Archive for January, 2011

January 31, 2011

Megalomaniac CEOs…….

……drive companies to extremes! A new study on Powerful CEOs and Strong Boards as a counterbalance.

January 30, 2011

Damned if you do, damned if you don’t

RIM in India refuses to agree to the government and is slammed. Vodafone in Egypt accedes to the government’s demand and is slammed.

What is the right stance in such situations? Can there be a legitimate global code of conduct that guides multinational brands in all such situations? Or at least most of them. And can this code accommodate the challenge of local disparities in legal and cultural situations? Companies have been known to quietly taken advantage of loop holes in local laws. And when these generally arbitrary legal systems have turned around to bite, they have complained and protested. In India it is not just multinationals who have done.The local biggies have led the way. 

Is there a World Corporate Council – and we are not talking about a wining and dining three-day festivals of grunts and groans – anywhere on this globe? No probably nothing serious and committed to taking dilemmas by the horn. 

Just as with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, can there be a single universal people oriented code of corporate conduct that we can use to see whether our actions are legally right or wrong ? Global law versus local law is a debate in the human rights space. Can business join in? 

When local governments violate human and social rights, is there any way for companies to come together and take them on? Without business there is no economy and without an economy there is no government. Think of the clout business in every country really carries to make the right kind of changes. BUT… have to take the people with you. Are the people with business today?

A fitting end to this piece is an articulate and objective view of Davos this year:

January 28, 2011

Talk and Walk

Brand Reputation is possibly the most valuable asset a company has.  But the Brand now finds itself in an intensely complex and confounding environment. Informed consumers, vacillating regulators, no holds barred competitors, militant civil groups, engaged commentators, multiple and open channels of communication, a sharp drive for transparency and uncaring almost irresponsible media.

January 19, 2011

Oil Giant Plans New Platform Near Feeding Ground of Critically Endangered Whale

A company part owned by Shell…………….how responsible is this?

January 18, 2011

Advertising in Adversity: Are you serious?

An oxymoron if ever there was one. But this has never deterred brands committed to ONLY advertising to get their point across, from using it to bludgeon the public whenever they like.

In brand speak adversity means crisis and all received wisdom states that you do not “advertise” till you fix the problem your brand is facing and causing. When a brand is in crisis you do not talk for yourself, you make others – if you are fortunate – talk for you.

The best advertising works with simple and powerful truths using wit and depth to build a relationship with consumers and create a credible brand world in which we exist benefitting mutually: a world of values and emotions that create resonance and reassurance in our minds.

BP spent $ 93 million on advertising after the Gulf Oil Spill. Where did it get them? The jury is still out. The noise has lessened. The final impact of the crisis, its full damage to brand reputation and just how the brand will recover, is a matter for another discussion. Read the CBSNews story for details.;drawer-container

Defensive advertising has always sounded off key and unbelievable. A brand in crisis is surrounded by concerns and controversies that rattle consumers, annoy regulators, convulse communities. How can anyone even consider putting in a paid advertisement to explain what happened without first mitigating the effects of the crisis? And just because it is taking you so long to bring the crisis under control and because you are getting flack from all sides and because the media are hacking you to pieces and the government is riding your fender does not mean you issue advertising with half baked explanations.

Today good brand behavior demands companies do the following at all times and not just in adversity:

  • Honor the right to information of all stakeholders at all times.
  • Provide fair exchange of value regardless of any “branded” intangibles that are on offer.
  • Revise the old profit and loss equation and factor in social returns. Most of us are not just shareholders any more. Our social morality has progressed faster than that of the business houses.
  • Allow stakeholders to have their say in public and otherwise. Privacy is dead and social media channels have made sure of that. Your dirty linen will get washed in public whether you like it or not.
  • The litigant stakeholder has arrived and is here to stay. Gear up. Preferably look for ways to settle issues outside of court.
  • DO NOT ban media that give you bad coverage.
  • Appoint a Chief Vigilance Officer whose only job should be to keep an eye on all vulnerabilities as the PEST environment changes.

At the end of the day how engaged a brand is with the problem that affects communities, how intelligently the brand ensures a dialogue between itself and its well wishers as well as its enemies is the true test of a well managed crisis. Did you get the benefit of the doubt? Were your explanations accepted?

January 16, 2011

Social Influence….some ways to measure

Here is an article that compares online measures and measuring tools to tell you whether your social media outreach channels are creating any brand ”influence’  with your stakeholders. If they are not then why are you even bothering? OR should you be doing something different.

January 10, 2011

When did you last calculate your Return on Giving?

That’s right. Neither corporate philanthropy nor personal philanthropy on any recognizable scale can be sustained over the long-term without the givers doing a regular audit of where the funds went and what was achieved through the use of these funds. The purpose of social investment and business purpose if not aligned right from the start are likely to see a short-lived phenomenon of give and go away.

Perhaps it would be crass to say  this – but I will still say it  – that the value bestowed on the Brand through corporate philanthropy should be taken into account by the givers and recognised by the receivers. If managed well we can actually get on with filling the huge resource gaps in social development while pursuing a responsible, sustainable business model. Cynics will maintain that it is in the interest of businesses to invest in taking up living standards so that the pool of consumers grows and keeps growing. Realists should counter that unless the current economic model of growth is turned on its head, this is the only available option. NGOs should cooperate by seeing this as an opportunity to actually ‘manage’ social development and not just be seen as good for something but not much. Government should respond by changing whatever policy and regulations need change as quickly as possible. Commitment all round is what we need but so far it has only been words.

Fund utilization, project management, resource training —- the entire repertoire of business management concepts can now be used in a new direction. Companies have these skills but does their senior managementever get involved in the oversight of social development projects which they might be funding? Not likely.

January 8, 2011

Rethinking Capitalism

Rethinking Capitalism.

January 3, 2011

Developing a Crisis Consciousness: Need for a Chief Vigilance Officer

Citibank and the employee fraud news is just one in a long line of brand crises that have hit the financial sector in India and abroad. How hard would it be for big global brands such as Citibank to actually do some anticipation of risks and plan response strategies. The first of which would not be to muzzle the media. It would be to put in place a system of whistleblowers. It would also be to appoint what could perhaps be called a Chief Vigilance Officer…not in the tradition of the Government however.  

In fact this is the crisis management concept I would like to offer to corporate India. You spend so much money on so many branding initiatives, how much do you invest in crisis planning? How regular are your vulnerability audits? How current is your crisis manual? When was the last time you had a simulation session for a crisis scenario? Did your CEO participate???

Would it be correct to say that crisis prone brands actually have a history of arrogance and carelessness which form the nucleus to which adhere a host of little incidents, not tracked, not reported, ignored , brushed under the table till over time they gain the mass to convert into the legendary snowball rolling down the mountain, gathering momentum and hopefully taking the inept senior management with it!

In the Mint today there is a Wall Street Journal full-page article on the “PR lessons from 2010”.  The main burden of this article is that 2010 saw more than its share of corporate crises and this probably if not certainly caused untold misery to the Public Relations people who were probably asked to fix a number of unviable things. Point is that a brand crisis is NOT in the first instance a communication problem. It is a business problem stemming most likely from a number of wrong strategic decision perhaps or from not recognizing change in the business environment or even violating laws because the hope was that they could get away with it.

Stay with me on this discussion please and let me have your comments.

January 3, 2011

Can Government and Industry Work Together for the Good of All?

This sounds like an attempt but there are enough cynics who think the only motivation is commercial advantage for brands participating in this plan. So the point is why should we expect brands to think of public good without a commercial advantage? And where is the balance between doing good for good’s sake and doing good because it is good for business?