Norman Ng

Archive for August, 2011|Monthly archive page

Firing Blanks Through Corporate Social Responsibility

In Communications Strategy, Public Relations on August 25, 2011 at 10:17

Enterprises are spending good resources on ineffective CSR efforts, an ineffective approach that does little in driving up their triple bottom lines.

In today’s communication climate where information is porous, I got the vibes that many enterprises and governments are perceiving CSR as a means to achieve favourable reputations and stakeholder support. From tree planting efforts, painting walls of an old schoolhouse, to even walking on tightropes to solicit public contributions for “social causes”.

In fact, I personally recalled back in 2008, a senior management official asked other team members of their Ministry should commence a CSR movement, since many enterprises have adopted it..and it could go good to PR efforts. I think its all corporate bull. Spending time, effort and financial resources (to the tune of millions) is not going to get out of the hot soup when a crisis strikes, and certainly no hoards of PR brownie points will help. Take for instance, the SMRT security breach. It spent over $3 million in cash contributions and sponsorships such as in media space and corporate gift, and that was in 2006 by the way. Any public goodwill? Quite unheard of…you get my point.

So is it totally irrelevant? Not so. I think CSR has a place, but solely as  a “hygiene” factor (in Herzberg’s 2 factor theory). It should be seen as a useful approach towards self-regulation in an enterprise’s business model, preventing dissatisfaction or adverse repercussions on society, stakeholders, environment etc. And not as a high publicity, razzle-dazzle activity to get attention and cookie points.

So the next time when PR / Marcomm comes a knockin on the CEO’s door and says,”Lets do some good with CSR!” you ought to pray good money and time are not wasted.


When Bad News Strikes

In Communications Strategy, Crisis Communications, Reputation Management on August 24, 2011 at 15:47

Pro-active Leadership, Situational Control & Timely Information

are critical strategies to avert a major PR crisis. Evidently so when news broke out on 17th August 2011 that an SMRT train was vandalised, the second such incident in two years.

Here’s the beef. In broad crisis comms. speak, we commonly advocate that enterprises be the first to communicate to their stakeholders when bad news strikes. And it certainly was the case for SMRT which published anews release on its website on the very day the incident was discovered. In fact, full credits for evenupdating their statements on the next day when more information was verified. Great level of transparency – a good practice for enterprises to learn from.

But this did little to stop the public and media onslaught that swarmed SMRT. In fact, almost a week later, its CEO Saw Phaik Hwa gave a press statement, with press headlines stating,”We Cannot Have Another Incident”, and “SMRT takes full responsibility”.Does the CEO’s intervention and leadership at this juncture help? To me, its never too late. Although if I were SMRT’s stakeholders, I would have appreciated the news came to me much faster. I would have convened a press conference immediately, chaired none other than the CEO herself to break the news.

I would have said IMMEDIATELY that “the buck stops with SMRT.” In social media terms, the sentiments can swing very drastically by the minute. So therefore, timely information and active leadership is essential. In this circumstance, they are inseparable.

So I suggest this takes precedence over the crafting of some formal looking news / press release. How many people actually read it? How fast does it reach your audience? Yes, you might be the first to break the news, but if no one reads it, shift your focal effort towards your most effective channels. In fact, it would be really bold and interesting if SMRT played on the train stations, posted on their social media sites too.

Suicidal? Unlikely, because facts are facts, the incident has occured, what you want to do is to take situational control to influence perceptions towards “Folks, an incident happended, we take full immediate responsibility while investigations are ongoing…as we speak, patrols have increased, all security checkpoints are doubled etc…” long before stakeholder can utter the sentence “why did it happen again?”. Granted, you can never take control of what’s said or how sentiments will fully play out. But it really is about positioning.

Hence, active leadership, situational control and timely information release are essential strategies to apply during crisis communications. Enterprises need to relook at how to redefine their processes in this new communications landscape – on how information reaches their audience, in which manner, how fast, how clearly etc.

To me, this incident, SMRT followed every step of the book quite clearly. But no one mentioned that this book is rather dated…happy commuting everyone

Can We Tweet Out Of A Crisis?

In Crisis Communications, Reputation Management, Social Media on August 24, 2011 at 14:33

Social Media Communications helps to Avert PR Crisis

Apparently, that was what the DBS and POSBank in Singapore attempted when their ATM machines crashed in July 2010. Reported, as part of its social media strategy to reach out to customers, it leveraged on Twitter to point customers to its website for updates on the issue and was retweeted more than 200 times.

Mission Accomplished? Did DBS / POSBank really “Tweeted” their way our of a crisis? As an engagement campaign to be the first to break bad news, straight from the horses mouth – They deserve full credits. More so for using social media because of its immediacy and mobility. Because when a bad news strikes, its best your stakeholders hear it directly from you, not from the media, not from the grapevine, and certainly not from your competitors.

But I don’t think a crisis was ever averted. In fact, the breakdown was widely publicised and broadcasted, and certainly not excluding forums and blog postings (which are still online). Unfortunately, all you PR / social media evangelists for enterprises who hope Twitter will save the day, in Discovery Channel’s Myth Buster’s terms – This is Busted”.

Nevertheless, hope is not lost. Twitter, like many other social media tools, ought to be framed as means to an end. It is a tool to tell your audience,”Folks, we’re in control of the situation, this is what has happended…we are doing this now…and the buck stops here”. Best still, have a head honcho announce it face-to-face, directly to the press etc. And leverage on social media tools to get it viral.

If DBS / POSBank had shown to the world that it was rolling up its sleeves, boots on the ground, the outcome would probably be much more different. It would possible be read as “DBS means business – it is in control, it is arresting the situation, we feel safe that this is an isolated incident”.

* This article is in response to an editorial titled “Tweet Your Way Out of a Crisis” – Digital Life, The Straits Times, 24th Aug 2011

3 Social Media Syndrome That Will Kill Your Reputation (& Job)

In Public Relations, Reputation Management, Social Media on August 24, 2011 at 12:35

Last month I had the opportunity to speak at The McGraw-Hill Companies on Social Media Branding. And one part of my topic focused on the pitfalls of social media communications. From this, I highlighted 3 “syndromes” that have cost enterprises serious erosions of financial capital, and also the jobs of some employees. Here are some of the syndromes:

1. Split Personality Syndrome: Where an enterprise’s public relation communications starkly differs from its actions. Take the infamous case of United Airlines, where a disgrunted passenger took his unhappiness over poor baggage handling and indifference from the airlines on compensating him on his guitar that was damaged by the airlines. This passenger, who was also a performing artist, made a youtube video that was a No. 1 hit with viewership exceeding 10 million and 50,000 likes. Cost of guitar = $3,500. Cost of Uniter Airlines stock devaluation over 4 days, reportedly due to the incident = $180 Million.

So enterprises should exercise extreme caution when your MarComm / PR folks start ringing the tune of “lets do facebook, youtube, twitter! most Fortune 500 companies are already on it!” Because the enterprise had better get its crisis communications strategy integrated and be ready to respond should a social media crisis occur.

2. Trigger Happy Syndrome: Here’s when muscle memory takes over common sense. A college student tweeted the following,”Cisco just offered me a job! Now I have to weigh the utility of a fatty paycheck against the daily commute to San Jose and hating the work”. Needless to say, she got fired even before starting work.

Think about the repercussions, whether you’re an enterprise / employee, especially so when you’re leveraging in Social Media. Because in this example, it clearly demonstrates how the globally interconnected community could pin you down before you can finish reading this sentence. Social media grants us instantaneous communications – but this too, could lead to our downfall. So think carefully, before you type in that 140 character on twitter.

3. Stereoscopic Syndrome: Where too much “insights” into your personal life is put online. Take for instance Kevin Colvin, an intern from Anglo Irish Bank. A reported family emergency required him to take leave of absence, only to find him on facebook during that “family emergency”, with a Halloween costume, beer in hand of course.

So employees, beware of the common ills of social media, after all “its not whether you find social media….but social media will find you…”


In Communications Strategy, Public Relations on August 5, 2011 at 15:37

Disney and Mickey Mouse still remains relevant today – including to over 160 milliondisney related groups on facebook. This article explores how innovation in communications strategy can give enterprises that magical kingdom’s touch.

3 things enterprises pray will not happen – Competitive takeovers, shareholders dissatisfaction, and board members waging war. This was what exactly Bob Iger, CEO of Disney, witnesses in his tenure. Yet in his helm, Bob brought supernormal shareholder returns, and successfully manages to innovate the iconic Mickey Mouse, aged 83 this year, to hundreds of millions worldwide.

Some key leadership & communication strategy pointers that enterprises can learn from Disney in staying connected and relevant to their target audiences:


1. Technology is a Friend, not a Foe

Bob reverse the climate in Disney which viewed technology as a threat, rather than see its many opportunities, they moved on, with the principal of “respecting tradition, but making sure that it continues to evolve”. Relating to enterprises, we’ve heard this debate countless times, “Should our government department / private enterprise use facebook? twittter? etc…”. More importantly, we should ask ourselves if the safe, conventional approaches in approaching technology has adequately rewarded stakeholders, staff and clients? Could we have been more innovative in the process? Innovation, and a calibrated adoption of technology and communications are essential ingredients for enterprises to stay relevant. Yet adopting social media is merely half the answer. Just like any team sports such as soccer, having players as “execution tools” are just as important as having a game plan (strategies), therefore, continued effort must be put in to invest towards a coherent, integrated and sustainable communications campaigns.

2. Don’t Be Afraid to Fail

Bob mentions that many of Disney’s business decisions are creativity-based, there’s bound to be a fair amount of failure. They don’t wallow in failure, but they move on. Enterprises / government agencies have near zero zero tolerance for errors and failures. This is unrealistic. While not everyone is in the creative industry which may have higher tolerance for failures, the point is to start accepting “reasonable” levels of trail and errors, honest mistakes. I’ve witnessed enterprises jumping at every negative comment online, requiring large board / director meetings, with Corp Comms / PR directors apprising everyone on the “situation”. It’s ok to fail sometimes, stakeholders want to know that enterprises don’t loose sight of the forest just because of a tree. So if there’s public whipping onlines on your enterprise regarding honest, unintended mistakes, have the moral courage to tell management that some mistakes were made, but it does not require intervention by the PR / Corp Comms folks to avert a reputation crisis.

3. Adapt to Divergent Audiences

While I was a tad disappointed that Disney’s upcoming theme park in Shanghai was not going to feature the traditional Main Street USA walk (awesome memories there with my wife), I applaude the move. Disney recognised the need to reflect local cultures – avoiding cultural imperialism. So in enterprise communication strategies, never take a cookie cutter approach, blindly adopting what every other media savvy enterprise are doing – have a facebook page, roll out youtube channels etc. The fundamental question is – what are your audiences like? Who are they, what are their cultural / local behaviours like? You’re not going to penetrate the market and engage audiences if you have not done your homework. So spend good efforts in consumer / audience behaviours. Adopt social media monitoring and analysis, and then, decide if employing technology / social media communications is effective. Augment, and adapt different communication mediums to different audiences. That’s how mickey mouse engages differently, where Disney’s CEO engages mummy bloggers, and chinese audiences now. Disney adapts to them.

Disney’s road to its current success was not easy, it took risks, guts and gumption. But enterprises too can replicate their successsful strategies in continually engaging stakeholders and audiences – Know your audience, be prepared to take risks and make mistake. Because reputation building, and shaping the perceptions and experiences of stakeholders don’t come overnight. Above all, it takes adaptable, measured communication strategies to steer a big ship like Disney over to the shores of Shanghai.

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