Early this year I declared (not that anyone noticed) that 2007 would be the year of authenticity. That word, like transparency, is noble sounding but not necessarily well defined. Bulldog publisher Jim Sinkinson does a great job of not only helping gain clarity around this topic, but also providing some relevant and recent examples of why it is essential.
The struggle that many companies are having relating to this idea of authenticity or transparency and translating that into the online conversation was highlighted for me in a conversation with an attendee at a presentation I was making. He said that the company had decided not to comment on blog sites or respond to bloggers in anyway, nor blog themselves, because things happened so fast in the blog world that they couldn’t get their approval process moving fast enough to keep up with it. He asked what I thought of that, if it was an appropriate decision. Hmmm. No. Address the policies which is what you can control. But using your speech impediment as an excuse for not participating in the conversation simply doesn’t cut it.
One sad outcome of the Virginia Tech tragedy has been the hyper-activity of many of the notification vendors who provide phone or text message services. I have talked to a number of university leaders and all have commented on how they have been inundated with pitches–many of them distasteful in light of the tragic circumstances.
Then you get those who claim they are the first or only or whatever–even by people who know better. Here is an example from an otherwise excellent article about the emergence of mass notifications in crisis communication by Bulldog Reporter writer David Henderson. What university and other communicators need to know is that there is a dizzying array of notification options and providers. What they also need to know is that sending a max 140 character message on a cell phone, or sending a brief phone message, or lighting up a digital sign (all good ideas) will trigger a massive demand for information. It will require continual delivery of messages to those who wish to receive them, it will require a virtual non-stop flow of information on a specially-prepared website, it will require the ability to manage potentially thousands of personal interactions–all with a very stretched and probably distributed leadership and communication team.
There are complete solutions that help you do that. But don’t think that communication end once you triggered the siren. Now the real work begins.
Today’s Bulldog Reporter Daily Dog newsletter includes a piece I wrote about what is happening to the media and using my analysis of the coverage of the Delta Zeta story as an example.
I commented yesterday about how the discussion about Delta Zeta and the NYT’s coverage is lasting well beyond the newspaper’s coverage. An important lesson for crisis communicators because this lengthens greatly the time of a crisis event and adds to the need to continue communicating. Those involved in the discussion after the media flash has gone are frequently the most interested and the most passionate about the topic (as some of the comments on crisisblogger can demonstrate.) Now I find myself contributing to the phenomenon.
I look forward to the discussion that will come from this. I just read the comment from Carl who points out the difference between print media and broadcast–noting that broadcast tends to the more sensational and entertainment focus rather than print because it is so driven by immediate ratings. I agree, Carl, but that too is changing. As all print media now have their news websites, they have become broadcasters. They not only now compete more on the basis of speed–immediacy is everything–but they also compete on the basis of immediate ratings. The ad dollars they generate both on their sites and by driving site viewers to their print versions is based on traffic to their sites. They are now also ratings driven and I think we are seeing the result of that. Whether or not the Delta Zeta story is an example, I am not sure. But more and more all news media are competing on similar terms and based on quickly generating as big an audience as they can.
Bulldog reports that Johnson & Johnson’s golden image is being tarnished by the revelation of improper payments made by foreign subsidiaries. I think just the opposite. Perhaps even more than the Tylenol case–which is routinely heralded as the best ever case study in managing a crisis–the way J&J is handling this serious situation sets the tone for crisis management in this age of transparency and authenticity.
In this case, some people affiliated with the company did some bad things (from a US perspective–global companies all struggle with a wide variation of what is ethical–but that is another matter). So what did the company do:
1) they disclosed it to the officials who would be charged with investigating them
2) they made their disclosure publicly–while making it clear that the company discovered and disclosed it proactively
3) the highest level executive who had oversight over this resigned, making clear that he accepted responsibility by virtue of his position. No mealy mouth talk about not knowing what was going on–if it happened on his watch, he accepted responsibility.
Bulldog’s headline writers consistently get the story wrong, as any long time reader of this blog will note. Maybe I’m wrong. Maybe J&J will take a beating for this. It certainly is possible given how eager we all seem to be to take down those people and organizations who we have up on a pedestal. But from what I can see, this is a text book case of how to do it right when it hits the fan.