Norman Ng

Of Leadership Presence & Control in Public Relations

In Crisis Communications, Public Relations, Reputation Management on September 4, 2011 at 23:15

Timely intervention by leaders towards corporate communications can help improve an enterprise’s branding and reputation.

But lets face it, we’ve heard the all to familiar “you’re paid to do the job, so get it done…” So chances are, its quite rare for C-Suites to actually be the public front in corp. communications, and PR / Corp Comm spokespersons are likely the ones who will tow the corporate line. Notwithstanding, senior management can play active roles in PR / Corp Comms.

Masataka Shimizu, Tepco President (Former)

The Fukushima Nuclear Disaster is an interesting case in point of both hits and misses. Hidehiko Nishiyama, Deputy Director General of the Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency (NISA) of Japan, was credited with sustaining public engagement regarding the nuclear crisis. A commendable leadership effort indeed. Of course, this was overshadowed  that the damaged plant’s operators, Tokyo Electric Power Company’s (TEPCO) president was not visible in the 2 weeks after the incident, reportedly due to health reasons. Nor did it help that he resigned on May 2011, 2 months into the crisis. Neither did their blue industrial trench coats helped to show they were actively managing the crisis.

Regardless of which, this incident demonstrates that in times of crises, all eyes are on the head honchos. Because not only do the public look for a target board to shoot, but at the same time seek to assess the level of control in managing these crises.

Therefore, this certainly calls for leadership intervention in public communications. Because by the mere presence of top leadership in these precarious situations says,”ok…we may have screwed up, but we’re gonna roll up our sleeves and get the job done. Well, as least from a visual standpoint! Take Barack Obama for instance, whenever a tough policy / issue comes into question, all to often, you’ll see him rolling up his sleeves, literally! What does it say, leadership is at the forefront. It says,”I’ve got boots on the ground, rolling up my sleeves to get down and dirty…” It screams “Control”.But whether / not his policies have actually made headways is another issue altogether.

That said, It’s important for PR / crisis comms. situation that enterprises employ a “cascading effect” to time and insert leadership presence at various standpoints. For instance, in the case of the nuclear crisis, the Prime Minister could give the first shot out to convey the government’s strategy and position  over the issue. Next, at the ground tactical / operational level,TEPCO’s president and NISA’s chief could corroborate and convey their plans in alignment to the prime minister’s over-arching strategy. So the press would take dressing from these 3 honchos, while occasionally, spring up a few operational gurus to share deeper perspectives and updates on the issue.

So indeed, the tides have shifted. Stakeholders now ought to demand C-Suites that they’ve invested into the company, paid them salaries to get the job done…and moving forward to give answers as to how they are going to manage situations.



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