FCPA CHINA TRIPLE PLAY

Posted in Bribery in China, Business Crisis Management, Crisis Communication Response, Crisis Communication Strategy, Crisis Communication Success Stories, Foreign Corrupt Practices, Las Vegas Sands, Microsoft Corp., Wall Street Journal on March 25th, 2013 by mnayor

The Las Vegas Sands. The Wall Street Journal. Microsoft Corporation. What could these three companies possibly have in common? Try China. Each is being investigated by the SEC and the Department of Justice for violations of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA).

 

Last year the Sands disclosed that it was being investigated. It received a subpoena from the SEC in February, 2011 and was advised that DOJ was investigating as well. Some allegations that have come to light are that Sheldon Adelson, the head of the Sands, instructed a top executive to pay about $700,000 in legal fees to aMacaulegislator whose law firm was outside counsel to the Sands. As a result of the government’s investigation the Sands authorized its independent Audit Committee to look into the matter and it recently released its preliminary report. The internal investigation is ongoing.

 

Also last year, the DOJ opened an investigation into allegations of bribery in Chinaby the Wall Street Journal. The WSJ also embarked on its own internal investigation which is close to finished.

 

Finally, a news story broke this week that Microsoft Corp. is being investigated as a result of allegations of potential bribery by employees in China (as well as inRomania and Italy). This is such a new story that Microsoft has not yet begun its investigation.

 

Three different stories with the same tag line, all within the month of March, 2013. So far it seems as if this is the year of the FCPA, even though, in fact, FCPA cases have declined over the last two years. All three of these investigations were prompted by whistleblowers of one type or another. How did each company react and which reaction would appear to best serve its corporate interests?

 

First, the Sands. To its credit the Audit Committee found that there was a likely violation of the books and records and internal controls provisions of the FCPA and this was reported in the Company’s form 10-K filed with the SEC. But the 10-K went on to say in a rather self-serving way that the Company has improved its practices with respect to books and records and internal controls. It also states that the preliminary findings do not have a material impact on the financial statements of the Company, do not warrant a restatement of previous financial statements and do not represent a material weakness in the Company’s internal controls over financial reporting as of December 31, 2012.

 

The Wall Street Journal investigation is part of a much larger DOJ criminal investigation into the News Corporation, WSJ’s parent company, related to revelations that its British newspapers hacked phones and bribed officials in order to obtain information for articles. As part of the overall internal investigation, the Chinese allegations were thoroughly reviewed. The WSJ found no evidence to support the claim or any impropriety, and maintains that the informant is most likely a government official seeking to disrupt or retaliate against the WSJ for reporting on Chinese leadership corruption.  It is not clear that DOJ has closed the matter.

 

Microsoft’s matter is new. But its response to the news report that it is being investigated was straight forward. It said that the matters raised were important and that allegations of bribery should be reviewed byU.S.agencies and its own compliance unit. A spokesperson said that allegations of this nature arise from time to time, that it is possible that sometimes an individual employee or business partner may violate the Company’s policies or break the law, and that its responsibility is to train its employees, build a system to prevent and detect violations, and to investigate allegations and take appropriate action.

 

What can we learn about crisis communication from these three stories. The Sands reaction leaves something to be desired. While it is admirable to admit that the company may have violated the law it is presumptuous and self-serving to draw conclusions that basically are up to the government. The SEC and DOJ may have a hard time swallowing the Sands’ conclusions. It would have been far better to state that it is cooperating with the agencies to resolve all issues and reach determinations that will not have far reaching consequences to the Company.

 

If we take the WSJ’s comments at face value, there is no reason not to aggressively maintain one’s innocence. Yet, it might have been better to acknowledge more clearly that DOJ had not yet signed off on the WSJ’s findings and that the WSJ was working with DOJ to conclude the matter. Instead in a buried paragraph in its own story it states that it is unclear whether the Justice Department considers the matter resolved or still open.

 

The Microsoft reaction is  the best. It is the most honest and direct and states the facts of corporate life: We know our responsibility. We do our very best. Occasionally, a bad apple may slip through. Crisis communication does require that a company assess and anticipate the concerns of stakeholders. Good judgment is needed to walk that fine line between allaying those concerns, and acting appropriately and respectfully to those who have control over the outcomes of your investigations.

 

 

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HEAD IN THE SAND APPROACH OF CEO’S: DEAL WITH PROBLEMS

Posted in analyze the problem, BBC, Business Crises We Create, Business Crisis Management, Corporate Crisis Management, Crisis Management, dealing head-on with a crisis, don't white wash the crisis, fix the problem, head in the sand approach, HSBC Compliance failures, not duck them, Poor crisis management, The DOJ and executives who try to avoid crises, the effect of ignoring a problem, Throw an employee under the bus on January 6th, 2013 by mnayor

The head in the sand approach to solving problems is not uncommon in everyday life. The concept of not getting involved has become more rapidly adopted by our citizenry. People readily subscribe to the maxim: The less involved you are the better off you are. It is also not uncommon in business situations, including at the very top positions. More and more CEO’s and other executives wish to insulate themselves and not sully their hands with messy issues, instead of solving them which is what they are paid to do.

 

When an organization’s leadership wishes to maintain clean  hands instead of confronting crises, the can is kicked down the road or left to those who do not have the authority, knowledge, or responsibility to handle. The result is often a rudderless ship, compounded problems for the organization, and a CEO who either throws other people under the bus or is made to resign leaving a bleeding hulk of a company.

 

Take the case of the British Broadcasting Corporation. For many years a popular, long-time host at BBC, Jimmy Savile, was suspected of sexually abusing young people, sometimes even at the premises of the BBC. The company recently came under blistering attack when it was learned that an investigation of Savile had been cancelled by the editor of BBC’s Newsnight program last year. Newsnight is an important current affairs program of the BBC. Mark Thompson, the BBC’s Director General until a few months ago claims to have had no knowledge of the accusations against Savile although there were many opportunities to delve into the matter if he chose to do so.

 

Another recent example is Stephen Green, now Lord Green. Lord Green became chief executive of HSBC in June 2003 and was appointed chairman in 2006. In December of 2012 HSBC entered into a Deferred Prosecution Agreement with the Department of Justice (DOJ), criminal money laundering activities and agreeing to pay fines and penalties totaling $1.9 billion. According to the Huffington Post, in 2005 Green was also made aware of the bank’s alleged ties with “rogue” regimes in theMiddle East. A US Senate investigation released internal emails showing how in the same year Lord Green was warned by an internal whistleblower in the bank’sMexicosubsidiary that compliance staff had “fabricated records”. He was also told in 2008, two years after being appointed executive chairman, that the Mexican authorities had uncovered evidence of money laundering that “may imply criminal responsibility of HSBC”.

 

Often, top management wishes to be insulated from bad decisions already made, and hard decisions that need to be made, even with the knowledge that, more often than not, the buck stops with them and severe harm can come to the company.

 

A CEO and his/her lieutenants are charged with monitoring the ship as a captain of a vessel or plane would. Rectifying what is wrong is a vital part of the job. Time does not absorb and dissolve bad decisions or situations. It only heightens the culpability of the parties who either made no attempt to rectify, or tried to white-wash them. Recently the DOJ and the SEC jointly released its 120 page Resource Guide to the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA) which essentially prohibits and makes criminal the bribery of foreign officials. The Act was first passed in 1977, was amended a couple of times. The Guide explains what the DOJ and the SEC look for when it investigates, including the conduct of company when it learns of violations and the remedial steps which are taken to correct violations.

 

The FCPA states that it shall be unlawful for a company or its officers or directors to offer to pay, pay, promise to pay or authorize the payment of any money, gift or anything of value to foreign officials, or a foreign political party or official thereof, or foreign political candidate including to any person while knowing that all or a portion of such money or thing of value will be offered, given or promised, directly or indirectly to any foreign official, foreign political party or official thereof or foreign political candidate for the purpose of influencing any act or decision of such official, inducing any act in violation of the official’s duty or securing any improper advantage.

 

The Guide states that Congress meant not only “to impose liability on those with actual knowledge of wrongdoing, but also on those who purposefully avoid actual knowledge” and quotes H.R. Conf. Rep. No.100-576, at 920 (1988):

 

[T]he so-called head in the sand problem – variously described in the

pertinent authorities as “conscious disregard”, “willful blindness” or

deliberate ignorance” – should be covered so that management officials

could not take refuge from the Act’s prohibitions by their unwarranted    obliviousness to any action (or inaction), language

or other “signaling devise” that should reasonably alert them of the “high probability” of an

FCPA violation.

 

It is very likely that in the future the DOJ will adopt various theories expounded in the Guide to other criminal prosecutions besides those arising from the FCPA. For example, in December, 2012, in the highly publicized HSBC money laundering case, the DOJ imposed its FCPA risk based guidelines to the bank’s flawed country risk-rating methodology. It is only a matter of time before we see the “head in the sand” approach to management come under significant direct attack.

 

Thus, it is time for boards of directors to insist that top management take full responsibility to right the wrongs of their organizations.  It is incumbent on top management, and lower levels in turn, to clarify lines of responsibility and authority, to define the values of their organizations, to impose clear lines of accountability and to review regularly issues that arise. Confronting and solving problems is a big part of the job. Basking in increased sales, profitability and market share at the expense of ignoring core issues is a dangerous path that has often set back businesses several years and cost, or should have cost some CEO’s their jobs.

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WHAT WE CAN LEARN FROM THE JPMORGAN DEBACLE

Posted in analyze the problem, Business Crisis Management, Corporate Crisis Management, Crisis Management, Crisis Management Planning, Crisis Management Response, don't white wash the crisis, fix the problem, Jamie Dimon, JPMorgan Chase, problem employees, Taking Responsibility for actions of an organization or its employees, Throw an employee under the bus on May 23rd, 2012 by mnayor

The JPMorgan $2 billion debacle stunned me as it did everyone else. It was like catching the self-righteous little kid with the smoking slingshot in his hand.

Well, not quite. I got to thinking. Yes, it’s true that Jamie Dimon has this holier than thou attitude and perhaps it’s nice to see him knocked down a peg or two. But many crises are without question caused by those employees who you think you know – but don’t. Or caused by the hierarchy or the controls you’ve established but which really don’t work. You look out over your domain and deem it good, but there is always someone or some circumstance or some poor decision that puts you and your company in the hot spot.

 Yes, the buck stops here and the CEO should always take the rap (instead of throwing someone or a few  people under the bus and taking the $23 million), but that doesn’t mean the CEO can really plug every hole that springs a leak. It would require too many thumbs. Dimon was frank and honest, but he did forget to say it was on his watch and he accepted full responsibility. You can’t have everything. But, what do you do when your trusted employee or employees do something dumb, or worse.

 Several months ago I wrote about Charlie Sheen. I also wrote about Christian Dior’s John Galliano. For those who don’t recognize the names, suffice it to say that both of these guys gave their employers and themselves black eyes and heartburn. CBS and C.D. each acted fairly quickly and dumped its famous and talented employee, regardless of his value. They restructured. They went on and in a matter of a couple of weeks after their decisions, the crisis each faced disappeared.

 Crisis management calls for decisive action. That doesn’t mean just dumping a perpetrator. It means analyzing a situation to see if the organization continues to be vulnerable. It means identifying the basic problem and rectifying it. Do potential employees have to be tested? Drugs? Psychological testing? Do they have to be supervised more closely? Should they be cleared to give public statements? Do employment contracts have to be tightened up? Do the work environments have to be more closely supervised? Do supervisors have to have greater responsibility for the conduct of their departments? Do department managers and regional vice presidents have to be more hands on? Should they be required to know all the employees under them? Should the work environments be evaluated for potential risk? Are there checks and balances? Are there activities being conducted that are beyond the scope or the purposes of the business  or the established guidelines or policies of the company?

Crisis management should lead to problem solving not problem white-washing. JPMorgan Chase has to look well within itself to answer these types of questions. So does the rest of the banking industry. The crucial question that needs to be answered is whether the reins on the biggest banks should be tightened: re-institute Glass-Steagall? Put real teeth into the Volcker Rule? Something has got to give and the big boys should act like big boys. The financial fate of the nation depends on it and the right to massive profits is not justification  for behavior that jeopardizes the well being of the country.

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FAILURE TO ANTICIPATE: THE WALMART EXAMPLE

Posted in Anticipating A Crisis, Anticipation, Business Crisis Management, corporate integrity, Crisis Communication Strategy, Crisis Management, Crisis Management Planning, Doing the right thing, Ethics and Crisis Management, Honesty and directness in dealing with a crisis, Wal-Mart on May 3rd, 2012 by mnayor

On April 22nd, 2012 The New York Times broke a huge story on Wal-Mart’s Walmex subsidiary. The subsidiary is alleged to have systematically engaged in bribery in order to grease the wheels of  its store expansion program in Mexico. Two of its most senior executives have been directly implicated in the scheme and the subsequent cover-up. The fallout has been dramatic including upcoming Congressional and Justice Department investigations and investigations within Mexico, a precipitous drop in Wal-Mart’s stock price, and perhaps worst of all, a huge black eye to WalMart’s reputation for integrity.

 This is a story that will not go away soon, even with the short collective memory for which the U.S.public is noted, and even with the perception we have, mistaken or not, about how business is done inMexico. The investigations and potential lawsuits will wend their way forward but Wal-Mart has an immediate problem: how to revive its reputation which was essentially snuffed out by one newspaper story. Unless there are very clear explanations that go beyond mere flim-flam, cut your losses Wal-Mart. Cooperate with investigations to ensure that they are completed rapidly. Develop your best explanations. Negotiate your fines for violating the Federal Corrupt Practices Act. Make restitution wherever it is required. Terminate those who were complicit. Get your house in order as quickly as you can.

 But this article is not about what to do now. It is about what should have been done. Wal-Mart’s story is as old as the hills. It is the same story as Richard Nixon and Watergate, Bill Clinton and Monica Lewinsky, Enron, Goldman-Sachs. And on and on and on. It is the story of hubris. It is the story of deceit. It is the story of the ostrich.

 Faced with a calamitous issue, a powerful person, a powerful company, a powerful country is most likely still to believe that there is a good chance of getting away with something. Lie low and time will make the issue recede into history. Put a band aid on and no one will dare to pierce your impenetrable shell. What would have happened if Wal-Mart had entertained a genuine independent internal investigation when it had the opportunity, and made those findings known to the Justice Department and toMexico? There would have been a much smaller story. Wal-Mart would at least have been accused of being honorable. Its reputation for integrity would have been burnished. It would have paid a price but perhaps not as steep a price as it will now pay.

 Why don’t people get it? Because there is a gambler in all of us, even when the odds are poor. Is there a chance we can get away with something? Let’s give it a try. What do we have to lose? Ask Richard Nixon. Ask Bill Clinton. Ask all those who have tried to wheedle their way out of messes only to get caught. Ah but then again there is always that other guy, the guy who got away with it. We should follow him. He’s a smart guy. He knew the angles. If he could do it, we can too.  Right now things are calm. Let’s not rock the boat. But in the long run the straight-shooter almost always wins.

Crisis management is not only activated when a cris occurs. It begins prior to a crisis in order to avoid a crisis or lessen its severity. Preparation and right-thinking separate those companies and organizations from those that merely kick the can or determine to ignore or purposefully hide a potentially serious issue.

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NICKEL DIMED AND FIGHTING BACK

Posted in Anticipating A Crisis, Bank of America, Banking Industry, Business Crises of our own making, Business Crisis Management, Crisis Management Consulting, Crisis Management Response, DECISIONS IN A VACUUM, Excessive consumer fees, negative publicity on November 6th, 2011 by mnayor

The first time I noticed the flagrant imposition of an additional fee for a business service was when ordering Broadway tickets on line. It was a six dollar “service fee” per ticket. I paid the fee but was puzzled. I was paying the company for a service which they were in business to provide. Strange. Do architects charge an extra fee for putting their plans on paper?

Since then of course things have gotten much worse for American consumers. Airlines seem to charge for everything except the air you breathe, and probably don’t, in order to avoid a debate on how inferior that air is. Everywhere you turn there are extra fees for services and “things” that were once free. Understandably businesses and industries are trying to maintain their financial positions. Many want to bring back the good times when they were flush. Because of the weak economy, and the higher cost of resources, they must extract more from the customers who keep them in business in the first place. Obviously, much analysis has gone into the “cost” (interpreted to mean loss of customers and bad press) of implementing new fees. It is clear that most businesses are willing to sacrifice a certain percentage of customers who will bolt in anger, if the economics work.

But it appears as if we are entering into a new phase of business/customer relations. Customers are fighting back, asserting essentially that business has to have skin in the game too. In bad times business cannot expect to maintain the same level of profits or to ride on the backs of consumers in order to do so. Case in point: Bank of America’s announcement in September that it was going to impose a $5.00/month fee for debit card use. A debit card fee is a charge for you to access your own money for commercial or other financial transactions. It is the same money you have deposited with a bank and the same money it needs to conduct its lending business.

Some analysis definitely went into the Bank’s decision. New regulations have reduced the payments merchants pay the Bank for processing debit card payments and BofA didn’t want to just absorb the loss of income. Fair to say that many other banks also entertained the idea of customer debit fees. Some have implemented them. But, after witnessing the backlash from BofA customers, many backed off. BofA itself announced at the end of October that it would allow customers to avoid the fee if they maintain a minimum balance, or arrange for direct deposit of paychecks or use BofA issued credit cards. But just a couple of days later, it fully capitulated to the pressure and scraped the plan in its entirety.

Unlike Netflix which lost 800,000 customers after announcing a 60% price increase a couple of months ago, BofA will likely weather the storm without a major loss. Why? First, it announced its new fee well in advance and wasn’t the only bank contemplating debit fees, so it didn’t look like the only bad guy. Secondly, many of its customers are locked in to BofA with automatic bill paying, multiple accounts and complicated relationships. Unraveling a bank relationship can be complicated. Finally, BofA certainly calculated the loss of customers it would have to endure if it implemented the plan and decided it was worth it. Now that it has jettisoned the fee, many fewer people will transfer their banking relationship. But unquestionably, some damage has been done. There is a strong movement currently underway in the country to pursuade the public to withdraw from national banks and transfer business to community and regional banks and local credit unions.

People are no longer rolling over. They are fighting back, and businesses should realize that weathering an economic storm (or a regulatory reversal) is something to which all segments of society are subject. One segment is not entitled to be made whole at the expense of another. Profits made in good times cannot always be sustained – especially if they can only be sustained on the backs of others who are suffering just as much. Businesses and industries should be rewarded for innovation and creativity, for new and better goods and services, not for figuring ways of squeezing the hand that feeds them. The moral of the story is quite simple: a business can create its own crisis by being too greedy. Before making a dramatic decision that could adversely effect one or more of your stakeholders analyze both the short-term and the long-term costs. Many of your investors may also be your customers. Aiming for profit maximization may not necessarilly please everyone, especially if bonus maximization is the underlyiong motivation and result.

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CRISIS MANAGEMENT VERSUS HUBRIS

Posted in Business Crises We Create, Business Crisis Management, Crisis Communication Failures, Crisis Management Services, Crisis Mitigation, David cameron, News of the World, reputation management, RUPERT MURDOCH on July 18th, 2011 by mnayor

Does history merely repeat itself instead of teaching us anything? Based on business news about movers and shakers one could deduce that many corporate executives just don’t get it and never will.

After the debacle of 2008 when many financial CEO’s were caught in the proverbial headlights, you would think that a tough lesson would have been taught – and learned. Instead even Teflon-coated Warren Buffet decided that his power, authority and standing in the world were enough to allow him to initially stonewall the public about his executive Dave Sokol’s purchase of Lubrizol stock. Not to be outdone Rupert Murdoch has raised the bar even higher.

In a scant two weeks his empire, headed by the subtly named The News Corporation, has experienced what many would not wish on their worst corporate rival. After approximately four years of an on-again, off-again Scotland Yard investigation of phone hacking by News of the World tabloid, that paper has folded, Murdoch’s attempt to acquire the remaining interest in British Sky Broadcasting (BSkyB) has been aborted, and a slew of his corporate executives have been arrested, resigned or otherwise had their reputations besmirched. Rebekah Brooks the CEO of News International, the parent of the late News of the World resigned in disgrace, after two attempts at resignation that were not accepted by Murdoch. Also, Les Hinton, publisher of the Wall Street Journal tendered his resignation the same day.

The details of the outlandish accusations are certainly important but how they were handled by Murdoch is equally important and instructive. For a “media” guy, you would think he would know how to handle as big a story as this. Instead, up until yesterday we heard nothing from Murdoch – and then when we did, we heard the hrrumphing of a corporate big-wig instead of the measured pronouncements of a savvy media executive. Last week Murdoch flew to England from the U.S. Very quickly News of the World was closed, after a 168 year life. Yesterday he told a reporter for the Wall Street Journal that the matter was handled “extremely well in every way possible”. He further stated (apparently referring to his upcoming testimony before Parliament’s select committee on culture, media and sport on July 19th at which initially he and his son, James, declined to appear) that he was eager to address things said in Parliament some of which “are total lies”. Finally, he refuted the allegation that he might spin off his newspaper operations into a separate company as “total rubbish”. He did visit the family of Milly Dowler, the thirteen year old who was killed and whose phone was hacked; and extended apologies to the family. This last weekend he placed full page apology ads in British newspapers.

What kind of media executive fails so miserably in handling a business crisis like this? Who leaves a yawning time gap of two weeks before stating anything? If we assume the complete innocence of a CEO, we would then expect that leader to dig for the truth and let the public know immediately. Silence can only foster the impression of knowledge and guilt. An announcement that the matter is being extensively investigated and that such conduct is not tolerated in the organization goes a long way to safeguarding one’s reputation and possibly the organization itself (many pundits found the sudden closure of News of the World suspicious, based on protecting the Murdoch empire from legal liability). There were and may still be ways to staunch the bleeding, but it may now be very difficult to do. Clearly Murdoch did little or nothing immediately. As a result his empire is suffering and will continue to do so, as stakeholders in Britain and worldwide continue to question his tactics and the integrity of his enterprises.

Many people in the newspaper industry who have been interviewed about the phone hacking scandal find it implausible that editors and publishers wouldn’t know about the sources of stories. They must have known about the hacking and therefore it was both a bottom up and top down conspiracy. Rupert Murdoch may have had knowledge and thus the reason for the code of silence to date. It will be interesting to hear his testimony. At all costs he must avoid appearing out of touch with his businesses, imperious because of his power, or delusional that his connections will protect him. From David Cameron on down, the flight to high ground has begun.

Events seem to be gathering speed as this is being written for publication. Rebekah Brooks was arrested and released on bail. The leader of London’s Metropolitan Police Services, or Scotland Yard, Paul Stephenson, and his deputy have stepped down under growing allegations that the respected organization was very cozy with members and agents of the Murdoch empire; and more information is surfacing about David Cameron’s personal relationships and frequent meetings with similar individuals.

As individual reputations begin to crumble, little effort seems to be directed towards salvaging the Murdoch enterprises, some of which are very much worth saving. Placing someone who is untainted in a position of authority would appear to be necessary and Joel Klein would seem to be the man to take charge right now. The businesses must be separated from the personalities and be made to run as business as usual. There is no sense in allowing individuals – any individuals – to drag down an entire business empire. Klein has a good reputation (a lawyer who was head of the New York City School System until he joined Murdoch), and can direct the “clean” Murdoch business units on a steady course until the mess can be sorted out or until it at least simmers down.

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NICKEL DIMING YOUR REPUTATION TO DEATH

Posted in Airline Industry, Banking Industry, Business Crises of our own making, Business Crises We Create, Business Crisis Management, Crisis Management Consulting, Excessive consumer fees on December 1st, 2010 by mnayor

Whole industries have the ability to shoot themselves in the foot. Two that leap out at America daily are the airline industry and the banking industry. Single handedly, without help from anyone or anything else, they have made themselves the bad boys of American business. Could it be possible that no one in either of these industries has figured out that they were making themselves despised by the public? Could it be possible that no one in either industry can figure out how to be respected once again? The answer: so far, no.

There could not be one intelligent airline executive who believes that nickel-diming the public is a popular move – or even an acceptable move. But acceptability pales compared to the bottom line. If revenues are significantly enhanced, then the bottom line wins out. It’s certainly understandable that financial health is vital. Those who sit around the conference table and come up with the add-ons are most likely rewarded or at least singled out. But are they really doing what’s in the best interests of their companies?

Meals, pillows, blankets, luggage handling, preferred seating, bathroom use. You name it and it’s an additional charge. Who will be the corporate hero who says this is inane. Who will be the one who says we can gain a lot of goodwill by announcing the end of these charges? Who will be the one to say let’s add ten to twenty dollars to the cost of a ticket and be done with it. Let’s announce that we are back to being a full service airline. No food on short flights – OK. Smaller, simpler meals – OK. Not so many pillows and blankets to clutter the floor with – OK. Who will be the brave anti nickel-dimer?

But before you get to the airport for your aggravating trip, you first must go the bank for preliminary aggravation preparation. Use the ATM? Use your debit card and exceed your balance by 63 cents? Have a checking account you hardly use? A monthly service charge for the bank’s use of your money? Significant interest on your credit card balance? Not to worry. We’ve got you coming and going. The household name banks aren’t doing badly, thank you. Except that their success is on your back. Not quite the same as they’ve got your back.

Why rock the boat when revenues are flowing. Good enough question except it is perception and goodwill that suffer. Who is going to be the wunderkind of the banking world who steps up and says it’s time to stop? Let’s get back to being a bank. We’re supposed to lend money. We are supposed to be an important engine of the economy, not a parasite that just gorges on fees at the expense of our customers. Back to lending where we can make the same money by doing what (hopefully) we do best.

Being in an industry that, while competitive, still plays follow-the-leader often results in bad decisions that are followed blindly by the rest of the herd. Herd mentality can be dangerous. Oftentimes it takes advantage of the public. Oftentimes it undermines reputations as well. Alternatively, independent thinking can burnish images and can reap big rewards. Kudos to the big bank or the major airline that announces that it is separateing itself from the other guys.

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THE NEGATIVE PUBLICITY ENIGMA

Posted in Anticipating A Crisis, Business Crises of our own making, Business Crises We Create, Business Crisis Management, Corporate Crisis Management, Crisis Communication Strategy, Crisis Management, Crisis Mitigation, negative publicity on December 1st, 2010 by mnayor

Robert Walker wrote an article recently in the New York Times Magazine section entitled Good News, Bad News, about the negative publicity the GAP received over its attempt to change its iconic logo; and, in general, the fallout or lack thereof that can be expected from negative attacks.

He’s got a point. The old adage that any publicity, negative or positive, is good publicity is certainly not always true. But some forms of negative publicity don’t always do harm. Such is the case with the GAP logo fiasco.

What forms of negative publicity can hurt an organization? Clearly, reports of poor goods and/or services can be harmful. Reports of Johnson & Johnson’s tainted products over the last year have not helped its image. Reports of poor airline service have the effect of customers shopping for alternatives. A hotel devastated by a hurricane or earthquake or a terrorist incident has the same effect.

Stories about poor management will also turn customers off. Look at the banking and investment banking industry. All of these kinds of negative publicity have the effect of creating a crisis, and require skilled crisis management to counter the effects. The crisis management needed has to tackle two fronts: operationally to truly “fix” the problem and crisis communication to inform the public.

But there are other forms of negative publicity that don’t affect products, services or management, such as the GAP logo situation. True, some people were offended or reacted poorly to the proposed change, but what of it? It would take an extraordinarily sensitive GAP shopper or potential GAP shopper to boycott GAP because of this event.

A business crisis is one that effects a company’s reputation or bottom line. Did an unpopular proposed logo change genuinely affect GAP’s reputation? Did it affect the company’s bottom line? I think not. If it did, it was very short-lived and very ineffective. In fact, most stories about the incident stressed the many attributes about the business, its clothing products and its branding success. While GAP would most likely have opted for no publicity over its logo, no harm was done.

The moral of the story? Manage well. Provide excellent products and services. You may still be unable to avoid negative publicity or a crisis that is beyond your control but if your base is solid you will weather the storm.

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CRISIS MANAGEMENT AND THE BLAME GAME

Posted in Business Crisis Management, Crisis Communication Implementation, Crisis Communication Response, Crisis Communication Strategy, The Blame Game on October 5th, 2010 by mnayor

Over time, crisis management pundits have considered many types of responses to a crisis and have sometimes recommended actions and reactions that today seem out of step with effective solutions for most crisis situations. These out-of-step solutions fall into two categories: 1) stonewall the media and the issue will eventually die without you fueling the topic; and 2) a strong defense is a good offense, namely attack the accuser, deny the issue or point the finger elsewhere.

In today’s media jungle, stories don’t die. If something doesn’t pass the smell test, someone in the media is going to pursue it. Ignoring a crisis by ignoring the media doesn’t cut it. And if the media doesn’t pick up on an issue, the public certainly will, via Facebook, U-Tube, Twitter or some other yet to be invented faster-than-light communications vehicle.

In times of crisis most corporate managements would prefer to avoid the limelight, deal with its issues, solve its problems and escape negative publicity. Understandable, but dealing with a major crisis like an ostrich is terribly risky and makes a company look like it’s not owning up when the crisis is exposed.  

So let’s assume you are willing and able to deal head-on with the public. Most senior executives are used to being in control. They pull the levers, call the shots and aren’t used to being told what to do. There is a tendency to be defensive. “I nurtured this baby, I grew it and I know how to defend it”.  The reaction often lacks finesse. Instead of appearing open, the reaction is authoritarian. Instead of appearing honest, the reaction is defensive and oftentimes gravitates towards the blame game or, just as bad, the rationalization or justification game. 

All of these “public” reactions can hurt your organization, because you will have missed the point. There is a problem. Acknowledge it. The problem has ramifications. Acknowledge them. No one is interested in finger-pointing or excuses, even if you are correct. There is time for that.  Don’t act like the whiney school kid or the weasel that can’t or won’t take responsibility. The public expects companies and organizations to man-up. Period. Man-up and get moving so the problem can be fixed. The public respects organizations (and their spokespersons) that emanate competence and authority.

When BP went to Capital Hill to testify back in May, 2010 they were joined by Halliburton and Transocean, Ltd., two of BP’s subcontractors. All three looked foolish because of the finger pointing and denial that ensued. What to do?  Act like a responsible citizen whether you are at fault or not.  A responsible citizen acknowledges the problem and positions itself to take whatever action it can to help fix it. It investigates and determines the best course of action based on its expertise. The public needs to know you are responsible citizen. You convey that when you take immediate, competent action.

But what if you are not to blame? If you aren’t, good for you. It will come out in the end but as an immediate step the public needs to know that you recognize yourself as a player with a role, and that you willingly undertake that role for the public good. Expensive? Perhaps. Worth it. Most often a resounding yes, in terms of public perception and goodwill. If you are to blame the same holds true. Your legal team and your insurance advisors may have made it clear that you cannot say anything that admits culpability. Even so you can act as the same responsible corporate citizen as you would if you were not to blame. You can act sensitively, you can investigate and you can devote whatever resources you have to help fix the problem and keep the public informed regularly along the way.

Preserving your reputation and directing your efforts to problem-solving are the first order of business. Assessing blame comes later and is best left to third parties. No one ever looks good saying it is someone else’s fault. An insurance investigation, a public hearing, a regulatory investigation, a private investigation that is made public are just some of the opportunities you have to provide input to show the root causes of a crisis. Let a neutral source absolve you of blame. In the end it carries far more weight, and is more persuasive and acceptable.

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JOHNSON & JOHNSON: CRISIS MANAGEMENT IN FREE-FALL

Posted in Business Crisis Management, Crisis Communication Failures, Crisis Communication Response, Liability Communications on October 5th, 2010 by mnayor

 The Today show on September 21st dusted off a fairly old story. Ortho Evra, a birth control patch introduced in 2002 and produced by J&J subsidiary Ortho McNeil was in the news again. Since the time of its introduction the patch has been the subject of thousands of court complaints. The product allegedly has the effect of causing deep vein thrombosis, pulmonary embolisms, heart attacks, strokes and death, all stemming from the fact that it can deliver twice as much estrogen to the body as regular birth control pills. J&J has received years of bad press about this subject. No claim has ever gone to trial and J&J continues settlements that total many tens of millions of dollars.

 The Today show reported that it had recently uncovered a 2005 resignation letter from a former J&J vice president saying that he could not remain in his position knowing the high levels of estrogen delivered by the product. The show also reported that another former vice president was suing the Company for wrongful termination based on his whistle-blowing efforts even before the product was introduced to the public.

 Now switch gears to J&J’s non-prescription products. Over the last year, the Company has gone through a slew of product recalls, including infants’ and children’s Tylenol, for reasons including contamination and the presence of foreign matter. The Company also conducted what is termed a “phantom” recall of Motrin by hiring a third party to buy up the product on store shelves in order to avoid adverse publicity. J&J maintains that it did so under an agreement with the Food and Drug Administration. The House of Representatives investigated the recalls, and questioned the alleged agreement with FDA when it heard CEO William Weldon at the end of September. Weldon acknowledged at the hearing that J&J had let the public down by not maintaining its high standards. An F.D.A. official testified that the Company had an inadequate quality system at a number of its facilities. One lawmaker declared that J&J’s failures would mar its reputation for years.

 J&J’s 1982 handling of the Tylenol scare is often cited as the quintessential example of crisis management in modern corporate history. Back then cyanide had been found in bottles of Tylenol in the Chicago area. J&J immediately issued public warnings, called a product recall, created tamper-proof packaging, and before long was fully back in business. The Company was up-front and willing to bite the bullet in the best interests of the public. Unfortunately that does not appear to be the philosophy today.

J&J’s website states that “The values that guide our decision making are spelled out in Our Credo. Put simply, Our Credo challenges us to put the needs and well-being of the people we serve first.” Maybe so, but it appears as if a new breed of management has taken the reins at J&J – new cutting -edge types whose sole concentration is on the bottom line. Yet it might be this competence and cool business efficiency that will have the effect of undermining the extraordinary 120 year old reputation of this venerable institution. The abilities of current management must be tempered with sensitivity and responsibility to the public in order to salvage and maintain the invaluable good will of one of America’s great corporations. Hopefully the lessons learned will again set management on the right course.

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