Norman Ng

Archive for the ‘Crisis Communications’ Category

Turning a PR Crisis to Your Advantage

In Crisis Communications, Public Relations on September 14, 2011 at 22:15

David Conner, CEO, OCBC. Photo: Bloomberg

It’s a war, everytime a PR crisis strikes, we’re scrambling on a loss minimization mode on the enterprise’s reputation. But one company seemed to successfully turned a catastrophic incident to strengthen positive portrayals.

That company refers to OCBC, Singapore’s 2nd largest lender which deployed a full scale media outreach campaign to inform stakeholders on a 4 hour glitch on its systems, causing massive service disruptions.

I particularly like the fact that mass SMSes were sent out with messages from David Conner, CEO of OCBC, stating “Many customers were inconvenienced, for which I sincerely apologise. At the same time, many of our customers were patient and understanding, for which I am deeply grateful”. This is where good leadership and responsive communications plays a role to arrest reputation downside risks in such a crisis. Something which I mentioned enterprises ought to have, such as in the SMRT Crisis in previous posts, and hot on the heels of similar glitches by the DBS.

This incident exudes control, sincerity and professionalism on OCBC. It’s heartening to know that they even enlisted the media  to broadcast messages on the glitches. So instead of the media lynching them, they leveraged on them as partners instead of adversaries.

All in all, a positive case study, turning adversity into good opportunity. Kudos to OCBC.


Why Its Hard To Say The Truth

In Crisis Communications, Public Relations on September 8, 2011 at 17:27

Thomas Friedman, 3x Pulitzer recipient recently wrote an op-ed column in the NYT on “The Whole Truth and Nothing But“. He reflected that democracies, economies and nation building are failing because political leaders have lied to the world. From the Libya revolt, Eurozone crash, and debt ridden USA, all the have in common are leadership which have failed to convey hard truths.

It’s amazing how I’m starting to witness new terms that are prominently featured, from “we’re in technical recessions..but its not a recession – actually”, or even this,”we are starting to see a glimmer on the long road to recovery”…tell me something new – Please.

Why is it so hard to dish out the dirt and entire truth? Why on the sugar coatings? Why is it so hard to manage good public relations and crisis communications?

Fear of Reprisals: It’s never comfortable to be in the spotlight, particularly if you’re breaking the bad news. Because people naturally want to find scapegoats to bash, people need to release all the pent up negative energies on issues. From the onset that bad news breaks out, its viral, its contagious and its going to hit you in a relentless torrent of punches. So naturally, it’s never “bad news”…it’s “issues of some concern….”, it’s “on our radar, and working on it”….they’re going to lose their jobs, protesters will mass against you, even your dog will begin to snap at you…Whatever the case, we all KNOW it’s bad news when some senior management folk starts to mention such issues. So be warned.

Senseless Pride: No one wants anything bad to occur on their watch. Jobs should be created, children should be educated, the old folks should be adequately taken care of, all in their watch. But when 9/11 strikes or a tsunami / nuclear crisis hits, man made vs. natural catastrophies, tough and real decisions need to be done. It’s a question of whether you want to be remembered for all the good things, or for doing the right things. So when tax cuts prevailed during the Bush administration in the midst of two wars, it’s a cowboy swinging a lasso in the high hollywood sun with senseless pride. How in the world do you string in a war on terrorism with tax cuts? Amazing. So fast forward, the Obama administration has the unpleasant but necessary task to tell the world, in timely fashion on what the truth is, on what it really takes to get things in order. Because on the 10th anniversary of 9/11, we are on the verge of a very new world order, with developed economies at the brink of drowning in depth, calamity and senseless pride.

Confidence on Capabilities: Lastly, in a less negative way, are that some leaders believe that they can turn things around, the confidence that their team, their resources and collective action can bring relief towards crisis issues. “You can take your time, but time is running out…” We all wish to live in a perfect economy and society, but in reality, its far from perfect. Therein exist the constant pressure for issues in society and economies to be addressed instantaneously. Doesn’t help that the way we are educated and informed are just as instantaneous.So the pressure’s live, and it’s boiling every second you’re reading this sentence. Leaders, administrators, need to learn how to let it go.There’s only this much we can do today, in the present. So it’s important to calibrate our confidence and there are limits to our immediate capabilities.

There are issues that will take generations to solve, of course, the action processes can start today, starting with us, but leaders will have to pass on this flag of responsibility to our children, and our children’s children. There’s only this much we can do today, in the present. So it’s important to calibrate our confidence and there are limits to our immediate capabilities.

It’s the hard truth, isn’t it?

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.


Self Destruction in Crisis Communications

In Crisis Communications, Public Relations on September 4, 2011 at 12:12

It’s every Corp Comm. Director’s nightmare, politics and business is a potent ticking nuclear bomb which Fukushima would pale in comparison. This was the case for the People’s Association (PA) of Singapore which witnessed huge public outcries relating to actions / responses to their “apolitical roles”.

Background – 2 political parties with their respective agendas, both accusing each other of “restricting” activities in each other’s turfs. Caught in the brawl are Town Councils (estate management roles) and PA (social cohesion / racial harmony roles). PA incidentally appoints “Advisors” to their Grassroots Organisations (GROs), and traditionally are the ruling party’s MPs.

Fast forward to Aug 2011. The PA’s Corp Comms. office attempted to convey their rationales for this, with much brouhahas from the public.

Reading the press statement as published by Ooi Hui Mei, Director, Corp & MarComms, PA, I began to see this case as a self destructive case. First, from a reader’s perspective, it looks like a direct u-turn from the non partisan branding and portrayal it has sought to develop for almost 5 decades.

From a corp comms perspective, you NEVER state your positions without giving full context. This is a politically charged issue, and we expect a 4 para statement to give your stakeholders full perspective and effectively convey your enterprises’s position? Aptly, it’s akin to writing your own will….self destruct in 5 seconds.

What could have been done better? First, when faced with comms crisis, assess what your current positioning, portrayal and stakeholders perceptions are. So your ground sensing, media monitoring systems are critical components in an enterprise’s corp comms that it worth its salt. Because whatever you convey during crisis comms should take alignment from what’s you branding currently is. Period.

Second, explain the change. Give context to the delta, on why the enterprise has shifted its positioning, relative to current sentiments, perceptions. Try fitting it in 1 paragraph. It will never make the cut. Nothing short of a CEO fronting a press conference. This is when leadership is essential. There are times when a CEO needs to intervene, and this is it. Because it rocks to very foundations of the purpose and existence of the enterprise.

Third, integrate communications & operations functions. If I were the Corp Comms Director of PA, I would spread my tentacles into every nook and cranny of daily opertions and make an assessment on their impacts to the organisation’s branding / public perception, and put a roadblock in front of it. So integrated operations, and internal communications in this case is absolutely essential, as a preventive measure to possibly avoid this case altogether.

So the next time a crisis strikes, we now know that the all-too-convenient and fast route to churn out e statements / press releases may just accelerate your corporate’s doom.

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

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