Mr. CEO, someone is asking for you
Original story appeared in: Borrow My Brain Blog
Mr. CEO, someone is asking for you is the most probable first statement you hear in the air in a severe smoldering or unexpected crisis. It’s time to really lead!
Crisis in public protection and politics
Britain on the path of Brexit muddled through, turning the issue into a big crisis-management plan towards authorities, enterprises, consumers, EU students, tourists, financial markets, banks and …voters! Who has the answers? What should we do next day?
Greek government, being unprepared, faced in 2017-18 three crisis failures: they weren’t prepared to tackle the Athens’ Riviera oil-spill; they failed on civil protection against floods in the Attica region leaving 22 people dead, and in 2018 with no fire response and evacuation mechanics, we mourned 102 dead people.
Crisis for Brands in politics
Back in 2016, Donald Trump Jr. within the presidential campaign tweeted out a meme that compared a bowl of skittles to Syrian refugees (he subsequently deleted the tweet). Next day, Skittles responded in a public statement: “Skittles are candy. Refugees are people. We don’t feel it’s an appropriate analogy. We will respectfully refrain from further commentary as anything we say could be misinterpreted as marketing.”
When Donald Trump offended women with negative associations, then Tic Tac brand issued a statement, that not only clarified Tic Tac’s brand beliefs but appeared to judge Trump himself: “Tic Tac respects all women. We find the recent statements and behaviour completely inappropriate and unacceptable.” No on ecan say if they were intrigued to get more shares, likes, and RT’s but they ‘messed’ their brand in a political debate with unprecented coverage.
Crisis suggests something that happens infrequently and escaltes very quickly. But in any crisis event we can find ourselves in controversy. Even big companies that have faced a lot of PR challenges are caught off guard by a customer insurgency or are unprepared. Some crises disappear quickly and others never seem to go away.
Regulators will intervene more
Back in time, every company’s local executive team was treating the crisis as something that can impact the main Brand…the HQ. It’s no longer true! With the global treaties at hand, with the loud voice of communities over social media, and regulators exercising pressure and scrutiny to company operations, you can’t be reactive.
Googling for crisis’ cases, we’ve found even news from the Chinese green regulator (imagine, even in China where news are controlled to some extent, nothing can be ‘contained’) who called-off 151 coal power plants (good for them and the planet…), an investment plan of 80 billion!
In Crisis, everyone looks to the CEO
Facebook-Analytica is the latest example of a “PR disaster”. The term usually means that whatever the facts of the matter are, the company’s CEO fails to communicate convincingly about a crisis, sincerely and in a timely manner. Mark Zuckerberg issued a statement using “corporate speak” and online communities demanded apologies for a) FB knowing the issue for two years, b) what they will do in the future for data protection.
When something goes badly wrong for a company in public, all eyes look to its leader. When the CEO is absent, or hides, or has nothing to say, or fails to respond then the information vacuum is instantly filled by naysayers whose voices become a chorus of condemnation on social media.
In most cases, the failure is on leadership communication. Failure by the CEO to attach more importance to corporate communication and listen to PR professionals. With digital technologies firmly entrenched, the role of the CEO in corporate communication has never been more essential.
There can be no doubt that social media has made PR more crucial for companies than ever before. Nanos Research conducted a poll in 2017 asking Canadians: “Do you think that with the rise of social media, public relations, also known as PR, is becoming more important, less important or as important for organizations today compared to 10 years ago?” The 76% said that PR is now “more important.” and the 70% answered: “Acknowledge the problem and communicate on social media.”
The true test of Leadership is how well you function in a Crisis – Brian Tracy
CEO is the Confidence & Trust channel
The CEO should be personally involved in the Corporate communications effort, and personally drive the Crisis Preparedness state in the company, securing shareholders and stakeholders interests, while preventing PR disasters. I believe that almost all crisis situations can now be intercepted and successfully addressed with these elements of leadership communication:
- The CEO is present on social media with an active account (ideally on Twitter where media hang-out)
- Transparently discloses what’s happening on trending crisis so that people hear the news first from the company’s leader (and not from other (no-trusted) sources)
- The leader clearly describes what the company is doing about it
- Sincerely apologizes and takes leadership responsibility
- Ensures that media coverage and social sentiment is based on accurate info and statements
Crisis incidents will intensify
We go through a major global transformation: societal changes, global mobility, tougher standards
- The product, quality, ingredients, safety, consumer, prices, practices
- Companies scaling global offerings must comply with local legislation (not always the case…)
- Unprepared companies, un-audited operations and risks (factories, data, IT, warehouse)
- Political leadership, tougher regulation, rules for global sustainability
- Terrorist attacks, natural disasters, security and cyber-crime
- People and true ethics are back on the agenda
- Diversity, sexual harassment, HR issues, welfare, workplace issues, awful practices
- Media scrutiny, backed by worthy causes, social justice, inquisitive journalism etc.
If your company is like many organizations, then there are great risks that may be leaving your brand unnecessarily exposed. Primarily, your own company operations. Customer service, product faults, regulation, health & safety, energy footprint, social contribution, network outages, failed delivery, security, data privacy, and financial aspects of what your company does. Everything can turn out to be a major crisis incident. Allegations, complaints, attacks, and negative stories on the media.
Companies will never again have control over perceptions
Communities are talking about companies, policies, experiences, prices, complains, and evaluate if you stand true to any brand promise. Consumers can become very cynical about flight attendants, bank cashiers, rude customer service staff in-shop while always compare competitors. Companies will never “control” or “direct” perceptions in the open, peer-to-peer economy. Have you ever really thought how big this change is? No more paid media or native (paid) content to “contain the story”.
CEOs, University Presidents, Directors of Boards, Team leaders must openly engage their communications team and be Crisis-ready – not when the story goes public.