Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ 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.

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.

Hit or Miss? BBC rewrites EastEnders ‘cot death’ story after outcry – PR Week 14/01/11

Our very own Peter Roberts, Senior Associate Director, issues and crisis management team (and a former BBC head of comms) provided his view on the recent story line change on this popular UK soap for our weekly PR trade title PR Week:

“Television’s so-called delicate issues, which includes mental health and sexual abuse is a real challenge for primetime programme makers; do them well and you’re demonstrating your public service credentials; do them badly, you’re a crass ratings chaser. I’m quite certain much consideration was given to the current storyline, but  the producers appear to have miscalculated the collective strength of feeling, which on a consolatory point is a testament to the programme’s high regard among its audience.

Clearly, it demonstrates maturity to listen to the views of your audience – and the BBC has demonstrated great progress in this regard, but it’s one thing to listen, but another to alter your story lines. In the short-term, the programme has enjoyed the extensive coverage and debate that comes with controversy, but I fear that the Eastenders  response may have set a precedent for other groups to have a disproportionate influence on their future content.”

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.

Are you using social media to help with your product recall planning?

Here at Issues & Crisis Management central we’ve got a bit of a focus on product recalls at the minute, but so far haven’t looked at the adoption of social media as a communication tool that’s useful for this kind of challenge.

Fortunately, while we’ve been napping the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) has been on the job, according to this story on

As the ACCC sees it, social media is now trumping the daily newspaper advertisement as the single-most effective communication tool for advising consumers of a product recall, due largely to the expansion of broadband internet access across populations.

This is probably more true for countries with a fairly well-established broadband infrastructure, although the combination of growing mobile networks and increasing uptake of mobile web browsing point to a similar status quo emerging in markets without the cable infrastructure.

For those readers looking for a few tips, there’s a very informative, if long, video right here at SmartBlog that you can look at. Alternatively, try on the five pointers below for a quick 101:

  1. Use social media as an extension of your other product recall communication efforts. Avoid the trap of thinking you need a different message for your internet audience – at the end of the internet is the same consumer who used to read the newspaper. Usually.
  2. Be thoughtful about the detail you provide. There are usually regulatory requirements for product recall information – make sure you meet the relevant local regulations. But try to enhance the information by being as specific as possible – the more information you can provide, the fewer actual products you’ll have to get back, and the clearer the message to consumers will be.
  3. Use visuals. In the internet age none of us has the attention span for a great slab of information. If this blog post wasn’t so important you’d have already stopped reading.
  4. Support your consumer care phone line with an online option. If you’re short on staff, a web-based FAQ may be the best you can come up with – it’s not ideal, but it’s better than nothing. Try to dedicate some resources to managing electronic enquiries though; it’s the way of the future so you may as well start getting used to it now. And remember that the internet works 24/7…
  5. Don’t get into a discussion about the recall online. If an individual consumer has individual concerns, try to give them a more personal hearing – phone’s usually your best option. Every consumer’s concerns are valid, but during a recall your priority has to be the well-being of a bigger population, and that usually means shuffling individual complaints into a linked, but ultimately different system. If appropriate, add similar questions to your FAQ once you’ve satisfactorily resolved the consumer’s concerns. Just make sure you don’t cut them off.

Managing product recall risk: retail channel

How closely is your business’s communication department tied into your reseller or retail network? If the answer is “not very” or similar then you’re likely to find yourself up against it in the event of a product recall.

Effective recalls depend on clear communication to stakeholders, and a committed effort by retailers to remove affected product from shelves as quickly as possible is the most visible example of this in action. But proper planning for a recall extends beyond just clearing shelves.

  • Careful monitoring of customer complaints to identify any possible product safety issues. If you have a product issue that hasn’t been picked up through your usual quality assurance/control processes, chances are the first you’ll hear of it is when the consumer complaints start getting back to you. Making sure that you have systematic monitoring of complaints helps identify potential issues much more quickly, which means you can intervene earlier, with better outcomes for both consumers and your business. It’s easier and cheaper to recall one hundred units of something than it is to recall a thousand.
  • Well prepared and rehearsed recall and crisis communications plan. Yes, obviously I’m going to say this because I work in crisis communication. The thing is, that doesn’t make the point any less relevant. Having worked on numerous recalls (and a number of near misses), on both sides of the world, I can tell you first-hand that the thing that makes the biggest difference is working with a team of people who know what they’re doing. That means having a plan, and knowing how to use it.
  • Suppliers/manufacturers should have responsibility for taking out recall insurance. Recalls are expensive things, and no-one ever wants to have one, so it’s a really good idea to cover yourself for the possibility that one day you’re going to have to stump for some kind of product recall. There are expenses at literally every step and the costs can mount quickly. Seriously, you have car insurance, home insurance, health insurance…why wouldn’t you do this as well?
  • Strict security measures at retail level to minimise product tampering risk. While we’d all like to believe the best of people, the fact remains that sometimes people tamper with products, and they do it for all manner of reasons. Part of the defence against this comes down to the security measures taken by retailers. It’s also helpful for ruling out actual tampering in cases where consumers have tried to fraudulently claim a product had an issue. I’ve worked at least two recall cases where store CCTV helped police identify a tampering or fraud suspect, averting the need for an actual recall.

If you’ve already had a go at playing Zurich’s risk management game, go back and see how you do now we’ve given you some of the answers (and yes, we have).

Tim Luckett talks recall and reputation with Communication World

As our regular readers would be aware, our unofficial theme of the month is product recall communication.Coincidentally, US-based industry magazine, Communication World, has featured an opionion piece on this topic, by our very own Lead Counsel for issues and crisis management, Tim Luckett.

If you’re a subscriber to CW you should definitely check it out because there’s a whole special feature on crisis management that’s worth at least two morning commutes. However if you’re not signed up, you could always try this version over at All Business.

Managing product recall risk: consumers

Following on from last week’s post featuring Zurich’s online product recall risk management game, we thought (based on some fairly shirty feedback from an individual with a disappointingly low score) that we’d provide some additional information that may be helpful.

There are five stages in the game, which correspond with stages in the manufacturing-consumption process, each with a series of risks that you need to categorise. The different stages are: Manufacturing, Packaging, Distribution, Retail and Consumer. Since most people working in PR are looking at the relationship with consumers, we’ll start there and work backwards over the next few posts. Read the rest of this entry »

The three Rs of product recall communication

It’s been a long time between drinks here on our team blog. Largely due to the fairly annoying nature of proper crises coming up at those incredibly inconvenient times and making me focus again on my day job. Also, I have just been on holiday, so now that I’m recharged with a full dose of melanin, we’re back and raring to go.

Way back in June I attended the airmic 2010 annual conference, which sees risk managers join with insurers and other like-minded types to talk about all things risk. I was invited to attend by our friends from Zurich Financial Services, as they launched their new Product Safety and Recall Insurance offer to the UK market. Read the rest of this entry »

Good crisis management depends on getting PR 101 right

My grandmother was the first person to explain to me how crisis PR works.

When I was four years old I broke one of her dinner plates. I didn’t think she’d find out. But she did, and when she did, Grandma asked me if I’d done it. “No Grandma.” Of course, she knew I was lying, and she taught me the first lesson of good crisis management.

Own up.

When I was seven, I broke her crystal punch bowl. Lip trembling, evidence in hand, I presented myself to her ready for punishment to ensue. I owned up. Grandma asked me how I felt. “Bad.” And then the second lesson of crisis management: was there anything I wanted to say?

“I’m sorry.”

Four years later, aged 11, a game of indoor cricket ended with the world’s ugliest porcelain cat losing an ear to a cover drive. Once again, I presented myself to Grandma: “I’m sorry Grandma, I broke your cat.”

She handed me a tube of glue, and the third lesson of crisis management:

“Well, then you’d better get to work and fix it.”

Own up. Say you’re sorry. Fix the problem.

I’m on a bit of a soapbox lately about what PR actually is, because from a crisis management perspective the accuracy of the definition does actually change the behaviour of management. Do we want to fix the problem, or look like we’re fixing it? Tip: if the word Enron means anything to you, you should probably aim for the first option.

For the purpose of this post, since most crisis management is more concerned with fixing stuff than with parties and press junkets, I’m going to use this definition from the Public Relations Society of America.

“Public relations helps an organization and its publics adapt mutually to each other.”

Actually, that’s a bit clunky, so I’m going to tweak it to read: public relations helps and organisation build and maintain mutually beneficial relationships with its publics.

Mutually beneficial relationships are built on trust and respect for each other. Demonstrating responsibility for our actions and a commitment to doing the right thing – that’s how organisations build trust with their stakeholders. And in turn, when something does inevitably go pear-shaped, stakeholders will trust us to make it right.

So for organisations with a crisis on their hands, I’d like to pose three questions to help keep management honest:

  • How are my stakeholders being negatively affected by what’s happening?
  • What can I do to rectify that situation?
  • How can I best communicate my actions to my stakeholders?

I’d like to think that at least one of this year’s high profile crises could have been averted, if only the bosses had listened to my Grandma.