about though, is how issues are managed and the study of how people react to them. With Blackberry you have a perfect storm, a technology company that has courted some negative publicity recently is constantly doing battle with another fruit based technology company and prides itself on its security systems.

The last couple of days have seen a clamor for Blackberry to talk more, respond more, be more open etc.  – but who is asking? The cry would seem to lead by social media and technology commentators. Why is this? Well I believe it is down to certain groups believing they have an inalienable right to know everything, not for any reason other than they just deserve to know. The reality is RIM suffered a switch failure which resulted in a backlog of emails clogging up their system. To be honest it’s not very exciting, a bit techy and sounds like a reasonable explanation, which the majority of fair minded people will understand.

Building on this we are seeing ongoing comparisons with Apple in terms of how open they are and how they would have managed things better. Now I don’t have the best of memories at times, but I seem to remember it took an awful lot of persuasion to get Apple to admit there may be a problem with the reception on the iPhone 4. I don’t think anyone would agree that that was handled in a very efficient way.

Finally I think it is fair to say that whatever RIM said over the last couple of days would have been criticised and picked apart by the same aforementioned people  - what would that have achieved?

I say the following as someone who uses their Blackberry a lot and does rely it on for my job, in reality my Blackberry hasn’t worked reliably since Monday lunchtime. But all that has meant is that when I went to get my sandwich at lunchtime I couldn’t check my emails and likewise when I get home tonight that little red light won’t be flashing at me all evening. Do you know what? My world has kept turning; after all I can still make calls and text which are pretty useful ways of communicating, especially the first one.

Oh, one last thing… What this has proved categorically is that technology people should not make jokes, they really should leave that to the experts.

The importance of assessing corporate risks before the crisis

posted by Peter Roberts

Home economics has undoubtedly taken on a new meaning in recent years with the launch of a legion of online ventures that are making money from what I’ll grandly label people’s ‘residential asset base’ – basically, rooms, driveways, garages, gardens – you name it.

Airbnb is such a site – it’s a private room rental service, which has, over the past week, generated a fair amount of coverage for the wrong reason. Last month, a blogger detailed the damage to her home, including holes through walls and burnt possessions, after she rented out her property via Airbnb. You can read more here. The site has since announced a $50,000 guarantee to its hosts for theft and vandalism.

What I find of interest from a crisis management perspective is the CEO’s admission that they got it so wrong. “We felt paralysed, and over the last four weeks, we have really screwed things up” said Brian Chesky. The corporate candour is laudable, but effective preparedness plans would have prevented  the reputational fallout.  “We weren’t prepared for the crisis and we dropped the ball. Now we’re dealing with the consequences” added Chesky.

Discerning businesses will regularly gauge the risks they face from both an internal and external perspective and draw up appropriate contingency plans. Airbnb has, rightly, now introduced a more robust customer relations service, including a dedicated hotline. Airbnb’s creditable admission should, I hope, serve as a wakeup call to those other organisations who have yet to grasp the significance of a full and frequent assessment of their  business.

He who lives by Twitter, dies by Twitter

If a week is a long time in politics, the past seven days must be a record for the media.  With the dust barely settling on the Royal Wedding and the killing of Osama Bin Laden, the media got its teeth into what it really cares about, freedom and privacy.

The creation of the Twitter account, on Sunday afternoon, allegedly listing at least six of the people who have taken out Super Injunctions, was quickly followed with ironic timing by the defeat of Max Mosley’s case calling for the media to notify people before they are due to appear. These two events re-opened the whole debate of who is entitled to privacy and to what level.

Then, just as all of us in media land where mustering all the energy we could to struggle through the first five day week in what seems like months (well some of us, my colleagues today are all out working with Age UK for our company wide charity day) the God of news dropped the Facebook/Google/Burson-Marsteller story nicely in our laps.

Now I am not naive enough to comment directly on the tribulations of a fellow PR agency (especially as we share the same owner) but having looked back over these seven days there is one common theme that links of all this: our growing demands for transparency. In all of these cases, it wasn’t really the actions (footballer slept with a Big Brother star, someone has an affair, really? How dull? A middle-aged man getting spanked by some prostitutes) that mattered. Frank Bough has been there and got the paddle marks 19 years ago and as for B&M, I think the issue here is execution not motive.

What is clear is that for everyone, from humble celebrity to global tech giant, the media now provides us with a level of access and insight never dreamed possible 15 years ago. This week has demonstrated that this new found power needs to be handled with a great deal of care because decisions and action on how we respect and protect privacy, while still providing freedom, access and transparency could now have some far reaching ramifications that we could all be paying the price for in the future.

posted by Peter Roberts

BP held their annual general meeting yesterday. It was their first since the Deepwater Horizon tragedy in the Gulf of Mexico. The one image that dominated the coverage was that of a syrup smeared Diane Wilson. She’s a protestor and the syrup looks convincingly like crude oil. Wilson was one of many protestors locked out of the meeting at London’s Excel Centre, and subsequently proved to be the focus of much of the media’s interest.

BP did what any responsible business would be expected to do when it comes to protestors – keep them out. As a BP spokesman put it, “We have a responsibility to run an orderly meeting that allows our shareholders to vote on resolutions and engage with the board.” Quite so; BP is a big commercial enterprise and its priorities, it would appear, are with its key stakeholders. Well, that’s the way it reads. However, what price to the company of letting the same protestors into the meeting – a bridge too far? Probably for attending shareholders, but how about its own brand values – possibly? Yes, there will be heckling; maybe some commotion, but in its efforts to address its current corporate reputation such a move could be extremely productive; presenting a business that’s inclusive, accountable and understanding of broader concerns. It’s with such boldness that public perception will, albeit slowly, begin to change and it’s with such boldness that leads the ‘man in the street’ to start thinking that enough’s enough with these protests, let’s move on, instead of what many are probably now thinking which is these people have been hard done by.

Brand guardian or brand detractor: It’s a game of two halves

Thank the Lord for football, not only does it entertain, anger and frustrate in equal measures it regularly provides a perfect case study that neatly encapsulates a wider issue. Today’s lesson is brought to you by the creative musings of Ryan Babel, who currently dwells in Liverpool. Here we have the perfect example of an aggrieved employee deciding to vent his anger and personal views via his favourite social network, in this case Twitter.

The issue here is how much control can and will his club exert over him? He is facing an FA charge of improper conduct, at a time when the Club has more than enough problems of its own. Now there must be something about the internet up there on the Anfield side of the City, because the end of last year saw a player’s mum very clearly and succinctly express her views on her son’s new home.

As an employer, how do you handle this? How can you ensure your staff utilise their potentially large social network to support your brand? Now in Ryan’s case I am sure he is expressing a widely held view that was doing the rounds of the dressing room at the final whistle, but would the Club wanted those views shared with the world? Probably not. In the case of the ranting mum I can pretty much guarantee that those rants went down as well as Gary Neville popping into the Kop for a meat pie and a shandy at half time.

Away from the highly charged cauldron of football, these two extreme examples highlight the issue of an employee’s brand. How can organisations at best utilise this asset and turn them into a brand guardian and supporter, before they become at the very least another issue to deal with or at worst a vocal brand detractor?

Media time delay

While we all pick through the aftermath of our failed World Cup bid, the one glaring insight that arose yesterday afternoon was the huge time delay between the different media in play. Anyone following on Twitter yesterday would have known the exact result even before Mr Blatter launched into his long winded riff on the origins of football.

Here in the UK, Ashling O’Connor from the Times had already accurately posted the outcome on Twitter 21 minutes before the envelope was opened, which resulted in the TV broadcasters having to tentatively report the result while being stymied by FIFA’s own pomp and ceremony.

I look on yesterday as a clear demonstration of the media power of Twitter and as a warning for all of us involved in issues and crisis comms planning, underestimate its influence and impact at your peril. The race to be first with the news is well and truly hotting up and if you don’t have systems and plans in place to manage this, it could be you squirming in your seat wondering where it all went wrong.

Do playboys make good role models or more importantly good brand ambassadors?

 Here at H&K Towers apart from making sure the hole for the new CrossRail station at Tottenham Court Road is big enough we spend a fair amount of time advising clients on how to exploit and manage their sport sponsorship programmes.

So I was very interested in ITV4’s recent programme called “When Playboys ruled the World”, an insightful look into the success and excess of two of our greatest World Champions, Barry Sheene and James Hunt, which also made some interesting comparison to today’s sporting champions. After putting aside my secret desire to be them, what became clear is that the general public and therefore the media’s tolerance of a personal indiscretion nowadays is zero. Our almost voyeuristic urge to seek out the slightest news that could bring down a star borders on the feverish, but our own personal standards would seem to have dropped. While at the same time to read some of the headlines relating to our sports stars now, you would think we were back in Edwardian times.

So what is happening? Should we feel sorry for our highly paid superstars? Are we turning into a nation of hypocrites, where we expect our sports stars to be perfect, as a result freeing us up to do what we want? Do we long for the day when a rebel in the mould of Hunt or Sheene may burst onto the stage and stick two fingers up to the now established norm? These are all questions that anyone considering a sport sponsorship endorsement campaign need to consider.

More fundamentally, we live in an age where despite limitless access to information and, in theory knowledge, we no longer have the trust to believe in anything we are told and so are continually disappointed- “you mean to say a 18 year-old earning £25k a week has drunk too much and crashed his car – how could this happen? He is such a nice boy, look at that photo spread he did in Hello with his mum last week?”

Personally I believe we have lost all sense of perspective, I want my racing driving to drive really fast, I want my footballers to score lots of goals, I want my film stars to entertain me. If I want advice on how to be a father or what constitutes a healthy level of alcohol intake I will talk to my real friends and family. Unless of course you count Britney Spears and Wayne Rooney as close family and friends and in that case you probably are in trouble…

For sponsors though, the process is getting harder, the understandable desire to protect your brand means that you end up putting up walls between you and your star. The problem with that is the bigger the wall the more people will want to see what is going on. Or should you, as a sponsor, embrace their inner bad boy and roll with the inevitable punches? Whichever route you choose perspective, awareness, trust and being prepared are key to you surviving and making the partnership a success.

Now where is my Brut aftershave? I feel a night out with the ladies is required.

“We all just want our lives back”

As media commentators continue to pick through the carnage following the Deepwater Horizon blowout, some interesting insights are bubbling to the service. For those of you that saw the BBC’s Money Programme, one of the defining moments that shone through was a quote from Tony Hayward that.. “Maybe if I had achieved a degree from RADA rather than in Geology, things would have been different.”

Now for me that is a defining quote, what type of people do we want running these global organisations? Experts in their field who have a deep understanding of their operations? Or trained orators who can deliver impressive sound bites?

In the ideal world we would have both, but the reality is that the combination is pretty rare. For example, would you like Richard Branson to fly you and family across the Atlantic? Or (far more worryingly) step on a plane piloted by Michael O’Leary? No! All of these people, including Tony Hayward, have realised the benefit of surrounding themselves with experts in their field. In Tony Hayward’s case, you would have to argue he was let down not by his statements, but by the people who put him in that position in the first place.

The first objective for any business is to minimise the likelihood of a crisis, but incidents can and will arise and from that point on, the imperative has to be to deploy the best people to do the best jobs at the right time and place.

I for one have a certain amount of sympathy for Tony Hayward, he paid a high personal price as you would expect, but I think he came away with some new found respect for the how the media machine operates. I can pretty much guarantee the media won’t find it so easy to ambush him in his next role. Just need to remember that not everyone gets a second chance in situations like this.

Is a Twitter parody account the new face of crisis management?

The rise in popularity of parody Twitter accounts is forcing many companies to take a walk down the hall of mirrors and have a good, hard look at themselves.

 

Oh I do hope so.

You see, for several years (and numerous blog posts) I’ve been banging on about how reputation management for companies largely depends on their ability to not p*** people off.

That’s not so much a function of your Communication or Marketing department as it is a commitment by management and their staff to behave in a way that consumers (and by extension, society in general) find acceptable.

In many instances, things that are popularly called “crises” are cases where a brand’s behaviour violates the promise the company made to its market.

In other words, if you represent yourself as a big corporate evil, and behave as such, then people will generally accept you for who you are. You may not be popular, but at least you’re honest.

Similarly, if you represent yourself as a benevolence personified, so long as you behave accordingly, you’re going to be fine.

It’s when you tell people one thing, and then behave in a contrary way, that companies run into trouble.

And so to Twitter, and while there’s an element of truth to the fact a blog post about Twitter and crisis management is purely link bait to the Twitterati marketing community, this post is hopefully something pragmatic for readers to work with.

Courtesy of Tim Whitlock, a technical consultant to the communications industry in London, I’ve come across Twitter’s point of view with respect to parody accounts.

You know the ones, the kind with handles like @BPGlobalPR, or @GapLogo, or formerly @sean376 (yes, we miss you). The ones whose follower counts eclipse those of the brands they seek to mock, usually many times over.

Here’s the important bit: “Twitter provides a platform for its users to share and receive a wide range of ideas and content, and we greatly value and respect our users’ expression. Because of these principles, we do not actively monitor users’ content and will not edit or remove user content, except in cases of violations of our Terms of Service.”

Ah. That’s a problem. The fastest-growing publishing platform in the world is actively encouraging amateur humourists to take the proverbial, right under the noses of the world’s biggest brands.

And here’s the thing. While journalism has a professional code of ethics, and Jo Q Public citizen journalist does have to operate within some (albeit largely misunderstood) defamation and libel laws…parody is arguably an artform, and in many places occupies a more privileged space.

The problem for brands that find themselves the subject of one of these accounts is, therefore, exacerbated beyond the now infamous Streisand Effect. Not only is taking action going to draw attention to something you want hidden, it’s going to show you up as being a bad sport. After all, we all remember the primary-school mantra taught by our parents: sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.

Oh, but they will. How then, does a multinational corporation, responsible for the salaries of a hundred thousand employees and the wellbeing of their families, guard against such public humiliation and reputational damage? Sure, you could try “engaging in the dialogue” or “joining the conversation”. Right. And heckling Billy Connolly’s also a good idea.

The answer is disappointingly simple, and despairingly unattainable. You have to take the oxygen away from the fire. Without fuel, fire doth not burn.

The only way to avoid criticism is…not to upset people. Bugger, that’s going to be tough. Just ask the folk over at Gap Towers. Heeding the boundaries of the consumer comfort zone pretty much kills all chance of innovation, development, edgy marketing campaigns, or even fun. I probably wouldn’t be allowed to write this drivel for starters.

So here’s a compromise. Live your brand. Articulate the values you stand for. Proclaim them from every wall of your HQ, post them on every tea-room notice board, bulk out your email signature with the ten things your brand lives by. And then go out and live it. People may not like it. But if you do what you say, they’ll accept, and usually, respect you for it.

But understand this: Living your brand is not your best defence. It’s your only defence.

How good a risk manager are you?

It would make sense for a company’s crisis and risk managers to spend a bit of time talking to each other, perhaps even making an effort to get a rudimentary understanding of the other’s job.

Crisis management is made a lot easier if you can eliminate a lot of things that frankly just shouldn’t be issues in the first place, and I’m a fan of easy because it means I can have holidays. Also, it means your business is probably in better shape if you’re not having successive disasters.

Happily, the product recall experts at Zurich have created an online game to test your skills as risk manager for a manufacturing company – click on the pic below to try your hand:

It’ll take you anywhere from 3-15 minutes depending on how much you want to cheat with Google. Also…if you disagree with the answers, seriously, don’t email me. I didn’t get them all right either.