Archive for the 'Reputation 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.


“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.


It’s never too late to consider panic

Panic, panic, panic. Once it starts it’s often too late to stop it or even calm it down. We’ve all been there: something goes awfully wrong and you’re gripped by that knotting feeling in your stomach, which is quickly replaced by cold sweating palms and then you’re in a spin.

Corporate panic is just the same, ashen faces stare as phones ring off the hook as bad news breaks and the press take hold while the public fume, flee or both.

Which is why it’s never too late to consider panic. In fact, panic should be considered almost every time you look at your public relations strategy, as it’s a fact of life that the floodgates of disaster will always open at the most inopportune moments. It’s in these moments that most businesses find they’re ill-prepared to cope with the influx of attention.

A crisis management strategy is the air-bag for your brand, it’s designed to cushion impact and slow the rate of the disaster. Although it does this through a mixture of disciplines; the most essential element is often the simplest to arrange: preparation.

Preparation is critical, from the simplest things like a list of emergency staff phone numbers, to the most complex scenario planning, every bit of preparation you do is one step closer to effectively managing the worst if it does happen.

It’s astounding how many times I’ve been approached throughout my professional life by companies in trouble asking for help which they might have been able to fix themselves if they hadn’t let things spiral out of control.

If you can’t think of a reason why you should do the basics, or even get someone in to do the basics for you, think about this – how long could your business survive after a period of severe weather?

Would your supply chain mean that you could supply your customers as promised on time, and if you couldn’t, how long would they hold off before dumping your products publicly?

What about if your product or service was cast in a bad light by an article in the press (deservedly or not!) or your product or service were caught up in a safety scare or were accused of being misleading or even fraudulent?

Whether it’s putting the facts straight or smoothing the waters with apologies and positive campaigning, getting your prep work done early will cost you virtually nothing, and could save your whole brand – and when you’ve worked so hard to establish a good name, why put it at risk by being ill-prepared?


Messages and facts must be congruent

Social relations, whether in the real world or online, are above all founded on trust. A congruence of views, a developing affection, shared self interest, humour, all play their part. But at heart, it’s all about trust: are you who you say you are, do you believe what you profess, will you do what you promise.

In politics, this becomes a very thin tightrope over a very deep pit. A congruence of views, or simple self-interest, may bring individual electors to support a party. But it is whether they trust that party that keeps it in power – and that means that they must trust the individuals who represent them.

It is for this reason, I think, that the electorate is surprisingly tolerant of broken electoral promises. Voters understand that things said in opposition can become near impossible in government. We know that our own New Year’s resolutions, founded in real desire and a real intention to achieve them, often flounder when they meet the reality of the world – and we are prepared to extend the same understanding to our politicians.

On the other hand, because of their primary importance in social relationships, the electorate will not stand for people who are not who they say they are – and/or who do not believe in what they profess.

In the Tennessee Williams-like tragedy currently playing itself out in the government of Northern Ireland, it is Iris Robinson’s behaviour that most clearly shows what happens when these two last fundamental trusts are broken.

Simply put, it may be considered that Mrs Robinson is not who she said she was, and does not profess what she believes. As a result, her actions may have cast doubt on the integrity of her husband and on her political party, cast doubt on the whole government of Northern Ireland itself, and contributed another little clod to the pile of opprobrium that still threatens to comprehensively destroy public faith in politics in general.

What relevance has this to a blog about communications?

Only this: that public relations, marketing and communications only works when the message and the fact are congruent, when the marketing creates an expectation that the product delivers.

In Mrs Robinson’s case, it appears as if the marketing and the product were so divergent as to be unrecognisable. In the commercial world, and no less in the political, the damage to brand value from such an event is sometimes irrecoverable.


Falling into the trap – again

At university, I was never taken aback by professors citing Al-Qaeda as ‘the perfect example of globalisation’. It’s a statement intended to throw a first year off – How could this supposedly anti-modern (in the Western sense), anti-capitalist movement possibly embody what is the inevitable outcome of an interconnected, capitalist world?

Most first years limit their interpretation of the scope of globalisation to economics. Its intended meaning in this context is only clear after some thought: A transnational issue network, which operates efficiently thanks to the help of modern communication tools, and takes advantage of the global media to spread its message to a much larger audience.

What does this have to do with Islam4UK? Similarly, a group that most would expect to be unsympathetic to the media landscape of the United Kingdom knew exactly how to manipulate it to their advantage.

A little history: This may be the first (and is now likely to be the only) time you’ve heard of Islam4UK, but the organization behind it has a sound grasp of the importance of branding.

Its parent group, al-Muhajiroun was founded by a radical Muslim cleric Omar Bakri Muhammad in 1986, with the same aims as its current iteration: for Britain to accept that Sharia law is superior to ‘man made’ law, and that it should be adopted as the code of justice. It rose to infamy in 2005, when it held a conference titled ‘The Magnificent 19’, in reference to the 9/11 plotters. This received major media coverage. The organisation was subsequently banned by then Home Secretary Charles Clarke in 2005.

Sound familiar? History may be repeating itself…

Islam4UK released their plans to hold a march in a town that has now become somewhat revered in the eyes of many Britons. The press picked up on it instantly; it exploded on the wires and was soon all over our television screens. A forgotten man, al-Muhajiroun’s deputy leader, Anjem Choudary was suddenly given airtime on rolling news channels, arguing his organisation’s points to a wide audience.

Whether the organisation’s intention to march was ever sincere, they successfully created a media storm: front page headlines, features on all of the evening news debates, and even a statement from the Prime Minister. They took their issue, made it high-profile by making it highly controversial, and the media ran with it, acting as a huge megaphone for the voice of a tiny minority.

Their website was suddenly being linked to from the most reputable of websites; this in turn compelled the voice of the mainstream Muslim community, the Muslim Council of Great Britain, to warn of the rise in Islamophobia they were creating – which, surely, should have been far from the Islam4UK’s aims.

The old adage that there is ‘no such thing as bad press’ doesn’t hold true in this case: A Facebook group decrying their intentions grew exponentially to over 750,000 members in just a few days. In a perfect example of the strength of social media as a measure of popular opinion, the British Government has now ‘outlawed’ the group under Anti-Terror laws. Nevertheless, the organisation has reached its aim: Its ideas enjoy a higher public profile and have held the headlines for more than a few days.

At every level, from its ‘Web 1.5’ name to the deployment of its media strategy, Islam4UK has efficiently, if unfortunately, ensured that it can reach all who may be open to its message.

Most will agree that proposing this incendiary march was disrespectful and misplaced; none can deny the effectiveness of the strategy behind it.

Their response to the ban: That a ‘new platform with a new name will arise to continue to fulfill these divine objections until the Sharia has been implemented’. I don’t doubt it: Islam4UK will follow the footsteps of ‘Call to Submission’, ‘Islamic Path’, the ‘London School of Sharia’ and the like; all offshoots and separate brands of al-Muhajiroun.

A new ‘brand’, with a new gimmick, will launch from the ashes of this campaign, and the outcome is likely to be the same. How did they fall for it again?

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