Archive for Advice

Scratching the PR Scab

Leave old wounds alone.

This adage applies as much to corporate crisis management as it does to interpersonal relationships.

When a company can’t shake off the last big disaster (example: if the CEO keeps mentioning ‘the incident’ at meetings), the effect could be insidious.

Even if it is with good intentions in mind.

I believe a company cannot be run well with some part of its drive based on fear. That aside, getting too hung up on old wounds also means that the organization will probably box itself in with regard to its environmental scanning and issues tracking processes of crisis communication.

The result? Failure to anticipate and avert crises of a different nature than the last one.


Keep your key messages human

Newspapers report projected targets of gold medals at sports events.

Better newspapers report the athletes to watch.

Which one do PR practitioners want to appeal to?

By focusing key messages on human factors, brands can leverage on the following 4 outcomes:

1.Ease of building brand relationships
One sure-fire way to make your brand more endearing and facilitate positive engagement with consumers is to have key messages that relate to them and which they can relate back to. The Johnson and Johnson (J&J) Credo is one such key brand message that clearly state the people-oriented nature of their business. While communicating such human-centered messages, constituents will be more ready to respond to any message put forward by the brand, for example advertising messages.

2. Greater tolerance of brand shortcomings
Human beings are more compassionate toward their fellow rational beings. During a crisis, publics respond more favourably when the key message of a brand is focused on the stakeholders that contribute to it. Emotional attachment can soften the impact of a factual shortcoming, preventing loss of faith and confidence in a brand among consumers and investors. The goodwill fostered between J&J and their customers helped the brand bounce back strongly the Tylenol crisis. Likewise, a football team dedicated to people development, like Arsenal Football Club for example, can divert fans from getting hung up on results and hence foster an internal culture of goodwill and patience that brands can learn from. Success can then be spurred from this internal goodwill – Google and Starbucks show us that.

3. Increase brand equity
By keeping key messages human, brands can leverage not only on brand equity of the brand itself, but on the equity of the many personal brands that can help create a whole much bigger (and friendlier) than its parts. Human interest has long been an integral part of the journalistic news value; much like how a story with a moving, human angle can attract readers and give substance to a news publication, a brand with human-centered key messages is a brand that can successfully tap upon the intangible assets of its individual constituents.

4. Differentiation of brand from competitors
Human key messages are a good way to distinguish a brand from its competitors. What makes the Barclays English Premier League (EPL) so popular over other accomplished football leagues in Europe? It is the emphasis on the players that make up the league. Official television programmes like the weekly EPL highlights do more than just show the game, but also invites viewers around the world to a sneak peek into the lives of footballers where other league programmes do not. Football fans are fans of the EPL by virtue of longtime identification of the personality of the teams, managers and players created and sustained by the media, so brands should not neglect the human aspects of all brand touch-points.

These outcomes can protect a brand with human key messages to a great extent from the impact of market forces, while serving to strengthen existing brand attributes. Focusing on making key brand messages human can go a long way to help ensure a brand’s survivability in the long run.

My plan to get Tiger out of the Woods

Biceps aren't only thing popping up for Tiger Woods at the moment

Golfer Tiger Woods clearly needs some rescuing before his career goes out-of-bounds for a triple bogey. As we wait for him to find his ball in the rough and get on with the game we know that the longer he takes, the worse the outcome for him and his reputation. This doesn’t take much figuring out at all.

I am sure Woods knows this too. Looking at his Twitter account, I surmise he is a rather taciturn man. Perhaps he is used to the silence of the golf course as he takes his swings. But now it is the media that is ready to take aim, and when the hordes of hungry reporters swing at him, the whole world will hear Tiger whimper like an abused cat. I love cats dearly and share great emotional attachment with them, but I don’t share quite the same sentiments for Tiger Woods. Right now, he just looks like he’s begging to be kicked. That guy needs a wake-up call.

Nonetheless, this is an interesting case for all PR practitioners and aspiring ones like me to look at. I have my own plan to pull the Tiger out of the hole he has dug for himself. Vital point to note: the more time that ticks away, the harder it will be for him to come straight out into the open without looking like a deer in the headlights – awkward and dumbstruck.

My communication strategy will focus on 3 things:

  1. Give the media a good reason to reduce the intensity of bad publicity against Woods
  2. Buy time for the taciturn Woods to speak up without fueling too much speculation in doing so
  3. Give the media a reliable source to divert them away from the rampant and random speculation

So that was the strategy, now here’s the action plan summarised in three steps:

Step 1: Find a close, high-profile family friend to open up to

Ideally, this friend knows both Mr. and Mrs. Woods well. He should ideally be a fellow pro golfer, and has a good relationship with the media and can talk to the media well, and can be seen as a approachable, good friend. Can anyone tell me who could assume this role?

Step 2: Friend talks to the media

Armed with the truth from the Woods household, he should get in touch with a reliable member of the press. Then the friend will emphasise to the reporter that it has been a difficult time for the Woods family, thank the media for their support (even though there wasn’t any), and basically try to buy time while placating the hordes of hungry journalists. Finally, the friend should promise that Tiger will come clean at a certain date. The transcript should look like this:

I am a close friend of Tiger and Elin for X years. After the incident I got to talk to both of them, a cup of nice warm coffee by the fireplace, and after meeting them I can say that I am relieved that not only are things stable, but they are moving forward and as someone who cares about Tiger and Elin, I feel happy for them and that I was there for them during this period.

Tiger would like to thank the people in the media and everyone that has shown concern for him and his family in the past few days. I know Tiger as a quiet, gentle and good-natured man who needs time to collect his thoughts before speaking to the public about a matter that is close to his heart. He has told me he wants to be outright about it and he will speak to the media soon – at a date to be determined by him and Elin. Meanwhile, the Woods family and his friends continue to seek your patience, understanding and share in your interests that Tiger’s story with regard to the incident be told in due time.

Step 3: Back to the drawing board

Now Tiger Woods has about a week, maximum two weeks to plan how he should come clean. The point is, by leveraging on a human face to communicate and connect with the media, Wood’s can buy valuable time to collect his thoughts and craft a message that necessarily builds on the good work that the friend has done. Sometimes, indirect communication is the best way to communicate, and I see this particular scenario as fitting to use such a tactic to fulfill the strategy that I have laid out.

Till Woods speaks up himself, the friend would have to continue to take some heat as the conduit between the Woods family and the media. A tricky proposition yes, but worth a try in my book.

4 Reasons Why Customer Service Is Clumsy On Twitter

May I not help you?

It’s a customer service rep’s nightmare. Twitter. I can imagine this poor guy in front of his computer screen, blood pressure rising as the customer service Twitter feed that he is supposed to oversee updates itself as fast as his heart is beating. This is the problem that is probably going to shorten the lifespans of a lot of customer service reps whose companies have decided they want to ‘Go Twitter’.

But why is Twitter such a bad tool for customer service?

1. Twitter is Low-Bandwidth

A high-bandwidth medium, like the telephone, can convey the richness of an exchange between a customer service rep and the customer. Emails and help forums come a close second, with high capacity for textual explanation without the need to link to generalised help pages that leave the customer scouring for relevance.

Twitter is primitive: in the sense that everything is in a linear, simplified textual flow with no direct, one-step way to solve any technical problem more complex than ‘restarting the program’ or ‘going out and smell the roses’.

2. Twitter is Misunderstood by Companies

Some companies see Twitter as a quick fix to brand and relationship building – a magic pill on a magic bandwagon. Too often, they do not understand Twitter enough or plan strategically (as they would have in other things) because they think that they can just jump right in and then feel around only afterward. Without strategic planning prior to a commitment to social media, resources are not going to be optimised. You get 7 staff to deal with 17 tweets per minute, and suddenly a 30-minute call on hold actually sounds good to the customer.

3. Twitter is Misused by Customers

Increasingly, customers are thinking that Twitter is the Holy Grail for customer service. It is not. Just like how monorails are not the pinnacle of public transportation excellence. Some customers just cannot peel themselves away from the illusion that Twitter can provide a ‘one-on-one’ customer service experience. Others equate the ease of twittering to the ease of feedback for the company in question. Customers get complacent, unreasonable and irresponsible: those who have once bothered to Google now treat Twitter like Google and expect the same (if not higher) quality and promptness of response. Worse, Twitter’s 140 character limit encourages superfluous complaints that have not gone through much thought in the minds of the customers typing those tweets. It poses a real nightmare for reps: how to separate real concerns from the lazy ones.

4. Twitter is not made for Customer Service

In customer service offices around the world, elaborate and complex software programmes and sorting systems actively classify and categorise incoming customer service enquiries. Twitter? Enough said.

Convenience is bad rationale for a primordial way of conducting customer service through Twitter. It’s like jostling with thousands in a crowded room with the customer service rep trying too hard to stay alive in the middle to answer queries well. Good customer service is worth the salt that more traditional modes of communication can offer. Once again, it is wise to bear in mind that Social Media channels are not a one-size-fits-all kind of thing, especially not when it comes to building good customer relations.

The fallacy of automatic confidentiality statements in company email

It is a standard measure taken by all organisations big and small around the world, but having confidentiality statements attached to outgoing emails by default may in fact be “dangerous”, according to Mark Cenite, Acting Division Head of Communication Research at the Wee Kim Wee School of Communication and Information (SCI) in Singapore.

Cenite, who holds a Juris Doctor degree in Law from Stanford University, said that “such blanket statements may be rendered redundant” on the grounds that it had also previously been attached to emails that contain non-confidential and trivial information.

“Legally, since the statement appears on every single email, it loses its function to indicate and classify which messages are truly confidential and is of little help,” he said.

According to Cenite, who teaches the fundamentals of confidentiality law to SCI undergraduates, maximum legal protection for sensitive information in emails can only be obtained when senders manually and explicitly indicate the confidential nature of the email.

This can be as simple as typing the word ‘CONFIDENTIAL’ at the beginning of the confidential message.

The lack of utility of the blanket statement, Cenite said, could also “give a false sense of security to people who are communicating confidential information”.

Despite the limited legal value of the measure, the Nanyang Technological University (NTU) in Singapore had decided to automatically attach confidentiality statements for all outbound staff and faculty emails from October 6 onwards.

Chew Kheng Chuan, Chief University Advancement Officer of NTU, said the “incorporation of confidentiality statements into emails will remind faculty, staff and recipients the basic privacy expectations that are part of accepted best practices.”

To this, Cenite said: “(The school) is following a norm but that might not be very helpful.”

He proposed a way to better protect the confidentiality of emails.

Cenite said: “Rather than pursuing the blanket approach, I would suggest that they (the school) educate faculty and staff on the basics of confidentiality or give them tips on how to distinguish confidential information.

“It is not a very difficult thing for any organisation to do,” he said.

Why not settling for what you have can be a good thing.

Imagine: after spending some time thinking of ideas for a creative assignment (advertising/graphic design/business planning etc.), you are mentally exhausted.

You have a few of them on the table: scribbles, sketches, doodles. Inside you softly concede that among those ideas, none are outstanding. (This requires critical evaluation of your own and/or your groupmates’ ideas.)

You proceed to do one of the following:

  1. Pick the one that you feel best with or could agree with the most (i.e. you feel least guilty over choosing)
  2. Pick the one the you feel would get the best grade/feedback from the client (i.e. the least chance of getting stick)
  3. Pick the one that most group members can agree upon, like good ol’ democracy

Whichever one of the above you or your group may pick, it probably would be a bad choice. Not that the idea chosen might necessarily suck, but this inhibits us from excelling in the work that we take pride in. This is called satisficing.

According to Matthew E. May, the author of In Pursuit of Elegance: Why The Best Ideas Have Something Missing, the word “satisfice” combines “satisfy” and “suffice” that Nobel Laureate Herbert Simon coined over fifty years ago in his book Models of Man to describe the default decision-making process by which we generally accept the first option that offers an acceptable payoff and stop looking for the best way to solve the problem. While satisficing helps us make it through the day, it’s deadly when you’re trying to design a compelling solution.

So when a situation like the above happens, don’t just go back to the drawing board. Break out of the thinking process and patterns you have been used to. Mark the existing ideas in your head and make a commitment, for the time being, to leave it as is. It helps to stash it away and making it clear verbally that you will move on; depart your port of call and sail out to the ocean and explore and fish again. Don’t look back.

How do you do this? May gives an interesting example on his article (the one that I have linked you to), which I will paraphrase a bit here.

Suppose your client is a kitchen appliance company, and the brief is to market a new convection oven in the Tropics of south-east Asia.

  1. Go to the dictionary, open it to any page, and pick the first noun on the page—for example: cow.
  2. Now brainstorm as many characteristics, concepts, and ideas that relate to “cow.”—for example: grass, milk, beef, black and white, brown, moo, field, herd, gentle, and docile.
  3. Pick one or two of those associations and relate them back to your problem. Use them to spark creativity and new ways of thinking about ovens. This will help you get off the normal path of ideas associated with appliances—for example, the word “black and white” might spur the marketing ‘big idea’ of ‘food is either good or bad, there’s no in-between’ or ‘what makes food great?’. Or ‘brown’ together with ‘gentle’ may conjure up some great graphic and semiotic ideas about food roasted to perfection, given most ovens’ tendency to be too strong and over-cook your favourite slab of meat!
  4. Now use this technique with the real problem that you’re trying solve.

Dr KC Yeoh, my mentor/lecturer at Graphic Communications class back in 2008, recognised the importance of not satisficing and helped lift the standard of many a student’s work. Somewhat regrettably though, I notice that not all students understood what he was doing, agreed with him, or adopted this very useful philosophy for themselves. I hope this article will help you take another look at how you approach creative work!