Friday, 27 March 2015

CRISIS MANAGEMENT – HOW FAR DOES IT GO?

Setting off from Spain on Wednesday, 25th March, the morning after news broke of the GERMANWINGS aircraft going down over the French Alps, was a very strange experience; we were at the airport at exactly the same time as the plane had taken off the previous day and it was eerily quiet, and then on the flight to Paris no-one was really speaking or doing much at all... just waiting to get it over with.  For the first time that I have seen on a scheduled flight, everyone clapped and cheered when we landed – which was really quite emotional.

As someone that flies quite a lot, however, I spent a lot of the flight looking at ways to take my mind off the fact that I was actually quite nervous, and one of the things I pondered was how I would manage the situation if I was appointed by GERMANWINGS to handle the crisis management – just going off slightly, I wrote about crisis management once before and a few people said to me that they were unaware that PR agencies (or anyone else for that matter) actually handle this kind of thing… but yes, we do, and we, ourselves, have done a huge amount over the past 20 or so years, including for another airline that had a crash…

My first thought when watching the early interviews with the CEO of the company on Tuesday evening was that he was too ‘trained’ – someone like me had taught him how to speak to the camera and he was very polished, even smiling a bit – not very good in the circumstances.  But then (and I guess that was because of someone like me too!) he was replaced by a very good VP who spoke well whilst being obviously choked up.   First amendment to my usual ‘crisis management process’ is to note that, whilst being professional and calm in a ‘normal’ crisis is good, when it is of a monumental scale… maybe showing a bit of emotion is no bad thing.

Reading some of the reports, especially in the ‘tabloid press’ on Wednesday morning, it sounded as if this particular plane had had a few problems in the past, but they had been kept quiet – I have always been of the view that if you are a high profile company and you have a problem, it is best to be honest about it, as sooner or later it will come out, and the fallout then might be a lot worse.   Of course the risk to a company’s business when reporting every little issue can be huge.  But if something has been kept quiet and then it comes out in a situation such as this one, the risk to the business can be catastrophic.  Second point to note; covering up problems can sometimes come back to bite you.    
What was also clear during Wednesday was that the media had been digging about a lot during Tuesday night and a lot of what was being printed was speculation – and in our experience, speculation usually starts at home (it seems that it was actually an ‘anonymous person’ that first leaked the news that the pilot was to blame).   This made me wonder just how much information was being passed to staff and stakeholders during the course of Tuesday and Wednesday, and whether, in fact, everyone’s focus was on the management of the information that was going out to the media.    Something that we have often talked about in crisis management is the need to make sure that staff and stakeholders have ALL the necessary information before anyone else, and that they are all fully aware of the need to keep everything confidential, since it is often ‘rumours’ from insiders that get printed over and above the official line.

I am writing this two days after the crash, whilst watching the ongoing news about the pilot, and wondering what the effect of all of this will be on the various companies involved – for sure it will be difficult to rebuild the GERMANWINGS brand (although not as difficult as it would have been if the cause had been that the airplane was too old, or they had known it had been faulty – as had been mentioned previously).    Andy maybe we will notice when we next get onto an A320 plane.  But in a few weeks’ time, a lot of people will have forgotten which airline or airplane was involved, and life will go back to normal. 

The thing is, even the worst type of publicity can sometimes be overcome and in years to come the only thing that people will say about GERMANWINGS is ‘oh yes, I have heard of them’…


And the purpose of this blog?  There probably isn’t one… just my own usual need to write something down in order to somehow feel better about it.

Thursday, 29 January 2015

SUSTAINABILITY

Watching the Australian Open whilst writing this (and not enjoying it as much as usual with the early demise of Roger Federer) I pondered one of the tennis commentators’ most regular questions; who is the greatest player of all time? My vote, of course, would go to Roger, but not just because of his wonderful tennis, but more his incredible fitness (only recently has he been known to have been injured) and, even more importantly, his ability to stay driven and to work so hard day after day.

We discussed something similar over Christmas when one of my family, a soon to be retired opera singer, explained her early giving up as being due to her not wanting to keep travelling, keep practicing, be away from home so regularly and battle to stay healthy – of course, she still loves to sing. Whilst everyone else expressed their sympathy, I said that I thought that her world was not so different to mine – which generated quite a lot of debate, not least because in a family of academics, performers and doctors, I am probably the only one that knows what it feels like to run their own business..! And as I am often saying, no-one can imagine what it is like to sit in my chair, unless they have sat in a similar one!

A while ago I attended a conference on ‘leadership’, where one of the things we discussed was the stress involved in running a business, and how, then, to manage it. At one point, the lecturer asked us what we thought the average age of the top 50 most successful companies in the world was, to which we mostly answered between 50 and 100 years old.  In fact the answer was 15, which was, initially, a surprise.

However, having discussed this in some detail, it made sense; even the most successful companies were started by someone, and what was proven in our discussions was that very few people can continue building and running a company for any significant length of time before the stress starts to take its toll and they start looking at ways out – merging, selling, closing down, changing course or handing over the reins to someone else. 

My own company will be 25 years old this year, and whilst, of course, it is nothing like the sort of companies that we discussed at the conference, it still manages to cause enough sleepless nights for me to go through phases of wanting to get out in some way; and over the years I, too, have found it difficult to stay driven, to keep travelling, ‘practicing’, battling to stay healthy and so on, but it is no easier to give up on business than it is to give up on sport or music; we just have to find ways to manage what we are doing so that we don’t burn out.

I have tried a few methods over the years – not all of them good!  But generally I find that whacking a tennis ball gets rid of quite a lot of stress, and there is nothing like running as a way to see a new place (or, in my case, to pick up marketing ideas... seeing what other companies do to promote themselves is an endless source of inspiration!).

Let’s hope that we are all able to sustain our enthusiasm as we go into 2015.

Thursday, 9 October 2014

DIFFERENT MESSAGES, DIFFERENT POSITIONING, DIFFERENT MEDIA

I attended a really great marketing seminar yesterday held by the International Business Forum here in Prague, which was focused on the differences between starting a company and building its brand 20 or so years ago compared to doing the same thing today. Having started JWA 24 years ago now (so I can no longer get away with trying to pretend that I am still in my thirties…!), many of the things that the first speaker (who started his business at a similar time) had to say rang very true to me; here are a few of them:

(a) When we both started our companies our clients were nearly always international companies entering what was, then, a very difficult ‘East European’ market, and what we both were selling was our international know-how. We had no real competition and even if the local business community treated us with some suspicion there were so many foreign investors that we almost had to beat them from our door.

When I was trying to come up for a name for my company I asked my good advertising friend for some suggestions, and he asked what I felt I was selling. I went off about x, y and z and he answered ‘ah yes, but why would people come to you rather than another agency that appears to sell the same x, y and z?’ The answer, of course, being because of me! And as it was me that made the company different, the name needed to demonstrate that rather than what we were actually selling. Since I planned to employ a few people, however, I couldn’t imagine having everyone picking up the phone (yes, we used phones in those days!) and saying ‘Jo Weaver, good morning’ or words to that effect, so we ended up with JWA (i.e. Jo Weaver and Associates, even though I had no associates) with Prague added on for good measure.

The point: when you are thinking about the messages that you want to get over in your marketing, remember that it is important to keep in mind the reason WHY people want to use your services or buy your products above anyone else’s in order for your marketing to be effective, and that means keeping your ‘key selling points’ at the forefront.

(b) Having said that, however, what was also discussed was the need to remember that our key selling points (and, therefore, messages) might change over time – certainly in my case, the fact that I am English (which was enough many cases years ago!) is no longer such a draw, since most of my competitors speak English fluently now. But the fact that the agency has a proven track record with a lot of different industries IS something that can be pushed as a ksp now, and for that reason our own marketing has a different emphasis to the earlier days.

(c) I know I am always banging on about knowing who your target audience is when you are planning your marketing activities, but, again, that is something that can change. And if your target audience changes, your own marketing strategy needs to change too; in the case of yesterday’s speaker, his target audience changed to such a degree that he ended up opening several other offices across Europe; ours was not so radical! We did realise quite early on, however, that whilst in our earlier years we could depend, on the whole, on word of mouth amongst the foreign community, occasional advertising in English language magazines/newspapers and some PR, that is no longer the case. And our own activities have therefore changed accordingly.

(d) Everyone at the conference agreed that the tools that are available and useful to all of us now are completely different to 24 years ago. I recently spoke to a group of marketing students about our activities when we started out compared to today and one of them, who was in her early 20s I guess, looked at me aghast when I said that we didn’t have computers, internet or mobile phones, let alone social media, and said ‘but what did you DO?’. Well, we did quite a lot!! And I still think that we disregard some of those old traditional marketing tools at our peril. There is no doubt, however, that social media and on-line marketing is become ever-more important, and any good marketing campaign needs to incorporate at least some of these new activities.

I am off to buy a few Google ad words now…

Jo

Friday, 30 May 2014

SEX SELLS

A little while ago I was speaking to a group of marketing students about ‘life in a PR agency’ and one of their Professors asked whether I would take on any company as a client, irrespective of whether it was doing something immoral or illegal.   I answered that I wouldn’t work for a company that was doing something illegal, but immoral… well, first, how do you define immoral – what is immoral to one person is not to another – and second, I am in business and the need to pay the salaries can sometimes outweigh the wish to only work for the ‘perfect’ company, and whilst I might turn down a client that is doing something that I think would be difficult to promote, or that I just don’t like, I wasn’t sure about the ‘morality issue’.

The reason that I am writing about this topic now, is that there has just been a big to do in the Czech media about the advertising of a pill that is similar to Viagra at the recent ice hockey world championships – apparently Czech TV has received numerous complaints about the organisers and the broadcasters allowing such advertising as children would be watching, and now there is a lot of discussion about the rights and wrongs of this type of advertisement and where and how it should be allowed. 

I have to say that I, personally, am astonished at the furor, since here in the Czech Republic it is generally difficult to go very far down any street without coming across an ‘Erotic City’ sex shop or worse, and where, over the years, there have been many advertising campaigns that would never be allowed in the UK or US – for example, a billboard campaign with a very well-endowed young lady with a near to non-existent top holding a glass of beer, and wording along the lines of “wouldn’t you like a nice jug?” (or similar)…

The thing is, sex sells, and in the case of the ice hockey advertising and this particular brand, I would have had absolutely no qualms about working for the company myself, and would, in fact, be completely in agreement that it made obvious sense – the ideal target audience for what is being promoted, huge exposure that would, one would expect, generate significant sales against a reasonable expenditure, and lots of room for PR – actually, had I been working for them I would be rubbing my hands together at all the additional exposure that the complaining millions have brought about in the media??!


Taking the whole situation a bit further, one has to wonder whether there is something else going on here – maybe it is OK to promote women as sex objects or women for sale, but not to advertise the fact that not all men are as virile as we are led to believe..?!!!

Monday, 10 March 2014

THE TOLL OF TECHNOLOGY

I recently had a number of problems with my hand and wrist which I thought were probably caused by a combination of playing tennis for a hundred years and sitting all day at a computer.   My doctor kind of agreed but also said that the biggest culprit was the Blackberry (that I had at that time) and that he is seeing a whole lot of weird and wonderful health problems, particularly in children, caused by new technology.  The result of which, he said, was that soon children would have thumbs the same size as their fingers.

After my diagnosis I started physio on my hand and was given a lot of exercises to do, particularly when sitting at the computer, to ensure that I didn’t round my shoulders and arch my wrists – according to the physiotherapist, more and more people are getting early curvature of the spine due to the modern work environment…. One could almost say that it is only a matter of time before we will be walking on all fours, using our hands with their very long thumbs as our front paws (or whatever gorillas have at the end of their arms….!).

On the other hand, I heard last week that it is now possible not only to buy desks that have adjustable work surfaces so that you can sit or stand whilst working, but also that some of these desks are built around a treadmill… so one can sit/stand/run at one’s desk all day long.   I kind of like that idea (saves on gym fees) but I can’t help conjuring up a picture of a hamster on a wheel…

I dine out on stories of the early days in Czechoslovakia when some of us crazier expats first turned up, and when we had to run our offices with telephones that rarely worked (if they existed at all), smuggled- in fax machines and manual typewriters; emails, internet and social media weren’t even twinkles in their creators eyes.    Sometimes we felt as if we were working in the wild west… But we managed.  With everything that is going on now, I can’t help feeling that they were better days, when communicating meant speaking to each other, building a social network meant working on our relationships, and getting in touch was done by telephone or, God forbid, writing a letter!

Back to the treadmill…


Jo

Monday, 17 February 2014

THE BLAME GAME


When I was growing up, we had it drummed into us that we must always stand up and take responsibility for something we had done wrong; I can even remember times when my older brother would take the blame for something that I had done in order to make my life easier!   I think this was fairly normal in the UK at that time. 

When I first arrived in the then Czechoslovakia (but read this whilst bearing in mind that this was a country that had just escaped from the clutches of communism and everything that that stood for), I remember that one of the things that drove us early expats to near madness was the rather standard way that the Czechs would immediately blame someone else for something that had gone wrong – or even start accusing someone else for something before it had even happened….. a conversation that started ‘it’s not my fault’ was pretty standard (along with ‘ah, that might work in the UK/US/Germany, but it wont work here….’… but that’s another story).

Watching the news in the UK now, where the unbelievable floods are having such a devastating effect, I find myself wondering what has happened to the good old English way of ‘taking it on the chin’ and finding a solution rather than looking for someone to  blame – for the past few weeks it seems that just about everyone involved (apart from those that have lost absolutely everything, who seem to be the most phlegmatic) are looking for someone to blame – from the politicians that are blaming each other, to the regular public who hold the weather forecasters responsible, to the local authorities who blame the politicians.. meantime half of the UK is disappearing under water.   (A quick aside.. just seen a Sky news journalist asking a Ghurka who has recently arrived from Afghanistan whether he minds all the water and working in the dark… !!!   Of course he must prefer being at risk of being blown up every day… What is the matter with these people??!!).

One has to wonder how this new ‘blame society’ can manage in business.  Surely anyone that has held a managerial role in a company would concur with me that we would all prefer to deal with someone that is able to put up his or her hands and say ‘sorry, my fault, here is a solution’ rather than ‘ah, it was his fault that this happened, don’t look at me’?    If all we ever do is pass the buck, then we are all going to run out of bucks even faster than we have in the past few years….