Crisis? What Crisis?

For anyone old enough to remember the title of the 1975 Supertramp album – I’m sorry.

At the time of that album’s release the Boeing 737 had already been in service for seven years and well on its way to becoming the most successful passenger jet ever built.

Little wonder then that with almost 10,500 737s built, across the 13 variants, leading up to the 737 MAX, for which the company held over 5,000 orders, Boeing was very keen for the MAX to be the comprehensive answer to the competitive threat presented by the Airbus A320.

The sheer numbers are staggering. There are over 1,250 737s in the air at any one time and there are two either landing or departing every five seconds. Most of us have flown on 737s more times that we can remember, let alone can count. As late as September last year Boeing were planning to boost production from 55 to 63 737s per month.

So, a little bit at stake when things go wrong. And wrong they went. As we know from the tragic circumstances of the loss of Lion Air Flight 610 and Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302, within five months of each other.

Boeing is in the grip of a proper crisis. All 737 Max have been grounded, orders are being cancelled and the airline is scrambling to explain how automated control systems designed to compensate for the aerodynamic changes created by larger extended range and efficiency engines, could end-up pushing the aircraft into the ground.

The first rule of crisis management is – always tell the truth. Tell it as well as you can, but don’t obfuscate, don’t delay and, most of all, don’t lie.

We won’t know for some time (doubtless after many protracted court cases) if Boeing lied. But they did initially try to blame the Lion Air pilots and resist a grounding of the almost 400 737 MAXs in service.

It is hard to imagine the pressure on corporations when such a critical part of their business is under threat. However, we are talking about people’s lives so, if a crisis is mishandled it can be fatal. Not only for the innocent travellers but also for the corporation.

Boeing is ‘too big to fail’ but those who run it, today, are not. This saga has only just begun.

In any circumstance, the reputation of the company and the careers of those in charge may have been past saving, even if they had fully disclosed what they probably knew after the Lion Air loss. To have waited for second, almost identical, incident and, even then, to try to run from immediate responsibility is not only reprehensible, it may even be criminal

There will be blood. It will come from Boeing’s Seattle HQ.

Sometimes, silence is golden

When considering the recent Israel Folau saga Voltaire’s famous “ I may disagree with what you say. But I will defend, to the death, your right to say it” should be a guiding principle for any, secular, democratic society.

Sadly, social media and the offence industry have created the modern equivalent of throwing the Christian to the lions. The social media pile-on.

The corporate leason in the response of a large, otherwise generally silent, portion of the population is that buying into the virtue signalling game can be dangerous.

The progressive views of the QANTAS CEO are well known, and no doubt sincerely held. The controversy is unlikely to do QANTAS any real damage. Operating in a domestic duopoly, they can afford to go out on a limb, from time to time.

Not necessarily the case for other vocal commercial organisations. What has a sponsor of Rugby got to gain from indulging in commentary on such a fraught matter?  More to the point, what could they have to lose?

Even more perplexing is what possible gain could there be in sponsors of Netball joining in on the, as former Human Rights Commissioner Gillian Triggs puts it “ …public bullying” of Maria Folau for expressing support for her husband’s fundraising efforts?

Are companies attempting to capture the zeitgeist? If so, there’s a fair chance they get it as wrong as pollsters predicting recent election outcomes. Are they projecting the views of their management? Also a risky proposition; likely to alienate as many as it pleases. Or are they seeking to take the moral high ground? Not an approach welcomed by most consumers?

Of course, they could just be thoughtlessly joining the herd. Anyone who knows much about herds  knows they have a tendency to turn, rapidly, without warning and for no apparent reason.

In our experience the best policy for a typical commercial entity, in such genuinely contentious situations, is to remain silent.

Sure, we all have a responsibility to call-out egregious injustice and abuse. But not even Folau’s most trenchant critics have elevated his ‘crime’ to such a level, yet.

Commercial organisations have a principal responsibility to their shareholders. Joining the scratching and biting in the back alleys of social media is unlikely to be amongst the KPIs expected of them.

Social media. How hard can it be?

Not so long ago a global fashion brand, you may have heard of them – Dolce & Gabbana, thought it would be a good idea to scare up some social media buzz for their upcoming Shanghai fashion show by posting some Chinese specific videos.

The posts depicting a beautiful Chinese model being taught to eat Italian food with chopsticks. One, in which she attempts to eat an oversized cannoli, included the comment: “Is it too big for you?”

No prizes for guessing what happened next.

During the ensuing outrage one of the iconic fashion duo, Stefano Gabbana, engaged in an unfortunate exchange with a fashion journalist, during which he used the poo emoji to describe China.

The big show in Shanghai was, unsurprisingly, cancelled, only hours before the curtain was due to rise.

What does this tell us? Clearly, commercial use of social media really hurts when you get it wrong.

The factis, a brand that lives in an industry that relies on social media can get it so wrong is a warning to all brands seeking to build a following to spruik their wares.

Social media may be a great medium to engage directly with customers, but it is unfiltered, un-curated and unregulated. The slightest miss-step will get magnified. Once that happens trying to get your brand out of the mire will most likely create even more attention, none of it good.

Fashion brands and fast moving consumer goods can ill-afford to ignore social media. For some a lack of presence on social platforms would be an existential threat. But for many companies and brands social media engagement is not quite as critical, yet many over-invest in engaging on multiple platforms with many content entry points. All increasing the risk of something going very wrong.

We may bemoan the ‘oversensitivity’ of the audience and the sensationalising of otherwise ‘small’ issues by the new and old media, but that is the world in which we do business. Controlling the message and minimising risk should be paramount.

For any sensible brand a ‘social media strategy’ should not mean broadcasting across all possible platforms. It should mean carefully considering who you want to engage with, why it’s of value in the first place and who will control the brand messages. What seems like a good idea at a ‘brainstorm’ should always be put through the filter of who may possibly take offence?

In the end, sometimes less is more.

As for Dolce & Gabbana, their clothes were removed from a multitude of Chinese on-line retailers and their access to the largest fashion market in the world is yet to recover.