RMKA_BAD-BITE-TO-REPUTATION_web

Bad Bite To Reputation

In industries of high public trust reputation is of critical importance. The food industry is a prime example. Food poisoning is on a very steep rise. It is estimated that it has leapt almost 80 percent in a decade. And it can impact any part of the food industry – from restaurants to food processors and manufacturers – all are vulnerable to reputational damage. With schools and businesses now coming back on stream there is heightened potential for damage.

Each year an estimated 5.4 million Australians are affected by food poisoning, including 120 deaths and more than 1.2 million visits to doctors. The estimated annual cost of food poisoning is $1.25 billion and the number of lost work days is 2.1 million.

In OzFoodNet’s most recent nine-year survey period they linked 68 food poisoning outbreaks to eggs alone with 1404 Australians ill, 322 hospitalised and two deaths.

And in the current three-months period – the Christmas/holiday season – there have been 14 food recalls, ranging from Mexican Salsa Peanuts to pancakes, hash browns, cider, cheese, biscuits, bread, beans and beetroot.

Behind each of these is a company whose reputation is now damaged. The consumer has doubts about the veracity of the product, as well as the hygienic nature and standards of the manufacturing process.

History is littered with companies which have collapsed because they have not managed the situation, nor their reputation effectively.

This is where token food recall crisis management ‘on the fly’ and ‘let’s keep our heads down’ attitudes can do irreparable damage to a company. This approach does not ‘cut it’ in today’s media and voracious social media world.

The traditional media, now often led by social media, can become a nightmare for unprepared companies. A single tweet can turn an issue into a full-blown crisis of global proportions.

Companies have no basis to think they can get away with it. Unfortunately, investment in preparedness is still neglected today, despite the facts.

The adage “fail to prepare, prepare to fail” is typical of many companies. They are paying lip service to having a crisis plan, having it tested and having it maintained for currency.

But doing ‘the right thing’ by consumers and the community, plus putting ‘reputation goodwill in the bank’ can only be achieved by an effective crisis plan and preparedness for an issue.

RMK+A has more than 30 years’ experience in preparing companies for crises and in dealing with  issues, as well as developing and testing crisis plans.

stakeholdermatrix

Stakeholder Matrix

A tool to keep multiple stakeholders and projects on track

At no time in the history of humankind have we had so much access to information. It is a brilliant phenomenon that in many regards is contributing to breaking the shackles of the status quo.

A direct consequence of this exponential increase to data has been a directly proportional and commensurate increase in community expectations to information provision and transparency.

Ironically, in the face of the splintering, multiplying and diversifying array of data/media sources, it has also never been easier for the community to tune out/switch off to material that is not presented in the manner, or via the channel they want. To borrow a phrase in public relations, ‘there’s no guarantee they’re going to pick up what you put down.’

It’s in the face of this complexity that stakeholder and community engagement has reached unprecedented levels; nor have the ramifications of getting it ‘wrong’ ever been higher.

Two great and recent examples of these trends are the respective votes for Britain to leave the EU (Brexit) and the election of Donald Trump.

Traditional media and those ‘in the know’ stated with great certainty that neither event could, or would, ever happen.

For many of them the post-apocalyptic analysis and rationalisation of events is still underway.

The reason I highlight these examples, is that both Brexit and Trump demonstrate the importance of ‘listening’ to your audience to underpin how you then ‘engage’ with them.

The patriarchal approach of ‘we know best, and you will listen to us’ is well and truly dead (thank God!). In fact, any entity that adopts that approach will severely damage its reputation in a very short period of time.

This is why we at RMK+ Associates, in partnership with the software team at Web Force 5, have combined our respective skillsets in stakeholder engagement and technology to develop the Stakeholder Matrix system. The philosophy that underpins this creation is to translate the inherently complex into distilled simplicity.

We have centered everything around People, Projects, and Issues with the aim of ensuring that all your people, can access all the information they need, in all the places they go, at all the times it is needed.

In this respect (not to mention its affordability) Stakeholder Matrix is unique and without peer.

We know that if systems are ‘clunky’ and difficult to use, they simply won’t be used. Stakeholder Matrix has been specifically designed and built for its purpose, and aims to have information available within ‘4-clicks.’

Applications range from issues and crisis management to face-to-face engagement, to surveys and market research and a lot, lot more.

You can even design, build, and publish dedicated websites for your projects with it.

In today’s high-expectation environment everyone needs the support of quick-an- easy to use technology in all their pursuits – especially when your organisation’s reputation is riding on it.

To arrange a pre-launch demonstration of Stakeholder Matrix please contact the RMK+A office on 03 9036 6390.

 

instantkarma

Instant feedback is going to get you – a cautionary lesson

One of the most damaging and cringe-worthy moments in the Ardent Leisure response to the deaths at Dreamworld was the sight of Ardent CEO, Deborah Thomas, live on-air asserting that that a family had been contacted when she was seemingly not in possession of the full facts.

She was asked if the company had reached out to the mother of the two adult siblings who died on the Thunder Rapids ride. She said they had.

When told that one of mothers, Mrs. Dorset, was watching and had told the journalist who had asked the question that no one from the company had actually contacted her, Ms Thomas then change her statement to say that the company did not know how to contact Mrs. Dorset. The reporter then gave Ms. Thomas Mrs. Dorset’s mobile number.

Crisis management lesson: When fronting the media and you are not absolutely certain of your position don’t try to muddle through. If you have not done something yourself don’t assume it has been done and state it as a fact. If you don’t know or are not sure, say you don’t know or are not sure. That may not be the best outcome, but it’s better than getting it wrong because today’s instant media feedback loop will catch you out and make you look a fool, or worse.

dreamworldspecial

Nightmare in Dreamworld

The deep Dreamworld tragedy is now the nightmare that may not be forgotten or forgiven.
Equally, the reputation wreckage left in the roiling wake of that Thunder River Rapids ride was avoidable. What was needed amidst chaos were clear, and above all, human and humane thinking. Not easy, no. But necessary and totally expected from highly paid executives.

Of course, we don’t know the full deliberations of Dreamworld or the advice it took or rejected.
We only see the public result. From that it’s hard to know why the plainly obvious can remain so apparently unseeable to decision-makers in crisis, as they react – perhaps inadvertently – to deepen pain and destroy their reputation.

This crisis was bad and tragic. The disastrous effect of the bad response was totally foreseeable.
Dreamworld’s CEO started sensitively, with a quick statement after the event declaring that all efforts were bent to helping authorities, and all thought and hearts were with family and friends.

I’ve seen enough executives gripped by crises to know these feelings are sincere.

After that, things plummeted. In the Dreamworld bunker, the world must have been spinning so fast they probably felt they had no time to reflect fully on the humanity of their decisions. It truth, the executives may not have appreciated well enough how to manage the time they had.
Crises are awful, for sure. But their public unravelling, and searing media scrutiny, follow a pattern.

The first part, typically the first 24 hours, is about acknowledging tragedy, immediate condolences, unconditional co-operation with investigators, and the facts: what happened; what are the casualties; how big; what is happening now. Dreamworld did this quickly. The second part, the next day or so, is about the human face and grief: the victims and families, the scene pictures and videos, the stunned witnesses, the scene aftermath. The last part, which can take weeks, months and years, is about speculation, fault, blame, legal cases and recovery. Being clear-headed about these phases is not to diminish the tragedy, but rather to create space to respond sincerely to it.

What does this mean for Dreamworld, and why did they crash their own crisis response?

While within hours of the disaster the CEO was rightly expressing his shock and pain for victims, families, patrons and staff, internally Dreamworld needed to focus completely on day two.

Had they fully understood that every flinch of their corporate face would be interpreted mercilessly against the rawness of human grief, they could have demonstrated their sincere organisational grief accordingly. Measured against the tragedy, even the whiff of re-opening the park could only be interpreted as unconscionable. While the intent was to offer a memorial event, the effect signalled an untimely rush to reopen for business.

Keeping the victims and families as their priority, Dreamworld apparently overlooked that the only conceivable reopening or memorial event could occur only if families of victims explicitly requested it, and then only as they wanted it – and with police and safety inspectors’ endorsement. Further, that the CEO of parent company, Ardent, could be financially rewarded (a bonus) during this crisis, even if for retrospective good work, is mind boggling. Would a carmaker choose a horror fatal crash as the moment to laud the safety advances of its chief engineer?

It might be said that this is hindsight. But here’s some foresight.

Dreamworld’s nightmare is not over yet. Mercifully, Ardent finally conceded that they did not get their response right. They still have the aftermath to manage, the on-going blame, the leaks, the speculation, the recovery, the legal case all to come. Will they shut down? Or will they open?
Here is the really tough bit. Now is the opportunity for Dreamworld to redeem itself, somewhat, by being as transparent and open as possible. Yes, they need legal advice. But another error in crises is to rely too heavily on legal advice that is focussed predominantly on limiting liability. I don’t offer legal advice, but reputational advice suggests that Dreamworld must consider quickly how it may more publicly and practically demonstrate its regret and apology to families, staff and patrons and show continuing sincere empathy.

Is vowing to run one of the safest parks enough? What were they aiming for before?

To repair some trust, they must show patrons and community that they are trustworthy. That means even  if  they find a weakness in practices; and how they could commit to making their own internal investigations fully public.

It is about demonstrating honesty and openness when it hurts the most, even if it costs money in the short term, because you can almost guarantee it’s going to cost that and more in the long term.