Tuesday, April 19, 2011
One thing emerged from this event and that it was that BP did about as bad a job at crisis management as an organization can do. It was obvious from day one that they did not have an appreciation of the extent of the problem and some of the initial comments by BP senior executions, like the CEO wishing to 'have his life back', really put the effort into disrepute from the beginning. BP seemed stuck to the plan when they should have realized that the first rule of crisis communications is that the plan goes out the window almost immediately.
There are so many lessons that can be learned from the BP explosion one year on that an entire book could be written and barely begin to scratch the surface. I think one thing that because obvious to future planners is when people are hurting as a result of something your company shares responsibility for, NEVER complain about how tough it is on you. Somehow a millionaire CEO is not going to find much sympathy from a group of people whose very lives may be ruined.
Also, realize that your plan, no matter how great you think it is and no matter how many times you may have rehearsed it, is totally useless. Look it over one last time and then toss it aside and be ready to move with the ever changing conditions that exist. Only a foolish captain would let waves better his boat.
Lastly, ignore the advice of the lawyers. Lawyers will tell you to shut up, say nothing, admit no wrong and show no empathy. This is wrong. This is always wrong and all it does is to stir resentment and anger and makes a bad problem worse. The model today is Southwest who when faced with a problem took a financial hit and made progressive steps to addressing and resolving the matter. Take a look at how quickly that issue has receded from the headlines. They get it! It is a shame most companies don't.
Tuesday, April 5, 2011
I noticed this week that there are some people out there who are getting public relations and more specifically crisis communications and there are some groups out there who just don't get it. First of all, for those who read my blog you know that public relations is not a reactive tool. Just like you don't wait for market trends to develop to begin research on new products, you should not be waiting for events to develop before you start burning up the e-mails and phone lines.
First, the good news is that all is not lost when it comes to good crisis communications and public relations. We all saw on the news last week the Southwest flight which had to make an emergency landing due to a structural failure in one of its planes. The financially prudent move would have been to keep as many planes in the air and check them as they came in for regular maintenance. Instead what Southwest did was pull all the flights from the Boeing 737 flight which matched the one with the cracks. This caused a lot of flight cancellations but surprisingly very little passenger upset. Most people would prefer to fly safe and by doing this Southwest should come out much stronger than it might have when he went in.
The opposite happened when the United States began its bombing offensive against Libya. The political and moral issues are one thing but the President seriously dropped the ball when he did not address the reason behind it for a solid week. During both wars in the Gulf the two President Bushs' were on television that night explaining that the action was underway and why the action, in their view, was necessary. During times of crisis, it is important to be out and in front of the issue and shaping the dialogue. By bunkering down you let the events take a life of their own and you lose control of the situation.
Communications professionals have been fortunate to see two distinctly different examples of crisis communications, one of which clearly proves the model that in order to come out of a crisis alive and, stronger than what you went into it, you need to take affirmative action. The best course of action works in all areas of communications but especially during crisis. Stay on top of things, stay in front of the situation and be open and as honest as possible to your target audience. If done well, the crisis will quickly pass, if not, it will fester and grow worse and inflict a great degree of harm. As your mother once said, take your medicine, even if it doesn't taste good, it will make you feel better!
Thursday, March 24, 2011
I was at a luncheon and sat at a table with a sales rep from a mid-sized company who helps in the hiring process. She told those of us at the table that her company is proud of the fact that her company can scan resume and eliminate candidates based on words in their resume and thus send on to HR only candidates who supposedly match the job description. One person at the table, OK it was me, asked if they ever ran checks to make sure that the rejects deserved to be rejected. I could tell I hit a nerve and was told that for the HR people the results were negligible. A nice way of being told to shut up.
I asked another HR person I know who writes the job description in her organization. She told me that HR has to write them with some input from the hiring manager. Some input means that they write them and the hiring manager later tells them to change this and change that. Very little input basically. Another one told me that screening candidates is the worst part of her job and she would give it up in a second.
So that beggars the question of why are they even in the field of communicating with external audiences? For one thing, most HR people when asked will tell you they are there to keep the wrong people out, not to find the best possible people. I can also tell from most job descriptions that very little care goes into what is being put into them. It is not uncommon now to see a laundry list of skills and experience an organization wishes to see and then they claim they only want 2 years or so of experience. A nice code for wanting the $5 Fillet Mignon.
Some may argue that the current job market means that there is no need to be civil or offer any words of encouragement to candidates. Others may believe that the pool is so deep that any treatment of potential is fine and cite that everyone is overworked, understaffed and so on.
Let me make it perfectly clear. This logic is insanity pure and simple. If one of your key public facing arms is handling a potential client base and source of revenue for the organization rudely and abruptly there should be zero tolerance for that. Why not hold them to the same standards sales is held too? Would you ever not return a sales customers call after a meeting? Would you be brusk and rude to a sales customer? Would you treat a sales lead as a waste of time? Of course not!
But the same thing goes on within a number of organizations nearly every day. Individuals who can help bring the organization to the next level of success are treated as necessary evils. As the great unwashed masses. It is hardly news that no one likes to deliver bad news but shirking the duty and hoping the issue will go away does not lead to a resolution to the problem. There is an old military term called an attitude correction. In this case the HR arm of many organizations need what I will term a communication correction. Hopefully they will get it before they lose out on hiring some very talented people.
Thursday, March 3, 2011
I think that mentality sums up many organizations approach to marketing via social media. They believe it's best to plunge in without knowing the depth or temperature of the water. The important thing is to not miss out on getting wet. Forgive me for using more swimming analogies but they run the huge risks of jumping into shallow water , freezing water or water full of sharks.
Social media marketing can only succeed if we proceed with the due diligence we would in other marketing or public relations forums. We can't use some shotgun style approach while blindfolded and hope we hit the target. We need to use social media strategically and with a mental image of the beginning middle and end of the social media program.
The great risk we run here is that organizations may use the same approach to social media that was used to the web when that first emerged in the mid-to-late 1990's. That was a time of instant experts and throwing money at a problem and the immediate assumption that the old rules no longer apply. Hard lessons taught organizations that was not so but here we are facing one more time the assumption that the old rules no longer apply.
Let me close out with what I told the person I was meeting with. When asked why I had so few friends on Facebook, their interpretation not mine, I responded very simply. I asked about their client base and asked how intimately they knew them. I didn't really want an answer but could see I hit a nerve because they didn't know their client base that well. I then threw down the gauntlet and after bringing up my friend list offered them the chance to pick any one at random and I would tell them 3 things about them. The point being social media should help you broaden and strengthen you presence in the market and should not be just some fast and easy way to help yourself sleep better at night.
Thursday, February 10, 2011
Public Relations is an incredibly valuable tool and helps in ways that are too many to count. But it has the same weakness of any marketing tool. It is not designed to function as a sole agent for driving change. Quite the opposite, it can offer a slight up tick like mentioned above but the chances for long term success are virtually non-existent. In a discussion I once participated in, I likened a PR program to going out running after a long lay off. You will feel terrible and probably feel like you're going to die. Now you can assume running failed to get you healthy, or you can keep forcing yourself out there day after day and before long, you're amazed at how your body responds and how great you feel.
The same holds true for marketing and communications. You can not simply sit back and cherry pick a success and say that it's not working or this worked and that didn't. In fact evaluation needs to be taking place in an ongoing fashion and needs to examine not just the marketing mix but how other elements in the organization such as sales are helping. A complete and exhaustive examination may show that other elements in the organization are hindering the development and execution of both the brand as well as the communications program.
We live in a world that tells us we should expect instantaneous results and that we should act in an instantaneous fashion. The down side to this idea is that we are surrendering the ideas of perspective and focusing on evaluation and adjustment. It is much better to do it right once and invest a little more time in a program than rush it and be disappointed in the results.
Tuesday, January 11, 2011
In some organizations, senior managers are in love with marketing and communications. Of course, while we would love to have that happen, it is not always what it's cracked up to be. While I am a tireless and relentless advocate that marketing is the best way to build brand, it can not be the sole part of the organization out there delivering the organizations message. Also, marketing needs to be used in such a way so that the return on investment it can provide can be maximized.
One trap which needs to be avoided at all costs is the temptation to use marketing and communications as vanity tools. There is an old builder's maxim that says one should know the soil before laying the foundation. That is very true when it comes to marketing and communications. In my own experience I have told many managers that PR does not stand for press release.
So the point here in summary is that as marketing and communications professional we need to do all we can to build and protect the brand. If you look around the organization, there is very no one else who is really equipped or capable to do so. While the risk of having nothing done is both real and great, the risk of having harm come to the brand by individuals who think they know how to manage it, but really don't, is even greater. Marketing and communications people need to be that person who is there to build, render aid but also defend the brand, all depending on what the situation calls for.
Thursday, January 6, 2011
2011 should be the year in which we take back our profession and reassert it as the strategic tool that it is. Speaking as someone who works as a free-lance consultant, I have the advantage of offering strategic advice to senior level executives on what to do, and then to go and execute it on a tactical level. My experience with this is that even when speaking strategy, and trying to draw marketing and communications into a larger corporate theme, it is virtually impossible to have the senior level executives see MarCom as anything other than a tactical tool. When it comes to communications all we hear is that the C-level wants more press releases, a new web site, more literature and so on. We rarely hear about using it as a strategic tool to drive sales.
This is really the fault of the marketing managers out there who are more than happy to coast along doing as little as possible and figure that if they go along and get along they will survive. Sadly, this has left our field scattered with a bunch of mediocre managers who lack the courage and drive to challenge management and encourage it to see marketing and communications as a long term tool which, when executed properly, can drive the entire branding and sales function.
One thing we can do as a profession is to drive our field and commit to standards of excellence. How many other fields would sit by and allow anything other than excellence be their guides. Such fields and medicine and law have high barriers of entry and require educated people to make informed decisions. Also, a certain specialty is not only expected but in many cases it's required.
Marketing and communications could benefit greatly by taking on more of trappings of an elite profession in 2011. By doing this, we can establish ourselves as legitimate stakeholders and contributors to the organization's success. By standing up and wanting to be counted as a profession and not just a job, we can have a stronger impact on the entire business community!