Reputation Management

ThinkingToday’s blog post is short and sweet – and I hope there is a takeaway in here for you.

Don’t believe everything you are told or read. Use critical thinking to go through what is being presented, shared, told or provided to you – and verify that information. There is always more than one side to a story. Fact checking is not always done with mainstream media articles or for pieces uploaded to the web and – even if you are hearing it from someone in person – they could have an agenda.

We are working with a client that has an issue. He works in a highly competitive industry – and one that seems to think it is a good business strategy to level accusations at competitors. One of the challenges that he is facing is that there is information online about his business dealings. It is inaccurate and, in some cases, completely wrong. Potential clients, investors, contractors, employees, media and other stakeholders Google him, see this negative information, and some of them believe it is true. It is incredibly frustrating for this client. He wants to set the record straight, but preconceived opinions hamper that effort.

Over time, his actions will speak louder than words. But for the moment, as he takes his business to the next level, this is an issue that we have to deal with. There are several options for us to shift perception of him and we are doing that, but it takes time and effort. We will be writing a case study on this client and how we helped to re-establish a good reputation once we have gone through the process and achieved our goals.

In the meantime – don’t believe everything you are told or read. It’s important to verify facts and to use critical thinking to ensure you aren’t being manipulated as a part of someone else’s misunderstanding, miscommunication, errors or agenda.

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protest angryI wanted to write a quick update on the example I used in my most recent reputation management and issue communication blog post.

According to a Global News report, Centerplate, the company whose CEO Desmond Hague was seen in a video kicking a dog in an elevator, has released a statement. It says that they do not condone animal abuse and are undertaking an internal review. The statement also says that Hague has agreed to undergo counselling for anger management issues and has pledged a significant, personal, multi-year financial commitment to help support the protection and safety of animals.

In theory, what is outlined in the statement are the right things to do. However, I find it interesting that this statement comes out after many of the company’s clients, such as the San Francisco 49ers and the Seattle Mariners, have made their own statements of concern about this issue.

As I said in my earlier blog post, I don’t know what Centerplate’s strategy is for managing this issue. I don’t know the specifics of why it was decided to respond via statements. My opinion is based on how it is being played out in a public forum.

However, having said that, it is clear that this reactive, hiding behind statements from lawyers and PR people is not working. People are angry, they are calling for Centerplate’s contracts to be cancelled, and are threatening to boycott the food that is sold at stadiums that use Centerplate. It’s time to change up the strategy and get authentic about this.

Is Hague or his PR team reading the tweets and comments on articles about this issue? Centerplate’s website is still up, but the list of clients has been taken down. That’s not transparent.

To me, the Centerplate statement is clearly reactive and having these statements coming from lawyers and PR people is not helping. Not to mention that social media sites have been taken down and the website is being changed, so we can’t find specific information about the clients. They have taken an “information out” approach, instead of finding a way to engage in a dialogue. (It would be a very tough dialogue.)

Hague needs to stand up and visibly get in front of this – and take the heat. In my professional opinion, he needs to do a video where he acknowledges what he did wrong and fully apologize. He needs to do a media tour and go to the breakfast shows or morning news in the cities where Centerplate has clients and talk about his mistake, what he is doing to make it right, and what he is doing to help abused animals. And he needs to do it now. I don’t want to hear “we are doing an internal review and he has pledged money” – I want to know what is being reviewed, how much money he is going to contribute, the names of the animal organizations, and that he realizes that this is unacceptable behaviour.

He needs to do more than send out these statements to media. I want to see a real person who is truly sorry for what they have done and realizes how horrific his actions were. It seems that many other people do too.

It feels like he is hiding behind his legal and PR teams and using statements that he doesn’t have to actually speak about what he did. In my opinion, until he steps forward and shows us that he realizes what he did is wrong and takes full responsibility for what he did, the anger of the stadium food-buying public isn’t going to stop.

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Reputation management

(Editor’s Note – August 27, 2014: Ruth Atherley has written a second blog post to update the situation.)

 

Many people are outraged after seeing a video showing a man in an elevator kicking a one-year-old Doberman pinscher dog and then hauling the dog off the elevator by its leash.

If you don’t know about this deplorable act, you can learn about it here.

Desmond Hague, CEO of American corporation Centerplate, Inc. (which has contracts with BC Pavilion Corporation, the Crown Corporation responsible for operating BC Place and the Vancouver Convention Centre) was identified as the person abusing the dog (who is named Sadie) in the video and he has apologized, via a letter through his legal counsel, to Global Television.

Responding to this type of issue is quite sensitive – and never easy for a PR or communications team. While I wasn’t in the room and don’t know what was discussed or recommended by Centerplate’s PR team, I do have to say the response of a letter coming to one media outlet through Hague’s lawyer isn’t good enough. The fact that the CEO’s corporate Twitter account and the company’s Facebook page were shut down tells you: a) how strong reaction is to this incident of animal abuse and b) that the company – and by the company, I mean Hague – doesn’t want to hear what we, as the public, have to say.

I work on a lot of issues and have had many where a high profile individual had to step forward, take responsibility and say he/she is sorry for their actions. One of the key elements of the apology is that it has to be authentic; the person truly needs to be sorry for their actions – not that they got caught. People aren’t stupid – they can smell when it is fake and can see through someone who is saying the right thing without meaning it. To me, Hague’s letter stinks to high heaven. I don’t believe him and I don’t think many do.

I also found it interesting – and I have searched for it – that no one from his personal or professional life has stepped forward to defend his character. A good person who makes a bad decision will have a community of people who will jump into the fray on social media and support that person. There wasn’t a peep or a tweet or a public FB update out there that did that.

Hague should have immediately made a video where he apologized and explained himself to us and publicly to Sadie’s person (apparently Sadie is not his dog). He should make a sizeable donation to the BC SPCA or another group that helps abused animals. And he should take the heat on social media – by shutting it down, he has effectively locked himself in his office and closed the curtains, refusing to speak to his stakeholders. That is not how you handle an issue. While Hague can pull his Twitter account, he can’t get rid of all of the tweets about this issue and it is clear that it touched a nerve.

There are also questions that remain unanswered – the SPCA said that when they went to the apartment, the dog was found in its cage, surrounded by the stench of urine, and her food and water bowls were out of reach. There is more to this case than what happened in the elevator – which was bad enough.

Success in reputation management and issues communication only comes when there is integrity, authenticity and a commitment to making things right. If you are facing an issue because of the actions of an individual or a group of individuals, and the person or persons just want it to go away, you can put lipstick on a pig for the short term… but in the long term, it doesn’t work. Our world is far too connected. The person or persons involved will do something else that puts them in the spotlight for the wrong reason. Videos in elevators, cell phones with videos, social media, electronic messages… it will come back to bite you – lipstick and all.

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RomeWe have clients in a range of sectors including travel and tourism. Online networking sites such as TripAdvisor, Cruise Critic, Yelp and others can provide exceptional opportunities for tourism and hospitality-based businesses – and they can also be incredibly damaging.

I spend time on many of these sites for both personal (I travel a lot) and professional (seeing what people are saying about our clients) reasons. I am always surprised when I speak to someone in the tourism and hospitality world who says they don’t monitor or respond to reviews on these sites. (Our clients are fully engaged in these sites because it’s an important component of their overall brand reputation and PR strategy.)

Not responding is a huge risk – unless you are happy at the bottom of the heap, are the absolute cheapest in the market, and know that you will always get someone prepared to put up with low quality because of price. And today, with so many deals and reductions coming through Groupon and other deal brokers, even that isn’t a good approach. If you don’t respond, at some point negative reviews will decrease your revenue flow.

As someone who travels a great deal in my personal life – I know how much a response to a critical review means to me. It shows me that the hotel, airline, tour operator or restaurant team cares about the experience. And if they acknowledged that they made a mistake – I am good with that. Everyone makes mistakes, the key is to acknowledge it, take responsibility and show how it won’t happen again. It’s not rocket science, people.

If the reviewer has some facts wrong or has a different perspective, I like it when the service provider puts forward their side of the story. I don’t think every reviewer is absolutely right in their criticism. If you read their other reviews – you will often see that they never like anything. A review that is so over-the-top negative, that has been written by a competitor, can be smelled a mile away.

As a professional who works in the tourism and travel industry, I know how important it is to read the reviews, to take the criticism seriously (it provides a real opportunity to improve your business), and to respond to the good and the negative. Saying thank you to those who leave you good reviews is a nice touch and it gives you an opportunity to highlight some of your key offerings within your response.

Responding to a critical review to explain why something happened and, if necessary, to offer to make it right is crucial. Otherwise, that negative review sits there telling the story of your brand. No one should be able to own your brand story except you. Take the time and make the effort. It will provide return on investment for you.

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There is an interesting article in AdAge.com about the Royal Caribbean Cruise Line’s decision to continue to make a scheduled stop at a private resort in Labadee, Haiti. It’s a pretty strong article with a great deal of criticism from PR pros. As I was reading it, I was wondering where the other side was…there are no quotes from PR pros saying that they “get” why Royal Caribbean made the decision to continue to make stops in Labadee.

As I read the piece, I was thinking that I must not be reading this article right because I would have advised this cruise line to do exactly what they have done (I would have also prepared them to take some criticism about it and to be ready to solidly respond to critics with their rationale).

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