Monday, April 9, 2012

Seriously Negative Energy at EnergyWatch

We have probably all seen or heard about the unfortunate rants by Ben Polis, disgraced (now former) CEO of EnergyWatch who’s confessed racist vitriol on Facebook cost his company its sponsorship deals with Melbourne Football Club and Melbourne Victory. Interesting about this scandal connected with sport is that the sponsor created the furore, not the footy club and it was the club forced to cut ties for fear of being vicariously besmirched. It has always happened the other way round until now... which brings me to my point.
There are just some critical incidents for which there are no precedents. We remember Steve Bradbury's Gold Medal, not because he came first, but because he was the last one left upright when he crossed the line. There was no precedent for the bankruptcy of Lehman Brothers in terms of its cataclysmic impact, the poisoning of headache tablets and subsequent deaths of seven consumers in the tragic 1982 Tylenol case and the Wayne Carey/Kelly Stevens saga that severely disrupted North Melbourne's season to say nothing of the psychological devastation for some of its players and the strain on team relationships.

Companies cannot be prepared for every watershed, take your breath away trend breaking contingency. We are operating in a new paradigm; one in which every suburban blogger is a published author, everyone with a Twitter account is a social commentator, everyone with a YouTube channel is a would-be celebrity and every smart phone owner a primetime producer of current affairs and captor of breaking news.

Therefore the only way companies can prepare is to do the following in preparation for any potential media scandal:

  • Ensure staff understand the critical importance of preserving the company's digital reputation
  • Respond rather than react to negative publicity
  • Embrace social media and control the message as best you can
  • Use skilled PR and communications staff as trusted advisers but own your own decisions
  • Always put the safety of staff and customers first - no exceptions
  • Ensure you have diverse, balanced representation around the board table in determining early primary and secondary strategy
  • Don't give undue control or sway to major clients or sponsors as they may be of the belief that any publicity is good publicity for them
  • Act bravely and decisively to 'cut the tangled parachute' of wrongdoers as long as you are sure they have done the wrong thing and that you accord them procedural fairness. Don't ever offer up a scapegoat. Any punishment must fit the crime
  • Swift decisive clear consistent messages including acknowledgement of wrongdoing delivered authentically is the best and most ethical way to make it go away
  • Watch the blogosphere and gauge the mood of members, shareholders, supporters and clients but don’t be overly swayed; their moral compass may just be magnetised by a conflict of interests. You must always do what's morally sound even if the members want you to keep playing the star player who fraternises with criminals or otherwise brings the 'club' or the 'firm' into disrepute. Even if they are willing to sell out on ethics in the short term, it's a false win and will always come back to haunt you because of the message it sends and its impact on company culture
  • ....oh, and try to do the right thing every time!