The triple Ds no longer work

By John Kananghinis

A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away, corporate communications practitioners were taught that in a major crisis event there were three standby tools to use when the facts were unclear and/or unpalatable. They were the three Ds – Deny, Deflect and Delay.

That is not to mislead or to lie, but to skilfully use the three Ds to move attention away from the heat of the moment, thus allowing more time to polish the final messaging and place less immediate pressure on the, sometimes hapless, spokesperson – be they PR hack or CEO.

But times have changed. Media is now an immediate feedback loop. Commentary and opinion have replaced reporting, social media allows the previously voiceless to shout and the community has become more cynical.

The old tools don’t work all that well, if at all.

The growing discontent with Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews is likely driven in equal measure by three elements, the ineffectual use of the three Ds, concern around a personal style that can appear lacking in emotional connection and just plain overexposure.

Whoever is advising Premier Andrews needs to realise this is the 21st Century. The old ways don’t cut it. They had their boss deny numerous matters (such as this is not a second wave) that he later had to recant; they had him deflect, blame shifting to certain communities, youth, workers with no sick leave, Federal Government aged care agencies, non-mask wearers etc.; they continue to have him delay by claiming not to know about fundamental matters related to the handling of the first wave, that sparked the second, and by hiding behind a non-judicial enquiry.

It makes no difference how much of this is his doing and how much is bad advice. The media and the public have in, large measure, stopped buying it and the pile-on has begun.

Further communication bungles have not helped. Inconsistent messaging about isolation while awaiting test results, advice on the wearing of face masks and use of inappropriate and ineffective channels to explain restrictions to non-English speaking communities, have exacerbated the feeling of loss of control and of constantly playing catch-up.

Eventually the Australian BS filter kicks in and people start targeting the messenger, in this case the Premier.

Just 10 years ago BP provided an object lesson in how not to deal with a crisis. While their failed well was lubricating the Gulf of Mexico, their CEO, Tony Hayward – who was pictured sailing his racing yacht around the Isle of White – first tried denial “the amount of oil is relatively tiny in comparison to the very big ocean”, he declared. He tried deflection with many and various explanations for the drilling rig’s failure; he even tried delay, by claiming he did not have all the facts, yet. Ultimately, he blew himself out of the water (could not resist that) by saying “You, know, I would like my life back too.” That sour note sank his public standing and his career.

The three Ds did not work and a lack of appropriate contrition, empathy and a suitable tone left BP as one of least trusted corporations on the planet.

The Victorian Premier would do well to learn from such mistakes. Perhaps it is already too late.

RMK+A is highly experienced in crisis communication and has assisted businesses and organisations in managing public and stakeholder relations around major events for over 30 years.

Time for the opposite of desperation marketing

By John Kananghinis

In last week’s special edition of Words + Insights we wrote about the need for businesses to stay calm and to communicate.

This week we explore how to communicate to customers, during times of crisis, in a way that will build trust by reassuring, offering value and being measured.

By now, almost everyone will have been deluged by notifications from a range of businesses advising of the measures they are taking to address the pandemic.

Too late, then, to discuss the initial salvo of communication. What of the ongoing?

As with all marketing it must be driven by addressing a customer need. Right now the customer does not need to know that you are desperate to shift product. They know. Bombarding them with desperation ‘offers’ and ‘opportunities’ will not help them cope with the unique circumstances. More than likely it will annoy.

Frankly, there are more important things to worry about than missing out on a ‘great deal’. And such an approach may also strike a particularly discordant note, as if not really recognising the situation.

Delivering customer value must orbit around the needs of the current circumstance. If a business offers an essential service, communication must be around reassurance. If not essential, there are still many ways businesses can demonstrate that they are aware of the situation and doing their bit to help.

We have already seen many stories of the repurposing of capabilities to assist in providing vital aid to the fight against coronavirus. Breweries and distilleries producing branded hand sanitiser, luxury goods brands manufacturing personal protective equipment, auto manufacturers building respirators. All positive reactions and all legitimate and appropriate topics to communicate to their customer base.

There are even tangential ways businesses can help customers meet current needs. Using connections and partners to provide practical assistance. For example, reading lists, YouTube channels or viewing lists, home cooking recipes, fitness at home ideas from linked sportspeople. The ideas are limited only by imagination.

The reality is that most businesses will face a significant fall in sales. But with the extra time customers have in front of computer screens there need not be the same drop in engagement.

For those providing discretionary products and services keeping communication going, with value-adding content, can also be an opportunity to keep building desire. Just allowing customers to view/build/configure their dream product or service is a soft sell that can be both enjoyable and diverting. Again, not trying to shove distressed product down their throats, but a distraction that may help get them through a difficult time.

In short, keep communicating, reassure, be imaginative, offer value, be relevant and don’t be a pest.

Businesses that stick to those principles will build recognition and loyalty that is sure to give them a head start when the crisis abates.

RMK+A has developed and implemented integrated communication and marketing plans for clients in sectors as varied as automotive, heavy equipment, transport and logistics, energy, tourism, waste, insurance, finance and professional services.

The post pandemic political picture

By Andrew Elsbury

The political landscape of Australia and the world will be shifted significantly by the COVID19 outbreak. Indeed, as State Governments close their borders, effectively reinstating the sovereignty of their jurisdictions, many Australian citizens are getting a taste of the pre-federation Australia.

While Western Australia closed its borders almost completely, and both South Australia and Queensland have police at their border crossings, the Federal Government continues to attempt a coordinated response to the pandemic.

Prime Minister Morrison has already stated he is fighting a war on two fronts, one against the virus and the second against the potential economic disaster that the shutdowns and unemployment present.

On the first front there are signs of hope and new cases, for the time being, seem to be plateauing. On the second there will be a much longer road to recovery. For while paying employers to keep employees on is a welcome measure it is certainly unsustainable for a long term.

On the Friday (3/4/2020) episode of A Current Affair, Economist Chris Richardson stated “Our Governments don’t owe much debt, whereas the rest of the world owes heaps”. This is as close as a tick of approval as you are going to get for Coalition Government post 2013 fiscal policy. It does not mean we are immune to the global financial catastrophe but we will weather it better than most nations.

The third front the Prime Minister diplomatically avoids talking about is the one he is fighting against the State Premiers. In particular Gladys Berejiklian and Daniel Andrews. Both have been problematic with their push for school shutdowns and a stated desire for complete population lockdowns.

You only need to listen to the Victorian and New South Wales government lines of ‘ensure you have 14 days of supplies in your homes’, while Canberra is saying don’t panic buy, to see an inconsistency in messaging.

For the time being, a détente has been reached between the states and federal government. However, with school holidays in Victoria ending next week, you can expect the debate around students returning to school campuses to become a flashpoint.

The comfort that Australian governments, of any persuasion, can have in a crisis is that voters are loathe to change the government of the day. Barring a complete failure, the population will generally seek the security of a continuation of government.

The Federal Parliament does not need to go to an election until 3 September 2022, however, I would suspect that an election will be held in 2021, allowing the Morrison Government to maintain the momentum of the COVID19 response. Victoria is not due to go to the polls until November 2022 and NSW is March 2023, and I would suspect both incumbents will retain power.

Even when concern around the virus is gone the lingering financial impact of the pandemic will be only the beginning of the disruption it will cause.

Many nations will take a Trump style approach to trade, seeking to maintain industrial capacity inside their country with a greater emphasis on self-reliance for critical supply chains.

Social media is already rife with anti-China rhetoric. This is not just an Australian phenomenon. We are already seeing various states blaming China, not just for the pandemic but accusing them of profiteering from the global impact.

This sort of talk can be dangerous. Those of a radical political agenda may seek to capitalise on high unemployment rates and increasing nationalism. Pride in one’s nation is not inherently a bad thing, but when that translates to hatred of another, that is where danger lurks.

There is no doubt that the world will emerge from this crisis significantly changed. The political impetus for greater globalisation will not only have been halted but, most likely, reversed. That, alone, will create new geo-political pressures.

National sovereignty, control of borders, greater self-reliance and residual government social and economic support will make traditional left and right ideological divides almost obsolete.

Governments that have managed to avoid total catastrophe (however one defines that) will likely accrue a significant incumbency benefit. How they continue to govern will also look quite different.

 

RMK+A has decades of experience working with clients to help them understand the political environment and its impact on their business. We provide analysis and briefings based on client’s market position, competitive setting, the political background and regulatory framework.

Keep Calm and Communicate

By John Kananghinis & Alexander Corne

If you’re not in your bunker expecting the worst and eying the corporate cyanide capsule, then you should be communicating clearly, calmly and with authority to the various stakeholders in your business.

Executives need to communicate in two directions at once, and largely with the same message; to their directors or owners above, and to their direct reports, below.

Ideally this downward communication should stretch further than just direct reports, all the way through the business. It needs to be personal, credible and straight-forward. Now is not the time for corporate-speak babble.

Every single person in the business is worried about how they will sustain life and lifestyle. Employees in constant fear for their jobs do not function optimally.

Then there are the external suppliers and customers to consider. They are equally confused and worried but need to be similarly calmed, consoled and corralled.

The key to successful communication in a crisis is firstly to avoid the panic of the talking-heads and media tarts. The crisis may be global but your response must be local.

The tools to deliver crisis communication are, today, easy to employ. The variety of online captive and public platforms make getting in contact, even face-to-face, very easy. However, it is the appropriateness of the platform for the message and clarity of the message itself that are the important elements.

From team member briefings to new services and operating procedures for customer care, to investor and partner information, all need to be communicated cognisant of the appropriate channel, tone and necessary detail for each audience.

The coronavirus emergency is likely to be with us for some time, during which rules and resulting business responses will change. To remain of value, communications will need to be current. Crisis communication is not a set-and-forget proposition, nor does one-size-fit-all circumstances. Continual assessment of the situation and updating of messages will be necessary.

Devising and delivering such ongoing communication can stretch the resources of even the most sophisticated corporate communications and/or marketing team.

This is where expert external support can make the difference between a perception of ineffective response or one of a business that is dealing with the situation in a manner that supports customers, team members and partners. A business well-placed to quickly return to growth in the eventual recovery will have a distinct commercial advantage.

RMK+A has advised and supported numerous organisations in times of difficulty and is equipped to offer a suite of communication advice and implementation support during this challenging period.

We have devised clear, cost effective, packages of support ranging from core customer and team communications through to detailed investor, regulatory and media relations. A discussion with us could help your business to navigate a smoother passage through these turbulent times.