Arthur Andersen demise–a case of bad cell phone connection?

Yesterday I spoke at a chapter meeting of the Association of Contingency Planners and mentioned again that Arthur Andersen was an excellent example of a company that didn’t need to die, but did because its leaders thought the relevant battle was in the court of law and not the court of public opinion. Wrong. The won the court case, but by that time the company was dead because they didn’t pay attention to the opinions of those who really mattered to the firm’s future: the customers, and not the judges.

One of those in attendance sent me this ad which maybe you have seen but I hadn’t. Not sure if it actually ran anywhere but its one of the few jokes that I will use the internet to send on to others.

Enron Sprint Ad

More on WholeFoods and buyout battle

I commented recently about Whole Foods and their effort to buy out a competitors which would leave them largely standing alone in the organic food retail space nationally. Seems the FTC has some concerns about that kind of concentration–as is their job to do. I had some concerns about the impact on Whole Foods’ reputation given the adverse opinion most of the world has about monopolies or near monopolies (or even ones that remotely look like they might be).

John Mackey, Whole Foods’ CEO doesn’t think much of the FTC concerns about his plan, and made that very clear on his blog. This article highlights the fray and the potential impact of Mackey’s shall I say strong criticism of the FTC. What makes this interesting is again the intersection of blogging–in this case CEO blogging–on the business environment. And the clash of cultures that exist. Government regulators want you to play nice with them or else they will use the only power they really have–the power to say “no”–against you. Get pissy with them and they have ways of getting back. Bloggers and blog readers of course love the open, straightforward, highly personal, intensely real response of Mackey. Wise? From a blogger perspective, anything less would be unwise? From a business success standpoint–we’ll see.

Media feeding frenzy vs. blog feeding frenzy–the Continental "poo flight"

At the risk of being circular, Custom Scoop’s blog commented on my blog post on Continental and added some very interesting perspectives. My focus was on the media feeding frenzy, their’s was on the blog feeding frenzy, which is in every respect more crazed, more callous, more angry, more outrageous than the worst excesses of mainstream media.

Again, this is of great importance to crisis managers and why it is imperative that blog monitoring be a part of any crisis manager’s toolkit these days. And it is important to understand that as the mainstream media continues to fight for its place in a rapidly changing public information world and its excesses become greater, those excesses will pale in comparison to what replaces it. Not more moderate approaches or more reasonable and thoughtful comment respecting people, such as the Continental employees, who are working hard every day to do a good job, but instead wild, uncontrolled anger, bitter screeds, and false accusations and information. Welcome to the new wild west of information.

The media feeding frenzy–on an unsavory Continental mess

Here’s a story about the Continental airlines reputation problem resulting from a trans-Atlantic flight with sewage–that is human excrement–flowing into the aisles for seven hours. I saw Mr Brock, the enraged passenger, on KING 5 last night. He was talking about all the networks and all the news outlets trying to get his story and offering him money for it. I can’t imagine how disgusting it might have been to be on that flight. But what I find almost equally disgusting is the degree to which today’s media clamour for someone to give them the story and the video they need to build an audience. Now, I know it is their business to do so, and it also seems pretty clear that this was not Continental’s shining hour, but I still find it disturbing how callously today’s infotainment process deals with reputations that people work years to build and protect.  And I also find it distasteful to see how quickly people are willing to become pawns in this game. Sort of like a lottery ticket I guess. Make hay while you can. In the meantime, I think about the thousands or tens of thousands of hard working Continental employees who may be harmed by someone flushing stuff down the toilet they shouldn’t have and someone willing to cash in on a truly horrible situation.

Thomas Tanker, Whole Foods, Apple iphone launch

A few random comments.

It really sucks when a favorite toy gets recalled. Thomas and Friends wooden rail cars are being recalled. There’s a boat load of them, and no wonder, because they are made in China. Seems there was some lead paint used. The ABC News story is interesting. First, you can see the anger of parents in some of the comments and the immediate knee-jerk reaction to get a class action lawsuit going. Within the same news story you can see that while the trains with the bad paint are only about 4% of what they sell in the US and have been isolated to one rogue plant in China, the company RC2 is advising parents to take all Thomas Tanker toys away from their kids to be safe. The Consumer Products Commission is loudly proclaiming the danger–even though there are no reports of injuries or any impacts. Now, I am not downplaying the potential dangers of lead-based paint, but it is also possible that the real story here is hidden deep inside the news reports. It talks about the huge increase in recalls in products from China. A recent article in Economist strongly suggested that the US crackdown and China’s exports has to do with the ongoing dispute with that nation over intellectual property protection and other globalization issues. China is responding by starting to turn back US food imports at the border because they are not “safe.”

I’m only guess here, but what if a company like RC2 and an innocent and sweet little train like Thomas are actually caught up in a much bigger battle over fair and free trade on a global scale. What do you do about reputation management then? How can you possibly fight back. It sounds like the old saying, when the elephants dance, the ants had better run for cover.

Whole Foods has a growing reputation problem. It’s the same problem we’ve talked about here in relation to Microsoft. The reputation of the giant suffered hugely when it was viewed as an unstoppable giant with a near monopoly. My theory is the emergence of Google as not just a rival but a potential additional near-monopoly has taken the heat off Microsoft and made them also likeable again if not loveable. Now Whole Foods is loudly, according this article anyway, proclaiming its intention to be the only real player in the organic food retail business. Dangerous ground. Beware of what you ask for.

So, AT&T is gearing up for a huge rush of new business when the iphone is released next week. Apple has done a great job of hyping this including the front cover article in a recent issue of The Economist.

But of course, there is the danger of overhyping. What if the lines don’t materialize at the AT&T store? Is buying a phone really like buying a video game, or will many of us be willing to wait and see how things emerge? It will be interesting to watch, but one thing seems certain, by failing to manage expectations, unless it is an absolutely rip roaring success, Apple’s stock will go down and its reputation will be harmed. I think I would have opted for a little more caution.

Communication Drills–why they go wrong

Yesterday, on our online conference on oil spill communications we discussed current practices in oil spill drill communications. I and others in my company have participated in a large number of oil spill drills and in the communication function of those known as the Joint Information Center. (If you want more information about JICs here are a couple of places to go: The National Response Team JIC manual, and a more updated JIC Guidance manual by one of the nation’s top experts in JICs and current technology (Select “JIC Guidance Manual-Pfuhl))The JIC as it is called, brings together communicators from the various agencies and companies involved in the spill response to be able to serve as one coordinated voice for the response. It is an excellent concept and it has proven to work very very well. But, there are always problems, of course.

Most problems are related to lack of training, lack of good leadership, lack of understanding of the task at hand. The oil industry along with major federal and state agencies work together in annual drills to hone their skills in responding to a spill as well as improving their ability to communicate with the public. But, as we discussed on the call, when the drill planners don’t understand the new world of digital media and how the internet has impacted public information, the drill is too often an exercise in solving problems of yesterday rather than today. Far too many drills I’ve seen are preparing to meet the information expectations of audiences 10 or 15 years ago–and the world has gone on. That’s because frequently the drill planners are emergency response experts who simply don’t live in the world of public information and have little exposure to the drastic changes occuring around them. “Blog? What’s a blog?”

If you are a drill planner or involved in the communication response to a drill, and especially if you are to play the role of “truth” or the “simulation cell,” here are some things you should consider:

- today’s audiences expect information fast, directly and transparently–and they expect a continual flow of new information

- it is imperative to work with the Incident Commanders in advance to outline how the PIO needs to meet today’s expectations

- the JIC is NOT about doling out the minimum of information to the media at the door or calling in to the News Desk or Media Responders. It is about building trust by meeting all stakeholders demand for fast, accurate sent directly to them and regularly. And their expectation the full and unvarnished truth of what is happening.

- Plan on 60-75% of the inquiries coming into the JIC from stakeholders–neighbors, community leaders, government officials, family members, activists, bloggers, etc. It is NOT about simply dealing with the media and letting them tell your story for you. Those days are gone forever.

- Bloggers will be very very active in a major event. They will be telling your story as well. The drill must include simulation of blogger activity including false info and angry accusations. Not including this is to live in a world that went away a few years ago.

- Since the “stakeholder first” strategy involves government officials and community stakeholders, the communication with them cannot be separated into entirely separate functions from the JIC. Technology today is aimed at sending simultaneous messages to multiple audiences. That means the Liaison Officer and the Community Relations leader must be part of the JIC and closely coordinate with the distribution of information.

- The JIC concept itself is outdated in the sense of a physical location for the communicators. By the time a JIC is set up and ready to operate the instant news world has told the story, thoroughly discussed it, the public has made its judgment and are moving on to other topics. If a physical JIC is set up, a Virtual JIC must be employed first in order to meet the initial and most important demands for information

- Virtual JICs are increasingly common (see previous post for excellent white paper on this by Bret Atkins of Ohio State Dept of Public Health)

- the purpose of the JIC is to build trust by meeting the stakeholders’s demand for fast, accurate, direct and transparent information. Anything less will doom the response in terms of public confidence and credibility. This is a job made much tougher by the fact that the public has already made judgments about those involved because of the environmental damage and pre-conceptions about the basic moral character of those in the oil industry.

Thanks again to Neil Chapman of BP for participating in this conference.

Oil Spill Communications–free online conference

If you are in communications in the oil business chances are you have been involved in JICs (Joint Information Centers). In which case, you may be interested in the online conference I will be speaking at this week. If you are not in the oil business, but know you need to know more about JICs and how large multi-agency response teams work together to get the word out in today’s instant information world, you will still find this interesting.

To find out more, and also to learn about a massive oil spill drill going on in the midwest this week (using our communication technology of course), read pierblog. The online conference is free and you can register online at the link provided on pierblog or at www.piersystem.com.

By the way, speaking with me will be my good friend and highly respected communicator Neil Chapman, Director of Communications for BP North America.

An intriguing video–plus learn all about RSS

I’ve been blogging about how important it is to use video as part of crisis/issue communication. I’m sure some thing, well I can’t because it has to have great production values. Look at this one. It whimsically and wonderfully combines high tech and low tech (holding up papers??) plus lots of hand gestures. But, it does a great job of educating and entertaining at the same time.

I have another reason for sharing this with you. I know how important RSS is and I’ve had tech folks all around me explain it–but this guy does a better job of anybody. And, now you know how to create an RSS feed for crisisblogger!

Any one with Life Insurance Crisis Case Studies?

A crisisblogger reader has requested that if anyone out there in blog land has any good examples of crises involving life insurance companies, she would certainly like to hear of them. I came up empty on that question. I guess that means life insurance companies are crisis immune. (Not!) If you know of any good examples, please comment and let us know where we can get more info. It will help one exec make a much better presentation.

The CEO as Ultimate Communicator–new validation

I wrote about the emergence as the CEO or the top leader of the company as “The Ultimate Communicator” in the second edition of Now Is Too Late2. That idea has been thoroughly and carefully validated by Dr. Leslie Gaines-Ross, Chief Reputation Strategist for Weber Shandwick. Here is an interesting interview with the good doctor from Daily Dog along with information about her research and her book CEO Capital: A Guide to Building CEO Reputation and Company Success.

For those who want a quick read, here are few gems:

How exactly does a CEO’s reputation shape a company’s reputation? How does that impact the bottom line?

The book addresses this in detail. But at a cursory level, research has shown the two are very much intertwined. Some of that research was done here at Weber Shandwick. For example, we have found that 63 percent of a company’s market capitalization is tied to the CEO’s reputation. It’s that important. There is a true premium that investors will pay for the right CEO. Another bottom line impact is that talent flocks to companies with the best leadership. Similarly, business partners gravitate toward companies with admired CEOs.

For PR, we’re seeing a tremendous tipping point in the business landscape. Companies and their leaders need to communicate effectively now. So CEOs and the entire executive team must be prepared for that. They need to be trained to speak to the media and other stakeholders. They need to understand the risks to reputation that they carry. It’s like the “Golden Decade of PR” now, because what PR people do is more important than ever. PR people need to help companies reach their publics directly through the CEO. Now is the era of two-way dialog and that includes, as mentioned earlier, things like blogs and podcasts. It also includes every employee on staff. They’re all citizen journalists. I think a lot of this is really hard for CEOs who largely used to be focused on operations. Conversely, it’s an incredible time for PR, whose job it is to communicate.