Norman Ng

Archive for the ‘Communications Strategy’ Category

Branding = Positioning, Positioning, Positioning.

In Communications Strategy, Reputation Management on September 7, 2011 at 11:40

The realtor marketing properties would tell you that it’s all about Location, Location, Location. Drawing reference to that, in PR / MarComm terms, we ought to perceive branding / reputation management in terms of Positioning, Positioning, Positioning of People, Services and Organisation.Get this formula right, and it’s route 66 to the tune of the Forbes / Fortune listings.

Why is this important? Because you’ve giving potential stakeholders good opportunities to deeply understand what you represent, and to what extent you can deliver their specific needs, focusing your persuasion at every nook and cranny, from your People, your Services, and your Organisation. So here’s the beef:

“Service” Positioning – I think the key question here on a client’s mind is,”will it work?” Remember, stakeholders and pitching their resources in the open, looking for the best bang for the buck, so your services must, in no uncertain terms, convince them on why you are Faster, Better or Cheaper, as compared to your competitors. Give them a comparison, help them make objective decisions. If you can provide technical specification variances, good. If you can get other client endorsement, better still, since a majority of people believe more in 3rd party endorsement rather than advertising. I love BLENDTEC‘s “Will It Blend” series of viral social media videos on its shocking blending prowess – from golf balls to iPads (RIP). I’m 100% persuaded of its functionality. No doubt. Therefore, in service positioning, its all about the efficiency / effectiveness model, use the Faster, Cheaper, Better pitch, it’s likely to get you quite a fair mileage on persuasion points.

“People” Positioning – Credibility is key, because stakeholders need to know whether you’ve the right level of expertise and knowledge and skills to manage their issues / challenges. And we’re not talking merely about what academic / employment histories you have, but rather, how have you solved challenges in the past? Stakeholders want to be confident about you as a credible choice, they want to know if you can give them the “Aha” moments.

So having an Ivy League degree may sound good, working for Fortune 500 companies starts to raise eyebrows, but converting $20,000 in startup capital to annual revenues exceeding half a billion, from selling household water filters to present day global environmental solutions from Algeria to India is another. The lattermost case is none other than Hyflux Ltd. It says Olivia Lum, its CEO turn companies around, it says she bring value to shareholders, it screams CREDIBILITY. So the next time you assemble a team of folks to snag that $100 million contract, don’t forget to put your people first, share how they have, and can deliver value to stakeholders.

“Organizational” Positioning: Lastly, organisation. This point articulates the “integrative” elements of your organisation which combines the human talent / expertise, and professional service capabilities, all under one roof. It about giving stakeholders good reasons to form perceptions that you are a reliable partner of choice, because you harness the ability to synchronise your value proposition and resources that best delivers their needs. Again, endorsements are always good persuasion elements. Whether its former customers or employees, it adds up to a more compelling picture that you are indeed the right choice.

Branding is a thoroughly fundamental issue. Stakeholders are on the constant lookout for solutions that most effectively / efficient gets the job done. And by incorporating the 3 Positioning strategies on People, Services and Organization, you too, can reap the rewards of favorable brand equity and corporate reputation.


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


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.

4 Lessons on Communications Strategies from the Arab Spring

In Communications Strategy, Reputation Management, Social Media on July 15, 2011 at 06:22

We use Facebook to schedule the protests, Twitter to coordinate, and YouTube to tell the world” – This sums up the relentless wave of protest that has shook the Arab region over 15 countries in an unprecedented level of visibility, awareness and co-ordinated protests. Here are 4 lessons on Communications Strategy to pay close attention to:

1. Embrace Social Media 

The Arab States are not exactly known for the best IT infrastructures, but it certainly did not stop social media traffic in these countries from generating widespread awareness and invoke participation in these protests through social media. So should enterprises clamp down on social media communications at work? Sure…go ahead. An unhappy staff = an unhappy staff, period. He / she is going to blog, tweek, facebook update their gripes through their mobiles anyway. So instead of pulling the plugs on social media communications altogether, embrace it, and be actively involved in helping to co-create an environment of responsible, respectful participation in social media.

2. Engage Internal Audiences 

Give internal communications and engagement 110% effort. Listen carefully, get every nugget of info on sentiments and sense make, addressing it in timely manner before it boils. In this case, broaden internal communications monitoring and engagement to new / social media platforms, because chances are, if they’re unhappy, they aren’t going to take their complaints to PR / management, but give a good show and tell through social media. So listen well, because an unhappy employee can, and will kill your reputation through social media. Therefore, establish a defensive baseline level internal communication strategies to respond and engage them early.

3. Incubate Brand Ambassadors

Ok, suppose your baseline engagement / internal communication strategies are developed, but lets face it, you’re always going to have external opposers of your enterprises. And some of them can build armies, swarming your reputation with bad external publicity, negative remarks online etc. Hence it’s essential that you have a strategy to start the charm offensive, albeit through 3rd party endorsement / peer recommendations. Therefore, it’s absolutely important for any MarComm / PR department worth its salt to augment this strategy, because over 90% of people trust peer recommendations. And what you want to engender are effective engagement, to turn employees / external supporters into “brand ambassadors”, to share and celebrate stories about positive experiences. So when crisis strikes, your reputation can withstand a stock plunge, because the goodwill and credibility built up by your “brand ambassadors” would have been stockpiled to absorb shocks.

4. Think Global, Act Local

Macro / micro socio-economic events and issues will impact your enterprise. Because when a tsumani of bad news strikes, it will hit you hard, as in the case of the momentum of anti-establishment protests spreading from Tunisia to 15 other countries. Hence, have in place a crisis communications strategy to execution – from employing media monitoring tools , to SOPs in dealing with social media negative sentiments, and having management interventions at the local enterprise level.

So what does this post really tell us? If your enterprise PR / Marketing Communications entities are still drumming up the beat, that its worth spending $10 million on advertising campaigns, you might consider getting that ticket to outer space which Sir Richard Branson’s company is marketing, so as to avoid the onslaught. Because the communications landscape is changing. Social Media communications has the propensity to bring enterprises, and for that matter in the Arab Spring – Governments to their knees, what more for enterprises?

Therefore, it is imperative to focus on Communications Strategies – from internal / external communications, to crisis communications as a fundamental building block to ensure an enterprise is ready, and capable to deal with increasing reputation risks with the prominence of social media in communications.

Begin preparing, because the next Arab Spring might gain digital momentum, and land straight at your enterprise’s doorsteps. Good luck!

Norman Ng

References: Link 1, Link 2

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