Archive for the ‘sustainability’ Category

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.

Recession recovery poses crisis management risks for industry

On the weekend I wrote a post for our new Energy & Industrials team blog, titled Habitual behaviours force shippers and miners into crisis management mode.

The basis for the post was the correlation between:

 “…two seemingly unconnected events…25 people were killed in a West Virgina mine exposion [and] a Chinese coal carrier ran aground on the Great Barrier Reef…I say ’seemingly unconnected’ because geographically the two events are about as far apart as you get. The respective industries are also unrelated…”

The connection is actually in the habitual behaviours performed by the respective companies, and to learn more about those you should click on the link above and read the original post.

What I’m more interested in here is a quick look at the sheer volume of corporate crises that we’re seeing in 2010. At least four major car makers (Toyota, GM, Honda, Nissan) have had multi-market product recalls. At least two major consumer brands (Nestlé, Unilever) have had issues with palm oil. I’m not even going to touch anything that’s been specifically labelled as a “social media crisis” in this list of examples.

Looking at all of these, the common link is still habitual behaviours. Whether it’s cutting corners on safety or engineering standards, taking short-cuts on voyages to speed up transit times, weakening the supply chain by creating untenable bottle-necks or driving suppliers down to almost margin-less prices, or other unsustainable corporate behaviours…none of these things are “one-offs”. They are all tried and tested behaviours that have become ingrained in an organisation’s culture.

When the global financial crisis hit, many of my clients assumed I was run off my feet with crises. The opposite was true. One or two disasters in a recessionary environment will have a much greater impact on business managers than they would do in the good times. (RM, if you’re reading this, I was still busy!)

In the past 18 months we first saw a deluge of stories about banks’ risk managers being ignored, followed by story after story about careers in risk management being the new black. When the economy is in meltdown and your business is more exposed than ever before, you pull all the stops out to ensure crises just don’t happen. When the revenue tap gets turned back to a trickle, you cut “non-essential” operations – those pesky things like marketing budgets (where’s my ROI???), crisis training (why are we doing this if we haven’t had a crisis in three years???), media monitoring (we’ve cut our marketing, we don’t need to pay for media clips???).

Which is why we now have problems.

After 18 months of hyper-sensitive operational behaviour I think companies have forgotten what it’s like to have to deal with a crisis. Regardless of the growth in social media over the same time, the fundamental principles of good crisis management haven’t changed, but it seems the effective execution of those principles has gathered enough dust to make a real difference. This has been compounded by those bad habits being repeated faster, on a bigger scale, as companies try to trade their way back to the heady days of 2007.

There’s not actually any reason why so many of the high-profile crises of the past six months should have made the headlines to the extent they did.

I expect we’ll see still more high-profile crises rolling out before the end of the year. It should be a good year for crisis management consultants, because for every company in crisis today there are usually three or four who were lucky it wasn’t them. But that’s not good news for shareholders.

Supply chain is your business’s Achilles Heel

Last week I attended the latest Dow Jones Expert Series seminar, and at this point I’m about to lose 90 percent of the visitors who just clicked through from Twitter, because I’m not going to bang on about social media.

When it comes to being in business, your success or failure depends more than anything else on your ability to actually do business. That means having something that a customer wants, and being able to sell that thing at a profit.

If for any reason you’re unable to do that, you have a problem. Assuming for the minute that you have a market that’s happy to pay your price, it’s your “thing” that becomes all important.

Enter the supply chain. Whether you’re making chocolate bars, cosmetics, cars or fighter planes, chances are you have multiple suppliers all providing you with different ingredients or components. If you’re an international business, odds-on that you have international suppliers. And if you’re cost-conscious, I’ll put another each-way bet on the fact at least part of your supply chain is based in Eastern Europe, Africa, Central or South America, or Asia.

Right about now you should be starting to get a little bit squirmy as you realise the exposure your business has to events outside of your control. If not, here’s a tip: civil unrest, terrorism, despotic regimes, earthquakes, floods, tsunamis. Here’s another you may be increasingly familiar with. Ethical sourcing.

Interestingly though, these aren’t your most likely sources of supply chain disruption.

According to Dr Brian Squire from Manchester Business School, around 88 percent of publicly reported supply chain disruptions between 2000 – 2009 were due to human influences. Think user error, industrial dispute, cyber crime, corporate sabotage, ordering the wrong widget…

Even more interesting (I think) is that 40 percent of those were classifiable as “deliberate”. When I say “interesting”, what I really mean is “pretty bloody disturbing”.

I was really impressed with Nick Wildgoose, Global Supply Chain Product Manager, Zurich Financial Services, who also spoke at the event and provided some best-practice insights into identifying, managing and mitigating risks in the supply chain. Here are a few pointers that should be considered when you next review your organisation’s crisis management planning:

  • Is our supply chain likely to be impacted by natural diaster, such as pandemic or earthquake? (Tip: if you’re making stuff in China…yes)
  • Is our supply chain exposed to any single-source issues? (Tip: if you’re sourcing anything from only one supplier at any point, then yes. This is part of the issue with the glut of automotive recalls in 2010)
  • Do we, or any of our suppliers, have issues with trade unions? (Tip: if you have a unionised workforce and you’re in a manufacturing business then…probably)
  • Are we happy with our own, and our suppliers’, business continuity planning? (Tip: you probably shouldn’t be if Zurich’s statistics were anything to go by)
  • Do we have multiple points of contact with our key suppliers, or is our relationship purely transactional? (Tip: if your business is dependent on the survival and performance of another business, it’s probably a good idea to have multiple relationships with that business)

We’ll endeavour to add some further detail to this topic in the coming weeks, but as a starting point I’d strongly suggest asking the hard questions sooner rather than later.

Plug alert: Manchester Business School is conducting further research into supply chain risk and resilience. Please contact Dr Brian Squire if your organisation would be willing to take part.

Nestle, Greenpeace, social media, crisis management, facebook, YouTube, Twitter. PR measurement. Interested?

Prediction: we should see signs of Nestlé’s share price recovering from its latest issue within about 15 days.

Prediction 2: at some point this year, 2010 will be named the Year of the Social Media Crisis. So I’m doing it now just to be the first. (If I’m not the first then please let me know so I can link to that person’s blog and boost my traffic But it didn’t come up on Google today).

Last week Greenpeace kicked off the latest element of its ongoing campaign against the use of non-sustainable palm oil, lining up the cross hairs on Nestlé, and in particular the iconic Kit Kat.

What started out as a fairly run-of-the-mill campaign (Greenpeace has run similar palm oil campaigns in the past), took a bit of a turn when social media gurus jumped on Nestlé’s response to criticisms on the company’s facebook fan page. This was the point at which I started to pay a bit more attention as it was no longer just the Greenpeace campaign that was fuelling the issue (and thanks to fellow H&K blogger Matt Muir for flagging it to me on a Friday afternoon!). Interestingly, the official video in question still only has around 80,000 views on YouTube (sorry folks, one of those is mine).

The problem the company now faces is that the story of its engagement with stakeholders via social media has, as was probably expected by anyone with a facebook account, overtaken the original issue of its sourcing practices, as highlighted by this PR Week story.

Since there are 90,000-odd people out there all with an opinion on that, I’m going to leave that particular debate alone. I’m more interested in what’s happening with the company’s share price, which, as you’d probably expect, has taken a bit of a dip. (Hopefully on Monday our IT wizards – or Matt – can explain to me how I insert that as an actual image – to be updated…).Now updated with actual artwork.

While that’s not wonderful for the company’s shareholders, it’s useful as an in situ case study. As mentioned previously on this blog, good crisis management can have a remarkably positive impact on shareholder value.

The Knight & Pretty study on which that assertion is based shows that companies that recover well from a catastrophe tend to show the start of an upward trend returning to their share price around 10-15 trading days post-disaster (recoverers are the top line):

Figure 4 from Knight & Pretty's "The Impact of Catastrophes on Shareholder Value"

This recovery is largely attributed to the performance of company management in the early stages of the recovery. I think Nestle is the kind of company that will be able to manage its way out of this fairly promptly. However, there are some additional challenges the company will face in getting there (I think):

  1. Getting the facebook thing right will probably involve a bit of sword-falling. But that’s no good unless you mean it (which means there has to be some kind of behaviour change first, before the public perception piece will work).
  2. The marketing sub-set of social media guru-dom will continue to feast on its young, until more tech-savvy marketers take the point of view expressed by @mediaczar (thanks @Matt_Muir yet again). Great example of Twitter as a debate platform. In the meantime, watch the carnage continue.
  3. Institutional investors will remain all over the shop courtesy of having to work out how the economy works again after a global financial crisis. The upturn in value I think will be affected by just how much brokers and analysts value the impact of social media vs. the old fashioned kind.
  4. They’re still going to have to do something about the palm oil. Incidentally, so are thousands of other companies because it’s remarkably pervasive stuff – you wouldn’t believe how much of it’s out there, and ever since we all got scared of trans fats in our diet, palm oil’s been making a comeback in ingredient lists.
  5. Supply-chain scrutiny is going to return to the fore. We’ve not long ago finished Fairtrade Fortnight, when Kit Kats across the world were celebrated for the appearance of the new logo. The ease with which this issue has captured public opinion will, I think, galvanise a lot of other interest groups who have previously struggled with highlighting labour/sourcing/deforestation practices in the past, having another crack.

Time will tell if I manage to fluke at least one of these (or my two predictions). I have a feeling there’ll be a hat eaten at some point this year…

As an adjunct to all of the above, I think communicators/marketers/crisis managers and PR students should spend some time with a PR text book and the Greenpeace website.

Professionally I have a lot of time for the sophistication Greenpeace brings to its campaign activities, because they show all the hallmarks of strategic, issues-led communication campaigning. PR measurement isn’t rocket science (well, only rocket science is really)…point being, if you set your PR or communication objectives properly, measurement becomes a binary thing. Either you achieve your objective, or you don’t. Pretty simple stuff, and yet remarkably difficult to do well – usually because we get side-tracked by things like events, press clippings and “we want to do a viral video”.

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.