Norman Ng

Archive for the ‘Reputation Management’ 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.


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.


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…”

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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