Posted tagged ‘crisis’

Sound advice on a crisis

15/08/2011

Roland Rudd, Finsbury Executive Chairman, gives sound advice:

“When you’ve got a major crisis of any kind, the most important thing is to recognise the enormity of it. It’s sometimes better to exaggerate it to yourself. Never try and suppress it. Never try and blame anybody else. Never try and pretend that you’re the victim.”

“The reason people as smart as the Murdochs got it wrong at the start is that it’s easier to be wise about other people’s problems than about your own.”

Advertisements

2010 – a year in reputation

29/12/2010

“…Everybody knew that whenever the thaw came that there was going to be big problems with water, so I think that there was a lack of preparation by NI Water, particularly in the issue of communication…”

Northern Ireland Environment Minister Edwin Poots

It’s that time of the year again when the television schedules are packed with the top 100 countdowns and the printed media publish endless top 10s recording everything from the best comedy to the worse gaffes.  December is truly the month of lists.

So it has prompted me to think of 2010 and who are the winners and losers in terms of promoting and protecting reputation.

In the UK, the year was punctuated by two weather related events as temperatures plummeted to record levels and snow and ice deluged our lives.  Virtually every organisation and person was tested and it is interesting how many 365 day 24 hour services really became fine words rather than effective actions.  The first rule of reputation is that ‘actions speak louder than words’.  However it is often the words (communications) or lack of them that really matter when the reputational chips are down.

The organisation that book-ended the year is Eurostar, the high-speed train operator running services between London Pancras and the continent.  The first problems came when their state of the art trains hit a major engineering ‘wall’ grinding to a halt in the channel tunnel in December 2009 and stranding passengers in very difficult circumstances drawing criticism from media, the public, politicians and even the French President.  In January a further failure followed by a three day suspension of service heaped criticism on the company.  And then came December 2010 with pictures of people standing in a line stretching a mile or more into freezing conditions with Police intervention to control the crowds.

Looking back, there is a common theme between the two incidents, a constant complaint of ‘lack of communication and lack of information.’  The operator of state of the art trains and stations unable to communicate basic information.  It’s patently obvious that building the best station in the world is great but when a queue forms the fact passengers have to sprawl onto the streets in minus temperatures is a reputational disaster.

Transport and infrastructure operators are easy reputational targets.  Whilst Eurostar is highlighted here it could well be the British Airports Authority (BAA) at Heathrow or any number of transport operators.  The eruption of a volcano in Iceland was enough to throw our whole infrastructure into turmoil.  And on that point in terms of reputations it isn’t just people and organisations that have a reputation to maintain:  Iceland, Ireland and Greece became economically a reputational disaster.

Utilities came in for a particular panning.  Many of us became aware of the frailties of the ‘combi-boiler’ and its incredible design flaw – the condensation pipe.  Which brilliant engineer and numerous installers had thought that the new energy efficient boiler was to fail on an unprecedented scale.

At the time of writing this blog there is a crisis in Northern Ireland as water has become a scarcity through the thaw and burst pipes.  In the capital city, Belfast, shops are out of bottled water and the council is making emergency supplies available.  Again, the main complaint is the lack of information and communication from Northern Ireland Water – I tried to log onto their website which just can’t cope and is actually displaying HTML source code as it has obviously ‘burst’ its capacity as well.

The biggest loser of the year from an economic, environmental and reputation aspect was BP when its deepwater rig blew up spilling vast amounts of oil into the Gulf of Mexico.  The response was astoundingly inept from the clean up to the communication and top managers feted by their shareholders showed that they had no skill whatsoever in dealing with crisis, risk and stakeholders.

In fact inept and incompetent bosses are often those most in the reputational headlights during 2010.  Take Sepp Blatter of FIFA, an organisation that seems to be beyond any form of normal corporate governance.  Football, by far one of the biggest sports in the world is so badly ruled and managed that is it almost a standing joke.  Take the completely ludicrous attitude to the use of technology to assist officials and then compound it by a perception of corruption that permeates the very core of the sport.  The awarding of the World Cup, a shambolic bidding exercise in public procurement that ended up with FIFA near humiliating the future King of our country and its Prime Minister.

And then there is the ‘deficit’ in truth.  Nick Clegg of the Liberal Democrats has experienced a year when he was seen as the new hope through his X Factor style TV debate appearances that failed to materialise into a credible result at the ballot box yet gave him a mandate for power which has been an unmitigated disaster in terms of his reputation.  A recent local election result swung against his party by 31% and the throwing out of election promises and manifesto pledges has led to a major outcry.

So at its heart reputation is often attributed to individuals, inadequate communications but also how organisations manage their integrity and their risk profile particularly at a time of crisis.  Why are all these organisations that make so much of their performance all seemingly acting like lumbering dinosaurs in terms of their ability to communicate.  Why are top companies unable to talk to customers and listen to them?

Social networking certainly outfoxed most organisations; they are just woefully unable and sometimes unwilling to deal with the Twitter and Facebook generation.  In the Heathrow snow closures ‘critical’ tweets were being sent from stranded customers at a rate of four per second.  During the student protests the might of our Police force were outwitted by such applications and ‘citizen journalists’ recorded every aspect of every notable event.

Of course there were some winners.  Apple Inc faced a real crisis when its normally state of the art products hit a problem.  The technical difficulties faced by the iPhone4 at first led the company into a state of disbelief.  However, as the social networks began to rumble the company acted fast and the CEO was up in front of the cameras taking rapid action to rectify the issue.

Other companies like Caffe Nero just have it right in terms of customer service.  Their recognition scheme, Nero stars, is a great way to recognise good service and reward customers again with clear communication from the CEO.

There is a theme developing here but one that seems hard to learn – that is those organisations who put their reputation as high as their performance and growth strategies are those that perform best.  It is a lesson that hopefully more organisations will learn in 2011.

For more information about Bodyproject and our Advanced Stakeholder Management methodology that helps organisations promote and protect reputation call 0151 709 2288 or e-mail nicktaylor@bodyproject.co.uk

Advanced Stakeholder Management aids recovery!

05/08/2010

“…If you grow slowly and strongly, you will be around for a long time…”

Edwin Booth Chairman Booths Supermarkets

Business has never been harder, but in some sectors there is an increasing understanding that the only way to recover and even survive is through continued investment and growth.

The Chartered Institute of Public Relations (CiPR) latest ‘state of the industry’ research reports a marked increase in PR budgets with professionals expressing confidence in terms of the health of the PR industry and growth expectations.

A host of areas are predicted for growth in the coming year, with key ‘ones to watch’ being online reputation management, crisis management and strategic planning.

Bodyproject, a niche consultancy based in Liverpool, that pioneers an Advanced Stakeholder Management (ASM) methodology, believes that those businesses that want to succeed and grow are continuing to invest to protect and promote their reputation.

Nick Taylor, owner of Bodyproject comments: “The strength of the balance sheet is clearly a major factor but more and more companies are understanding that the true value of their business is tied up in their intangible assets and intellectual capital.

“Those businesses that continue to invest and take a strategic approach to managing their reputation are also the ones that are expressing optimism that they can trade their way through the recession”

Bodyproject is seeing a great deal of interest in the ASM methodology from businesses that are growing, increasing employment, achieving more sales, reducing costs and demonstrably becoming profitable.

Nick continues: “I am convinced that to be successful in business you have to go beyond the traditional aspects of stakeholder management around the protection of reputation and brand.

“Our ASM methodology is an innovative strategy seeking to integrate the management of stakeholders into core business with visibility and control from senior leaders and board level rather than solely the preserve of PR, marketing and communications departments.”

Businesses achieving direct commercial advantage understand the essential elements of stakeholder relationships, including the development of a better brand image, additional market insight, increased flow of new product and service ideas, improvement of internal business processes, better insight into consumer behaviour, new marketing channels for company products and services, and early warning of potential risk and crisis.

What can professional communicators learn from a tragic crisis?

10/07/2010

“…I want to stress we have the resources and resilience to deal with this situation and my officers are out in large numbers to provide reassurance and protection…”

Sue Sim Acting Chief Constable Northumbria Police

The shots that rang out in the middle of the night brought to an end the crisis phase of a very unique manhunt that has been at the forefront of the news throughout the week.

Now the reviews and investigations will take place but there is one aspect that I think can be commented on immediately and that is the handling of the various stakeholders by Northumbria Police.  I think they have done an exemplary job in very difficult circumstances.

Not only have they had to conduct a massive, complex and highly dangerous operation but they have had to work with multiple organisations, manage the international media and reassure politicians and citizens alike often having to take tough decisions.  It has been stakeholder crisis management at its most intense

Bodyproject believes their actions have demonstrated stakeholder management at its best and the learning points for us as professional communicators is not only how they handled the events as they unfolded but in the way they prepared for such an eventuality.  The processes and procedures and then training and knowledge have been clearly in evidence.  All of the statements made from senior leaders to the people on the teams have been absolutely defined and delivered with care and targeted.  The public meetings, media briefings, deployment of multiple agency resources highly effective.

It is a pity that global super brands such as BP and Toyota could not learn and adopt similar ways to deal with crisis and stakeholder management.  Public servants are often lambasted, not least by the new coalition Government, and in some cases rightly so.  But in some circumstances they are leading the way for all to follow including business.

Of course, the death of Raoul Moat and the many other victims of this tragic episode will throw up all sorts of review points from could it have been avoided in the first place to single events that could have been handled better.  Ultimately the loss of two lives and the injuries to others is tragic and whether it can be used as a case study for organisations to learn from is difficult given the sensitivity and emotion.

Having said that I believe that Northumbria Police have used exemplary communication and stakeholder management throughout and should be commended for their efforts and we can all learn from such events.

A risky business

21/04/2010

2010 so far has been punctuated by two huge and prominent events of nature that effectively brought parts of our society to a standstill.

The severe snows that turned Britain white plunged our infrastructure into chaos.  Major supermarket supply chains fell apart, roads, trains and planes ground to a halt and mostly we spent our time worrying about salt.

And now a distant volcano has bestowed a cloud of despondent doom and resulted in hundreds and thousands of people being stranded in abject misery let alone counting the cost to business and the supply chain.

The problem to me is we just can’t cope with such events.  We appear to be a society blighted by inaction:  diplomacy, risk aversion, bureaucracy, litigious considerations, lack of pace and urgency all seem to combine resulting in stasis.  Both of these events showed no sign of any crisis management and only days after they unfolded did activity start to happen.  The lack of information, communication and leadership was woeful.

I for one feel worried about what these events have taught us and how modern society seems to be perched on a precarious ledge teetering on the brink of uncertainty and inability to act.  In business, many of us have had to learn about crisis management and I spend my days helping my clients help themselves in promoting and, importantly, protecting their reputation.  But, I am left in no doubt that the signs are there that we need to build the capability and capacity to deal with such huge natural occurrences that impact our rather not so natural existence on this earth.  What we need most is Government to provide the credibility and leadership so we can all be reassured.