Archive for the 'Crisis Management' Category


The right person for the job

The Right Person For the Job Left

Over the years you will have been told that it’s always better to put someone ‘on the frontline’ in front of the media – and this advice is still true. It’s clearly a better choice than a faceless spokesman, and a country mile better than using someone from your news or public relations agency, but let’s be quite clear: ‘frontline’ can mean the boss – but it doesn’t necessarily always need to be.

The Right Person For the Job Right

The right tone, and the person with the right tone, is so much more important than it being the most senior person you can throw at the media.

Recently we’ve seen some awful CEO performances – BP’s chief executive just doesn’t know how to speak ‘American’ – and shouldn’t be allowed to: he doesn’t get that what Britons perceive as a stiff-upper-lip, ‘get on with the job resolve’, can be seen in America as being uncaring. Tony Haywood would need to be blubbing to really touch the cord of deep sorrow that is expected of him presently. That’s something that he probably can’t do.

From a Brit to an American, Mark Zuckerberg is an appalling frontman for Facebook. He’s a geek, born and bred. His geeky humour and track-record of speaking straight from his dorm room instead of his boardroom is not what’s needed from one of the world’s most connected brands; especially when it’s fighting an uphill PR battle against the power privacy lobby.

Given the amount of times that bosses make awful PR gaffes, you’d think that agencies the world over would wise up to the mantra of picking the right person for the right job. Of course, it’s not always the agency that makes this choice – but the top-down ethos that only the most senior person in the organisation can be a viable spokesperson is inappropriate for today’s media landscape.

Think wisely about your message and work with your PR and media agencies to hone a message and a tone that’s appropriate for your audience. Don’t box yourself in to being the lead voice – being the media face of a corporation simply isn’t for everyone, and it’s not even always appropriate for the organisation. A spread of faces who understand their areas of specialism and speak the language of that niche are going to make your communications strategy far easier to manage than a one size fits all approach.

Most importantly – never forget that the time when this strategy will be tested the most is under crisis conditions: so plan right from the beginning to spread the load, control the message and make it appropriate for your audience to avoid the awfulness of saying something, or being heard to say something – whether you meant it or not, that you later regret, and your shareholders regret even more.

Neil Evans is Senior Partner and Creative Director of Vivid London.

Image by Anisha Chandarana, Junior Design Staff at Vivid London.


Video killed the….majority?

Considering that in the weeks before the election the Liberal Democrat Party were lagging severely behind both the then ruling Labour Party and the Conservative Party, it is almost shocking to discover that they are now sitting alongside the Conservative Party in a coalition government. This is despite the fact that they actually lost seats during this election campaign. Somehow Nick Clegg seems to have wormed his way into the nation’s hearts, but how? The answer, that antiquated form of entertainment…the television.

In the US, televised debates between political leaders before an election have been commonplace for many years, but the idea was only recently adopted in the UK. The reason for this was quite simple, the British people were bored and uninspired with their politics. During the 2005 general election, the public’s interest in politics was at an all time low, with less than half the population even bothering to vote. The situation had to be remedied.

So, to revitalise the general public’s interest in politics and rectify the situation, it was decided that for the 2010 general election three televised debates would be set up, each focussing on a key theme, domestic affairs, foreign affairs and economic affairs. To ensure fairness, they would include all three party leaders and be broadcast across the UK’s three major networks, ITV, Sky and the BBC.

As the person representing the party with the lowest majority, Nick Clegg had nothing to lose and everything to gain. So, where David Cameron and Gordon Brown were hesitant or unclear with their opinions, Nick Clegg took a different route, showing remarkable accessibility. Following the first debate, Clegg’s public profile increased enormously, and the Liberal Democrat’s position in the opinion polls skyrocketed, to the extent that some newspapers were predicting a Liberal Democrat victory.

However, as the other debates would show, support for Clegg would eventually wane as the other leaders arguments became stronger. Following the third and final debate, just a week before the election, it appeared that all three parties were within a hairs breath of each other. It was clear this was going to be down to the wire.

In the end, this resulted in a hung parliament, which resolved itself as the Conservative Party (who won the largest amount of seats) and the Liberal Democrats entered into coalition. The televised debates however, had been a massive success. They had succeeded in providing a platform for all the major parties to put their views across directly to the public. The close result bears testament to the fact that a much larger percentage of the UK’s population came out to vote in 2010. It appears the public’s political flame has been reignited, lets hope that continues.


“That was a disaster”

Well, it was his words not mine…. Gordon Brown appears to have today been caught in what must surely be the political cock-up of his premiership. Forget the usual parliamentary skullduggery, no this comes down to a simple mistake, a microphone left on.

When Mr Brown awoke this morning I am willing to bet he had no idea that such a bad day lay before him, and frankly the day began well. When Gordon got to Rochdale, he engaged in a ‘friendly chat’ with some local voters, one of whom was 65 year old retiree Gillian Duffy, a lifelong Labour supporter. She grilled the PM, not unfairly it must be added, on issues such as taxes, pensions and immigration – issues that mattered to her. The debate seemed fair and balanced, with both sides putting forward valid arguments. That is until Gordon Brown departed the scene. Upon setting foot inside his Jaguar campaign car, he immediately labeled the exchange a “disaster”, before going on to launch an angry attack on both Gillian Duffy, labeling her a “bigot”; and his staff, for allowing her to speak to him.

What Gordon Brown evidently did not know is that the lapel microphone he was wearing (which incidently his own party had insisted upon) was still on, and broadcasting exactly what he was saying live and direct to Sky News. Matters weren’t exactly helped when about half an hour later he appeared on BBC Radio 2’s Jeremy Vine Show to talk about the incident, only to not know he was also being filmed. Whilst Brown may have been trying to sound optimistic, the visual showed a defeated, tired and broken figure, clearly frustrated by the day’s events.

As I write this, Mr Brown has just emerged from within Gillian Duffy’s house, possibly after being on his knees begging for forgiveness: after all, this is an election campaign.

I am at least slightly impressed that both he and the Labour party in general have managed to turn this incident around from occurrence to personal visit and apology in under four hours.

That said, he really should have known better. The other candidates, and their parties, will no doubt be watching this with great interest for the obvious political benefit it will give them, but also no doubt be breathing a sigh of relief that they didn’t make the same mistake themselves.

PR Lesson No. 1, Mr Brown – the mic is always on. Yes, you thought you were in private, and yes, you’re entitled to your opinion – but the mic was attached (which your probably by now ex-press secretary should have told you). And when it’s attached, it’s always on – especially if you want to call one of your voters a ‘bigot’.


Can a brand die online?

Nestle and Greenpeace battle it out in a PR scandal that is challenging the ‘David vs. Goliath’ equation

Greenpeace recently released an attack video aimed at Nestlé’s KitKat brand. The video, which shows that Nestlé is all but condoning the destruction of orangutans’ natural habitat, has been a viral hit, causing the company to address an issue it otherwise may not have. Social media is much lauded as an agent of change – but can it affect a change in the typical David and Goliath relationship?

Nestlé are not having a good year, as far as their social media campaigns are concerned. The FMCG producer has recently had to deal with a barrage of criticism over their invitation of several influential “mummy bloggers” to an all-expense paid trip to Nestlé’s HQ. The brand is starting to lose it’s hard-won “mummy” image.

Greenpeace’s spot names and shames Nestlé for using palm oil in the production of its KitKat chocolate bars. Using high-impact pictures to appeal to an eco-conscious public, Greenpeace challenges Nestlé’s choice of Indonesian suppliers, who apparently clear rainforest areas, endangering the natural habitat of orangutans.
The spot is effective: it starts out as you’d imagine a KitKat ad spot would, but quickly turns into a bloodbath. A man opens a KitKat bar, but rips off the bloody finger of an orangutan instead of a finger of chocolate. If that wasn’t enough to discourage consumers, Greenpeace ups the ante with a further clip, showing a KitKat bar plowing through the rainforest, destroying trees and killing orangutans.

Greenpeace, have according to their spokespeople, not unfairly singled out the company. Their discussions with Knorr and Unilever have been fruitful: both companies have stopped using controversial palm oil suppliers. The organisation contests that Nestlé have been dragging their feet on the issue for years – the spot is a ‘last ditch’ attempt to affect a change.

“It’s all about causing pressure,” says spokesperson Björn Jettka.

Nestlé did try to respond to the criticism using the same viral platforms, but failed to understand the nature of that platform. Their response on social media was a link to their press release; hardly an attempt at ‘speaking the language of their users’! 

The brand responded to critcisms on its Facebook page, but the flurry of negativity became all too much. Instead of seeking a superior communications strategy based on the correct tone of voice for the medium, the brand decided to delete critical comments. Rather than using another YouTube video to explain their response (which, on balance, was quite good), the brand focussed on getting the UK version of the Greenpeace viral deleted.

Social media doesn’t seem to be the brand’s forté. Who likes someone that seeks to camouflage negative sentiment to their own advantage? This attack on the freedom of opinion hardly helped their eco-friendly claims.
Big brands are still facing problems adapting their communications to new and developing platforms, especially ones that rely on user engagement. Online marketing isn’t a one-way road. The classic ‘transceiver’ model of marketing is long gone. Only open dialogue can raise a brand’s awareness online – traditional marketing cannot be directly transferred to an online audience without significant ‘translation’.

Brands have a real problem reacting to online criticism; a danger with any engagement campaign. Brands will need to add digital natives to their teams, if they want to strategically influence their consumers online.

Luisa Keuler


Banning your spokespeople from direct engagement: What football needs to learn

Manchester United, the world’s largest and most financially successful football club, has come under fire in recent weeks for tightening its public relations policy, particularly in regard to direct player/media relations. In real-world terms, this basically means that as a club, Manchester United are restricting, or completely eradicating their players’ social media activity.

Wayne Rooney, Ryan Giggs and Darren Fletcher all had high profile and regularly active Twitter accounts, and whilst nothing particularly revelatory was gleaned from these by the worlds media, they were nevertheless shut down.

Manchester United even went as far as drafting a statement that simply read:

 “The club wishes to make it clear that no Manchester United players maintain personal profiles on social networking websites. Fans encountering any web pages purporting to be written by United players should treat them with extreme scepticism.”

This only added to the suspicion that the club itself had acted to restrict its own players freewill. Of course, at this point it must be asked – What spooked Manchester United enough to carry out this rather extreme action?

The answer to that lies with Sunderland United and England Striker, Darren Bent. In July 2009, Bent was negotiating a transfer from his then-club Tottenham Hotspur to Sunderland United. During these negotiations, Bent used his Twitter account to criticise Tottenham’s chairman. Daniel Levy for delaying the process, as well as openly tweeting to his followers the exact details of the negotiations. Bent eventually signed for £10million.

Larger clubs, however, took note. Manchester United’s management chose to take the action of effectively gagging all of its players, by insisting that they delete their various official Twitter and Facebook profiles so that it could handle effectively control its PR message.

But maybe they’ve missed a trick here. From a business perspective the club may have done the right thing, rather than let an individual potentially (even unwittingly) reveal the clubs inner workings and secrets. They have taken the matter into their own hands. To the outside world, this move appears like an overreaction and seems intrusive, as it is taking away an individuals’ right to express their opinion by denying them access to that platform. The club should have instead taken over and maintained these accounts, or simply vetted them. That way to, the outside world, their presence is maintained, but it is managed internally.

Some would say that this could be seen as misleading, but I would say that it is simply good business. If anything, the recent events surrounding Chelsea and England defender John Terry have shown that football and indeed all high profile sports teams now more than ever need to manage the PR presence of their stars, because letting them manage their own affairs, could seriously damage their own reputation.


Tony Blair, He’s got it.

Tony Blair, love him or loathe him, you’ve got to give it to him that he’s still the slickest media operator in modern politics. I’d rate him higher than Barack Obama (who practically walked on water during his campaign) and even higher than David Cameron, who despite a good start is failing to find the balance between serious prime minister in waiting and head of the new fluffy Conservatives.

But what makes Blair such a smooth operator? It’s not that he’s natural at this, his manner, tone, measure and gesture have all been practised until they’ve become second nature. The key to his success has always been this ‘natural’ charm, his relaxed facial features allow him to form words in a clear pattern, his slight wry smile and flash of pearly whites gives him that cheeky trust, and most importantly his ability to mix Prime Minister (and now Statesman) with bloke-you’d-not-mind-sharing-a-pint-with.

The ability to communicate a message isn’t just for politicians, and good media training shouldn’t just be for the most pressured CEOs. It should be a fixture of any part of a business that faces the public or the press. The difference in style – regardless of whether it’s facing you directly or talking to you the customer through the press – is often stark.

An organisation that you feel is genuinely upset at itself because its service toward you has been unsatisfactory, but recognises that it is at fault and, most importantly, takes steps to rectify the situation versus a company that shoves you an unpersonalised note apologising for any inconvenience is huge.

Done well, a message communicated in a genuine fashion will console you and consolidate your faith in a brand. Done badly and it will damage the trust and credibility of the brand every time.

The bottom line in business or politics means that you often can’t take the views of every single customer into hand, and you’re never going to keep every single person happy, but it’s the tone and style of your message to them that counts. So work with your communications people to ensure that what you’re saying not only sounds genuine, but actually carries through to authentic business improvement. Your business will benefit, your brand will benefit and most importantly you’ll build customer trust.


Why should I care what you think?

I’m angry, no, really – I’m furious, livid, apoplectically incandescent and foaming at the mouth. Why? Because the black cab firm I called to get me into work this morning were 30 minutes late. But they weren’t just late, they were lying about being late – ‘it’s-800-yards away-and-just-around-the-corner-stuck-in-traffic’ suddenly turned into ‘it’s-not-been-dispatched – at all”, so I’m rushing; like a mad thing I’m on the warpath for another ‘for hire’ light. When it happened… I tweeted.

Oh yes, I tweeted. While hot under the collar, I was boiling, stirred up, hopping mad, and I tweeted about the dishonesty and incompetence of a named company, and I know I’m not alone. It’s becoming a regular occurrence: I don’t think you can log onto Twitter or Facebook or any other social media site without seeing some update or another from an irate contact venting their spleen about one corporation or another in a very public forum.

While I’m the first to admit that this morning’s tweet isn’t going to bring down the PLC in question, and it probably did nothing to affect their reputation with 98% of all of my online contacts, it has left a permanent black mark online against their brand. An unhappy customer – never the easiest beast to tame – has found a new pedestal to bellow from. Unlike the newspaper letter columns and occasional consumer interest programmes these articles online, however short, last forever and are completely searchable.

The important question here is how brands are going to deal with this real time online assessment of their work and services? As part of my on-going series looking at crisis management I’d like you to think about social networking and why you should care what your customers think and say about your brand online.

The first thing to consider is immediacy. Brands no longer have the cushion of time to soften the blow of criticism. If you upset, offend, or let someone down in the digital age, you’re likely to be hearing about it sometimes before they’ve even left your building or your website. They’ll be on their mobile device, or tweet platform online, leaving real time feedback.

The second is that even if there are only a few negative comments, these will be archived, mashed-up, searched through, aggregated onto other social media sites and tagged on, for days, months and years to come. And there’s probably nothing you can do to get rid of even the most misleading or over-inflated grievance.

So what do you do? If the answer you’d like to hear is run away and bury your head in the sand, you’re about to be awfully disappointed… The simple fact is that you can’t. You’ve got to engage, which doesn’t mean arguing with nutters, nor does it mean answering every query ever aimed at you online (although if you could do the latter you might find you do your brand the world of good). Instead get your brand online and start to answer questions, follow up on complaints, and link up with people that advocate you and evangelise your brand. This means that you’re able to be part of the conversation – remember, you can’t control it, but being part of it is the first step in starting up an open dialogue. In the end this will keep your customers informed, show that you’re open for feedback and most importantly make them feel loved.

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