If you are a communication professional, then you have probably experienced that moment of frustration when you’ve given vitally important advice to your boss, but it landed on deaf ears or they didn’t seem to be interested at all in what you had to say. You may also know that feeling when the event or consequence you warned the boss about actually happens, and then you have to scramble and try to fix something that was completely preventable.
This frustration is common in the communication field and explainable. In some instances, the boss simply doesn’t know what you do. In others, they may think that they know what you do but they couldn’t be more wrong. This misalignment often leads to you being marginalized in your role and doing work that does not capitalize on your professional capabilities. For some communication professionals that can mean becoming a glorified speech writer or copy editor; for others it means planning company events or posting what others write on the company website. But for all – the frustration is real.
The Good News
The good news is that this is preventable (assuming you have a reasonable boss who wants to do well). Part of the challenge for communication professionals is that we often become our own worst enemy. As professional communicators we tend to focus on the communication itself and in the process fail to speak to the direct concerns of our boss.
To win a seat at the table and get your boss to listen to you, communication professionals should keep in mind the following mantra:
It isn’t about the communication. It is about the effect of the communication.
One of the sad realities is that as communicators, we know that communication is a rigorous, strategic discipline. But the word ‘communication’ itself is confusing. Because if you think of communication as reading, writing, and speaking – well, we’ve all been doing that our whole lives, so we must be very good at it and your boss probably feels the same way.
“The true value of a professional communicator is not that we can string words and sentences together and get them out into the right hands,” explains Helio Fred Garcia, the president of Logos Consulting Group.“The value of the communicator is that we can influence those who matter to our bosses to feel, think, know, or do something they otherwise would not.”
One way communication professionals can think about what they do is to understand their role as “applied anthropologists.”
This idea was first espoused by the father of public relations, Edward L. Bernays. Bernays explained in Crystallizing Public Opinion, “Public relations is a vocation applied by a social scientist who advises a client or employer on social attitudes and the actions to take to win support of the public upon whom the viability of the client depends.” In other words, the professional communicator shapes the opinions of those they try to influence.
Nearly a century after this book was published, the idea of the communication professionals’ function as an applied social scientist still holds true. With this concept in mind, the communicator understands the social and power relationships within groups and among groups. And the applied part of anthropologists is that the communication professional knows how to then engage any given group to secure a predictable outcome.
“As professional communicators our job is to predict the future – to know the reaction and counter reaction to everything we do,” said Garcia. “If we subject this group to stimulus A for example, then we can predict how they will react, and to stimulus B…to stimulus C…and so on.”
This predictive ability is the value that communication professionals can bring to the table. Therefore, if you want the boss to listen to you, you need to demonstrate this predictive ability when you give advice to your boss.
It is not enough to say, “We need to release this statement.” The key is to focus on the outcome you seek, and then lay out the steps required to move those who matter to your boss to think, feel, know, and do what is necessary to reach that desired outcome. The strategic discipline to keep in mind, however, is that we must never make communication decisions on personal preference, but rather on the desired reaction and outcome.
The more you as a communication professional can show that you can predict the future and provoke the desired action to reach a desired outcome, the more respected your function will be and the more likely your boss will invite you to take a coveted seat at the table.
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On November 13, 2020, Logos president Helio Fred Garcia was quoted in Christian Science Monitor about how Americans are divided over facts. The article explored the way in which the country’s present political and media environment has created echo chambers of misinformation, which has lead to widespread distrust in the media. As a result, we have seen many voters distrust this year’s election results.
The authors note that “there remains the wider problem, many scholars say, of the country’s massive media ecosystem unmoored from a common set of facts, and the tremendous amount of faith tens of millions of Americans place in President Trump over traditional and nontraditional news sources.”
Garcia noted the role that leaders play in creating worldviews that lead people to questions the facts: “Leaders influence the worldview their followers are in, and those worldviews define their private reality. Create a worldview in which the media is ‘fake news’ and that science is a deep-state conspiracy, and the evidence suddenly is irrelevant.”
He continued, “Leaders who lie persistently create a false worldview for their followers, who cling to those worldviews even when the leader moves on,” continues Mr. Garcia. “So, even after the Bob Woodward recordings revealed that Donald Trump knew that the virus was deadly, airborne, and worse than the flu, his followers kept showing up for rallies unmasked and undistanced,” even as many said they believed the coronavirus was a hoax. “When he said he was cured and that the nation was turning the corner, they continued to believe him and not the objective evidence.”
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Many crises are not foreseeable, but civil unrest after the election is and leaders and organization should prepare for this.
On Monday, October 19, Logos president Helio Fred Garcia presented a pre-conference briefing on how to foresee the foreseeable and be ready for it when it happens around the US election at the Professional Speechwriters Association’s World Conference.
During this session, Garcia helped attendees understand a mindset to help leaders think through what to do and say ahead of election day, how to organize their thinking (and schedule) for various Election-Day scenarios, and how to prepare for and respond to five possible scenarios for what might happen immediately after the election.
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By: Helio Fred Garcia @garciahf and Maida K. Zheng @maidazheng
Logos Consulting Group
“I call the head of Exxon. I don’t know, you know, ‘How are you doing? How’s energy coming? When are you doing the exploration? Oh, you need a couple of permits?'” Trump told supporters at a rally in Arizona on Monday. “I say, ‘You know, I’d love [for] you to send me $25 million for the campaign.’ ‘Absolutely sir, why didn’t you ask? Would you like some more?’”
This quote, as reported by the Washington Post is important for several reasons.
From a crisis management perspective, the first rule is to fully understand the risk, and to mitigate that risk quickly. In this case, the risk is that someone might interpret the comment as referring to an actual call with the Exxon CEO, who would then seem compromised.
The crisis communication strategy is to take control of the narrative and obtain the first mover advantage. If you don’t have the first mover advantage, you must respond and take control of the narrative within the “Golden Hour of Crisis Response,” a metaphor from emergency medicine. The Golden Hour refers not to a particular period of time, but to the observation that incremental delays in responding to a crisis – whether a medical emergency, a flood, or a more routine corporate setback – has greater than incremental impact on the outcome.
However, if an organization is first to define the nature of the crisis, its motives, and its actions, as Exxon Mobil did here, the result is that the organization will likely demonstrate caring and end up controlling the narrative. By capturing the first mover advantage, Exxon also deprived their adversaries of the chance to form a harmful narrative against the organization.
Upon hearing the statement from President Trump, Exxon Mobil immediately responded, posting on Twitter that, “We are aware of the President’s statement regarding a hypothetical call with our CEO…and just so we’re all clear, it never happened.”
This was an important and timely move on Exxon’s part. They named it a hypothetical call, thereby defining the nature of the crisis. And they made clear that the call never happened. If they hadn’t acted as quickly and clearly, they would have lost control of the narrative, leading to negative consequences.
Effective Crisis Response as a Competitive Advantage
Whether an organization survives a crisis with its reputation, operations, and financial condition intact is determined less by the severity of the crisis than by the timeliness and effectiveness of the response.
Two Oxford University researchers demonstrated the extent to which effective and ineffective crisis response affects a company’s enterprise value. Rory F. Knight and Deborah J. Pretty studied the stock price performance of prominent publicly-traded corporations that had suffered significant crises. They calculated each company’s stock price performance attributable to the crisis – stripping out market movements and other factors unrelated to the crisis that might have affected the stock price, and thus calculated what they called the ‘‘cumulative abnormal returns’’ for each company.
Knight and Pretty found that companies that mishandled crises saw their stock price (calculated as cumulative abnormal returns) plummet an average of ten percent in the first weeks after a crisis, and continue to slide for a year, ending the year after the crisis an average of 15 percent below their pre-crisis prices.
Companies with effective crisis response, on the other hand, saw their stock fall an average (cumulative abnormal returns) of just 5 percent in the weeks following a crisis, about half the initial decline of companies that mishandled the crisis. More significant, companies with effective crisis response saw their stock price recover quickly, and remain above their pre-crisis price thereafter, closing an average of 7 percent above their pre-crisis price one year after the crisis (Exhibit 1).
In other words, the tangible difference between effective and ineffective crisis response was, on average, 22 percent of a company’s market capitalization. Knight and Pretty assess the reasons for this disparity and conclude that the most significant factors are not the scope of financial damage or reduction in cash flows caused by the crisis. Rather, the most important determinant of a company’s ability to recover and increase its market capitalization after a crisis is the management team’s response. Knight and Pretty conclude that positive stock performance:
“. . . springs from what catastrophes reveal about management skills not hitherto reflected in value. A re-evaluation of management by the stock market is likely to result in a re-assessment of the firm’s future cash flows in terms of both magnitude and confidence. This in turn will have potentially large implications for shareholder value. Management is placed in the spotlight and has an opportunity to demonstrate its skill or otherwise in an extreme situation.” 
Exhibit 1: Effective vs Ineffective Crisis response
Source: Knight and Pretty (1997)
Lessons of the Past
Looking to a relevant historical example, Exxon suffered immense reputational and organizational damage following its ineffective crisis response during the 1989 Exxon Valdez oil spill.
Exxon suffered significant loss of reputation and eventually a great deal of financial loss – because the public perceived that its primary concern was not the harm that the spill caused.
Fifteen years after the spill a federal appeals court upheld a lower court judgment of $4.5 billion against the company (in addition to the more than $3 billion it had previously paid for cleanup and related costs). The Court said its purpose in upholding the award was to achieve ‘‘retribution and justice.’’ The New York Timesopined that such a judgment and such a purpose were entirely appropriate given Exxon’s seeming indifference in the initial phase of the spill.
This perception of indifference is the single largest contributor harm in the aftermath of a crisis, especially when there are victims.
Companies, governments, and leaders are forgiven when bad things happen. But they won’t be forgiven if they’re seen not to care that bad things have happened. This is a lesson that many leaders fail to understand or to act on in the initial early phases of a crisis.
Exxon’s early response to the Exxon Valdez spill demonstrated lack of both situational awareness and self-awareness. They also demonstrated a lack of leadership discipline and command focus. In both cases leaders fell into one of the common missteps in a crisis: denial. Former General Electric CEO Jack Welch describes the need to get past denial quickly. In a Wall Street Journal Op-Ed piece soon after the flood, Welch said:
“One of the marks of good leadership is the ability to dispense with denial quickly and face into the hard stuff with eyes open and fists raised. With particularly bad crises facing them, good leaders also define reality, set direction, and inspire people to move forward. Just think of… Churchill during World War II. Denial doesn’t exactly come to mind – a forthright, calm, fierce boldness does.”
It seems that Exxon has learned this valuable lesson because on Monday, Exxon’s stocks were XOM, -1.99%, and after providing the clarification, their stock rose to 0.69%. The numbers don’t lie, and reputation management is indicative of the numbers being reflected in the stock market.
Guidance for Leadership
Exxon clearly learned from its crisis response failures around the Exxon Valdez spilled. Exxon — now known as Exxon Mobil, was ready when Trump put the company and its CEO in the media and social media cross-hairs.
Have a clear sense of what constitutes a crisis, and know how to mobilize energy and resources quickly:
Develop an early warning mechanism/rapid response capability.
Designate a senior executive as responsible for crisis preparedness and response.
Make this executive accountable and provide sufficient resources to conduct a thorough analysis of vulnerabilities, crisis response strategies, and crisis implementation.
Pre-authorize this executive to take initial response steps without going through usual corporate approval processes.
Test the system with wargames, tabletop exercises, and other processes that challenge leaders to make tough decisions and act quickly.
Remember that the best plan won’t help if executives don’t know what to do or when do it. Recognize when business as usual needs to be suspended. A quick test:
Will those who matter to us expect us to do or say something now?
Will silence be seen by our stakeholders as indifference or as an affirmation of guilt?
Are others talking about us now, thereby shaping the perception of us among those who matter to us; is there reason to believe they will be soon?
If we wait do we lose the ability to determine the outcome?
If the answer to any of these questions is yes, then it is time to respond. If the answer to all four is no, then you have time to monitor the situation and prepare a response in case any of those answers change to a ‘yes.’
Control the agenda: don’t let the media, adversaries, or the rumor mill define your situation.
Keep in mind the Golden Hour of crisis response: incremental delays cause greater-than-incremental harm to reputation.
Remember your stakeholders. What would reasonable people appropriately expect a responsible organization to do when faced with this? The answer to this question should guide your response.
Develop messages and tactics with a goal in mind: How do you want your key stakeholders to think and feel, and what do you want them to know and do?
In a crisis, assure both self-awareness and situational awareness:
Coordinate all functions of the crisis response with frequent meetings/conference calls.
Correct mistakes early.
Understand what your stakeholders, adversaries, the media, and others are saying about you.
Keep your focus on the goal: influencing stakeholders. Decisions become clear when you keep your stakeholders in mind.
 The Impact of Catastrophes on Shareholder Value: A Research Report Sponsored by Sedgwick Group, by Rory F. Knight and Deborah J. Pretty, The Oxford Executive Research Briefings, Templeton College, Oxford, 1997.
Author Tony Jaques is a world-renowned expert on crisis and reputation. He heads Issue Outcomes, headquartered in North Melbourne, Australia. He worked for more than 20 years in Corporate Issue and Crisis Management, mainly in Asia-Pacific, and served two terms as a Director on the Board of the Issue Management Council, in Leesburg, Virginia.
The book opens with Dr. Jaques laying out the stakes of getting crisis response right:
“The Economist magazine examined the impact of crises which struck eight major corporations (worth over $15 billion) from 2010 to 2018 and the median share price fell by 33 percent. While most clawed back their absolute losses, compared with a basket of industry peers over the same time period the median firm was worth 30 per cent less in 2018 than it would have been without the crisis, a total deficit of $300 billion across the eight companies.
A survey of 685 business leaders from Fortune 1000 firms found they believed it would take more than four years to recover from a crisis which damaged an organization’s reputation, and three years for a crisis to fade from the memory of most stakeholders.
And an international law firm analyzed major reputational crises around the world and found that in companies unable to recover pre-crisis share value, 15 per cent of senior executives left within a year, compared with a departure rate of just four per cent in companies where share value did recover.”
The caricature of lawyers’ interventions in crisis (honored as much in the breech as in the observance) is that of forbidding the organization from saying anything or doing anything visible. While some lawyers still behave this way, increasingly lawyers are seeing themselves as business advisors as well as legal advisors. And we know that just as any crisis is a business problem before it is a communication problem, every crisis is also a business problem before it is a legal problem. Dr. Jaques points out that just because something is legal doesn’t make it right.
He offers practical guidance to CEOs on how to weigh conflicting advice, to lawyers on how to understand the bigger picture, and to communicators on how to be more persuasive in making the reputation-protecting case.
The book is well-researched and written.
More important, it is easy to read and very engaging, with a wealth of case studies, practical examples, and key takeaways. The case studies are from around the world and from a range of organizations, from companies to governments to the military. And the lessons conveyed are priceless.
I consider Crisis Counsel to be a must-read for those who advise or wish to advise on high-stakes situations, whether you are a lawyer, a communicator, a CEO, or a leader of any other form of enterprise.
I am honored to have written one of the three forewords to this important contribution to the field.
The other forewords were written by:
Dr. Robert Heath, Emeritus Professor of Communication in the Jack Valenti School of Communication of the University of Houston.
“I have been a crisis advisor for more than 35 years and have taught crisis management and crisis communication in graduate business and professional schools for more than 30 years. I have advised lawyers and been hired through lawyers to advise our mutual clients. I have taught lawyers through bar associations and have trained individual lawyers in crisis management. And I have fought with lawyers; sometimes I have won those fights. And I have learned from lawyers.
A typical interaction is this: In the CEO’s office the lawyer will give all the legal reasons to say as little as possible in the early phases of a crisis. The CEO will then look at me. My reply,
‘I believe you have received excellent legal advice. And you should take it seriously. But please recognize that you don’t have a legal problem, at least not yet. You have a business problem. And you need to make a business decision. You need to consider the risk of legal liability seriously.
But not exclusively. You should also consider the consequences of the loss of trust of those who matter to you: your employees, customers, investors, regulators, and others. You can protect yourself from legal liability that will play out years from now but lose the company in the process. Or you can attend to the immediate needs and concerns of your stakeholders now, in ways that manage future legal liability.” It’s very hard for the lawyers to object to that.
I then offer, “Between self-defeating silence and self-destructive blabbering, there’s lots of room to maneuver.”
I then ask the lawyer about categories of possible communication:
Can we acknowledge awareness of what has happened? The answer is usually Yes.
Can we express empathy toward those who are affected? The lawyers usually say, Yes, but we need to be careful not to admit blame. My reply, Great. Let’s do it carefully.
Can we declare our values? We typically have them published on our website. Can we describe the overall approach we will take to address the crisis and resolve it? The lawyers usually say we need to be very careful. I again reply, Great. Let’s do it carefully.
Can we make some kind of commitment? How about a procedural commitment: We’ll update you when we know more. Or a substantive commitment: We’ll get to the bottom of this and fix it. This often leads to the lawyers and communicators collaborating early in the crisis to find the balance. It doesn’t need to be adversarial or either-or.
He helps us understand the mindset of lawyers and the mindset of communicators, and how leaders can exercise good decision skills.
He includes a wealth of real-world examples of well and poorly handled crises from around the world and across forms of organization. It contains both wisdom and practical tools for responding effectively in a crisis. And he quotes a wide range of crisis experts (full disclosure: including me). This is an important contribution to our understanding of crises, leadership, and decision-making. It’s the kind of book I wish I had been able to read when I was just starting in crisis decades ago. And it is a valuable book for lawyers, communicators, and leaders in all sectors.”
About the Author
Tony Jaques, PhD, Author of Crisis Counsel (Author book portrait)
Tony Jaques, PhD, has spent much of his working life describing, researching and writing about crisis management, and helping to manage crises in government and in corporations.
He has served as a government ministerial advisor, corporate executive and business consultant and has an international reputation as an authority on issue and crisis management and risk communication. I
In his role as Asia-Pacific Issue and Crisis Manager for The Dow Chemical Company for more than 20 years he was responsible for implementing local issue, crisis and community outreach programs throughout the region and had a hands-on role in managing a number of high-profile crises. He continues to serve as a thought leader in those areas with new projects to educate other fellow professionals as a conference speaker.
Dr Jaques is a New Zealander who now lives in Australia, where he runs his own consultancy and lectures post-graduate students at two universities. At an earlier stage of his career he was a journalist in New Zealand and London, and later worked as a management strategic advisor and speechwriter.
He has written very extensively about issue and crisis management.in academic and business publications around the world, and is the author of three previous books in the field — Don’t Just Stand There: the Do-it Plan for Effective Issue Management (2000); Issue and crisis Management: Exploring Issues, Crises, Risk and reputation (2014); and Crisis Proofing: How to Save Your Company From Disaster (2016). He is also the author of the definitive, three-volume Dictionary of Battles and Sieges (2006). Dr Jaques is a former member of the Board of Directors of the Issue Management Council in Washington DC and received their Howard Chase Award for achievement in the field. He holds a doctoral degree from RMIT University (Melbourne).
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New York, NY (July 30, 2020) – Last week, the fourth edition of Reputation Management: The Key to Successful Public Relations and Corporate Communication was released, providing much needed guidance for those charged with managing reputation in today’s environment.
Reputation Management is a how-to guide for students and professionals, as well as CEOs and other business leaders. This book provides a field-tested guide to core challenges in managing all the ways organizations engage their stakeholders to protect, maintain, and enhance reputation. When the first edition was published in 2006 it was the first book to take on reputation management in a systematic way.
“In Reputation Management, my co-author John Doorley and I strive to educate our readers on how to bolster their organization’s reputation,” said Logos Consulting Group president and co-author, Helio Fred Garcia. “By combining core principles, expertise across disciplines, and real-life examples from the field, Reputation Management is an invaluable resource for those tasked with building, protecting, and managing reputation.”
The fourth edition of Reputation Management features refreshed chapters from previous editions, as well as new information vital for communication professionals today, such as social media management techniques and communication in the age of globalization. This edition also features contributions from 36 leaders in the field, including from The Arthur W. Page Society, the International Communications Consultancy Organization, the PR Council, CVS Health, Edelman and Ketchum.
This edition also features scholarship from several members of the Logos team. In addition to four refreshed chapters by Garcia, this edition also features a refreshed chapter on corporate responsibility by Anthony Ewing and a new sidebar on social media and crisis by Holly Helstrom. Logos Institute Press authors authors Jeff Grimshaw, Tanya Mann, Lynne Viscio, and Jennifer Landis also contributed a chapter on organizational communication.
Co-author John Doorley is the former head of corporate communications at Merck and is now an associate professor of strategic communication at Elon University. He created and taught the first undergraduate course in reputation management, at Rutgers University in 2003, and the first graduate course on reputation management, at New York University in 2007. He served as academic director of New York University M.S. in Public Relations and Corporate Communication for seven years.
Co-author Helio Fred Garcia is an adjunct professor of management in the New York University Stern School of Business Executive MBA program, and an adjunct associate professor of management and communication at New York University’s School of Professional Studies, M.S. in Public Relations and Corporate Communication. He is also an adjunct associate professor of professional development and leadership at Columbia University’s Fu Foundation School of Engineering and Applied Sciences.
The fourth edition of Reputation Management is available on Amazon here.
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Crises reveal what organizations value. Whether a business demonstrates corporate responsibility during the COVID-19 pandemic, or fails to do so, can determine if the company and its leaders emerge from this crisis with the trust and confidence of their stakeholders intact.
Definitions of corporate responsibility have evolved from an exclusive focus on shareholder returns, to the acknowledgment by businesses of a much broader group of corporate stakeholders and range of responsibilities. Acting responsibly today means more than legal compliance and goes beyond corporate philanthropy.
At its core, corporate responsibility means meeting stakeholder expectations for responsible conduct. Meeting both the financial and non-financial expectations of its investors, customers, employees, business partners, suppliers, regulators, and the communities where it operates, helps a company to manage risk, protect its reputation, attract and retain employees, grow its markets, and sustain its financial performance.
Demonstrating corporate responsibility is a key challenge for business leaders in the best of times. As my colleague Helio Fred Garcia observes, the COVID-19 crisis comprises simultaneous crises (public health, business, economic, information, governance, social, mental health) of unprecedented scope that require a multi-dimensional leadership response. 
Unprecedented in its scope, the COVID-19 pandemic is an opportunity for companies and their leaders to live their values by acting responsibly.
When navigating next steps during the pandemic, business leaders should keep in mind key principles for demonstrating corporate responsibility.
Understand the potential impacts of your crisis response.
Responsible organizations understand the potential impacts of their actions and take steps to “do no harm.” Business leaders determining how to respond to the pandemic need to assess the potential impacts on all company stakeholders.
Well-managed organizations plan for foreseeable crises. Companies that engage in meaningful crisis planning likely had a standby pandemic crisis plan they could draw upon as they began to address COVID-19. Effective crisis management plans identify potentially affected stakeholders and catalogue relevant corporate policies for high priority scenarios. A global manufacturer’s pandemic planning, for example, would have considered the business impact of supply chain interruptions, triggers to suspend executive travel, and criteria for allowing employees to work remotely.
When evaluating next steps, companies should seek to “do no harm” by preventing or mitigating harmful impacts.
Companies without a pandemic crisis plan in place can still identify potential impacts to guide their response. Enterprise-wide impact mapping and assessment can help an organization prioritize next steps. By applying a human rights impact lens to its operations and stakeholders,  a hospital system, for example, might prioritize securing adequate personal protective equipment to ensure the health and safety of its healthcare workers; expanding diagnostic testing among vulnerable communities to ensure nondiscrimination in patient access to healthcare, and communicating information about the virus and medical capacity to ensure public access to reliable and timely information.
When evaluating next steps, companies should seek to “do no harm” by preventing or mitigating harmful impacts. Apparel companies that have cancelled supplier contracts for goods during the pandemic face criticism for triggering layoffs of the factory workers worldwide that make their products, often among the groups most vulnerable to COVID-19. A quick stakeholder impact assessment would have flagged the risk of harming supply chain workers. Responsible international brands have sought to protect workers by honoring their supplier contracts during the pandemic.
Similarly, companies that provide paid sick leave are protecting the health of employees, customers and the general public alike. When the California-based retailer Patagonia voluntarily closed its stores nationwide while continuing to pay its employees, its CEO and President, Rose Marcario stated, “It’s everyone’s responsibility to help stop the spread of this virus.”
“It’s everyone’s responsibility to help stop the spread of this virus.”
− Rose Marcario, CEO and President, Patagonia Inc.
Anticipate changing stakeholder expectations.
Meeting stakeholder expectations demonstrates corporate responsibility and earns the trust of those who matter most to your business. All stakeholders expect a responsible organization to care about the multiple dimensions of the COVID-19 crisis and to take appropriate action.
What stakeholders expect a responsible company to do will change. The current pandemic is a dynamic situation that calls for decision-makers to adapt policies to new information. Responsible companies meet stakeholders where they are and adjust accordingly.
Customers, for example, expect essential businesses that remain open (or that reopen) to follow public health guidelines, to protect their employees, and to protect vulnerable community members. Obeying the law is the just the starting point.
On my first trip to the grocery store after a statewide “stay-at-home” order had been issued, the store had placed limits on the number of scarce items that customers could buy, like cleaning products and milk. Employees were working hard to keep shelves stocked. Two weeks later, consistent with evolving public health guidance, the store was limiting the number of customers allowed inside at once, plexiglass shields had been placed between checkout workers and customer payment stations, and all store employees wore gloves and masks. The grocery chain had also adopted an industry-wide practice reserving its opening hour for elderly customers. On my most recent shopping trip, the store had instituted “one-way” aisles to ensure physical distancing and all customers were required to wear face coverings.
Some of these measures were mandated; some were voluntary. All track what the store’s customers, employees, and community would expect a responsible grocery store to do under the circumstances based on available information.
Conversely, companies that act contrary to stakeholder expectations for responsible conduct, even if the actions are legal and contribute to the bottom line, risk losing the trust of customers, investors, and regulators. Large public corporations that secured millions of dollars of loans under the Paycheck Protection Program intended for small businesses, for example, have endured substantial public criticism prompting some companies to return the funds. The angry reaction should not have been a surprise for corporate leaders paying attention to stakeholder expectations.
Philanthropy is not a substitute for responsibility.
Stakeholders expect responsible companies with the resources to do so, to give money and to tap their expertise during a crisis. Many businesses, large and small, have responded to the pandemic by providing financial or in-kind support to healthcare workers, to small businesses, and to international and community organizations addressing the impacts of COVID-19 on vulnerable populations.
Google has pledged more than $800 million to support small businesses, health organizations and governments, and health workers on the frontline of the global pandemic. The company’s contribution includes $250 million in advertising credits to help the World Health Organization and more than 100 government agencies disseminate information on how to prevent the spread of COVID-19. Citigroup is donating a total of $15 million to the United Nations Foundation and World Health Organization’s COVID-19 Solidarity Response Fund, to No Kid Hungry to support emergency food-distribution programs in the United States, and to international efforts in countries that are severely affected by the pandemic. The British and Dutch consumer goods multinational Unilever is contributing €100 million through donations of soap, sanitizer, bleach and food, including adapting its manufacturing lines to produce sanitizer for use in hospitals.
All of these efforts are welcome.
Philanthropy, however, does not excuse a company from acting responsibly elsewhere in its operations.
Amazon faces intense criticism for failing to adequately protect its employees from the outset of the pandemic; resisting paid sick time, hazard pay, and health benefits for part-time employees; and retaliating against a warehouse worker who protested working conditions. Since then, Amazon has enhanced its health and safety practices, hired 175,000 additional employees, and donated thousands of laptops to Seattle public school students, among other efforts. CEO and Founder Jeff Bezos announced a $100 million gift to Feeding America. The company’s philanthropic responses alone, however, are proving insufficient to meet stakeholder expectations for responsible conduct. Employees continue to protest Amazon’s working conditions and policies, and regulators have launched investigations into the company’s labor practices.
McDonald’s Corporation has donated over $3 million in food to support local communities during the COVID-19 pandemic; yet, more than half a million McDonald’s workers without access to paid sick leave are serving food nationwide.
Leading companies act and give responsibly.
Business leaders are called to act when government fails to do so.
The COVID-19 pandemic has triggered a crisis of government capacity and leadership. Corporate responsibility today means filling these governance gaps.
Business leaders should be prepared to address the governmental pandemic response by speaking out against harmful policies and advocating for responsible solutions.
Responsible companies in the United States are meeting public needs that the federal government has failed to address. Companies in many different sectors are stepping in to manufacture, purchase, and distribute personal protective equipment; to accelerate production of diagnostic tests and medical equipment like ventilators; and to disseminate accurate data on the virus and its spread. Microsoft voluntarily told its employees to work from home in support of local health authorities’ efforts to communicate the urgency of the looming pandemic in Seattle. Apple and Google are partnering to develop contact tracing technology to help governments and health agencies reduce the spread of the virus.
Stakeholders increasingly expect corporate leaders to speak out on public policy issues,  such as gun violence and immigration policy,  when government fails to act or causes harm. COVID-19 is accelerating this trend. In his annual letter to CEOs, Larry Fink, the chairman and CEO of BlackRock, the world’s largest asset manager, noted last year that “stakeholders are pushing companies to wade into sensitive social and political issues — especially as they see governments failing to do so effectively.” Fink called on CEOs to demonstrate leadership and corporate commitment to “to the countries, regions, and communities where they operate, particularly on issues central to the world’s future prosperity.” No issue meets these criteria right now more than the multi-dimensional COVID-19 crisis.
CEOs that understand and anticipate the potential impacts on of all of their company’s stakeholders are not rushing to reopen.
Business leaders should be prepared to address the governmental pandemic response by speaking out against harmful policies and advocating for responsible solutions. Consumer product brands have had to correct inaccurate information about disinfectants. Many businesses in the United States must now decide whether to reopen against data-driven public health guidance. CEOs that understand and anticipate the potential impacts on of all of their company’s stakeholders are not rushing to reopen.
Unprecedented in its scope, the COVID-19 pandemic presents a unique opportunity for companies and their leaders to live their values by acting responsibly.
Logos Senior Advisor Anthony Ewing counsels executives on corporate responsibility and works with clients to establish and strengthen crisis management programs. He teaches a graduate seminar on corporate responsibility at Columbia Law School.
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“When you do the common things in life in an uncommon way, you will command the attention of the world.”
~ George Washington Carver
So: You’re wearing a mask and keeping a socially responsible distance. You’re staying safe but taking long daily walks in the nearly empty streets of New York City to keep yourself healthy and sane. You peer into the dark, empty storefronts as you stroll along. You arrive at the place you always found familiar and comforting; it now looks abandoned and forbidding. There is no human to greet you, only a few words on a single page attached to the front door. Almost every door on every street has a similar sign.
As the days of shutdown have dragged on, I’ve become intrigued by these signs, snapping pictures of at least 100 of them. I’ve read the words again and again. They are breathtaking in their sameness, leading me to the question: How much difference can a few words on a simple sign possibly make?
Businesses reopening in the aftermath of the current crisis may soon find out.
Sometimes the message on the door is just one word – “Closed.” Not terribly helpful, is it? That feels more like the end of a relationship than a reassurance that you and your spot will be reunited in the future.
While heavily trafficked commercial chains may have a following who look for convenience alone, a cozy neighborhood haunt cannot exist without building an emotional bond – appreciation, affection, even love – with its customers. When that business closes indefinitely, or its hours are suddenly and severely curtailed, anxious customers need to see words of gratitude, emotion, and empathy: “We thank you.” “We appreciate you.” “We miss you.” “We understand what you are going through because we are going through it, too.”
Empathy should start right there at the front door.
Surprisingly, even in these difficult times, when those words of connectivity matter most, when customers expect to find love letters from deeply grateful owners, they find crisis boilerplate instead, often written in haste, dashed off as a formality and perhaps copied from a neighboring establishment. Even worse, sometimes, the desired words do not appear at all.
That strategically placed sheet of paper – occasionally drafted with the assistance of a lawyer or a communications professional – may be instructive but it’s not terribly personal. Or authentic. Or meaningful.
That kind of corporate jargon often makes me stop reading – I imagine you know the phrases: “our top priority,” “we are closely monitoring,” “we are committed to …” But owners use them because they know they need to communicate quickly with customers coming to the door, and they want the message to sound official. Professional communicators reading this will understand that the sign on the door is a kind of stand-by statement to let the entire world, including those critical customers, know what is going on in that moment and what they can expect while the crisis – and temporary closure – continues.
ACKNOWLEDGMENT – a statement of awareness that something has happened.
EMPATHY – an expression of empathy or sympathy to those who are hurting or inconvenienced – and in COVID-19 times, everyone is hurting and inconvenienced.
VALUES – a declaration of the business’ values – including how much that business values those customers.
APPROACH – a summary of the actions the business is taking in the wake of the crisis.
COMMITMENT – a statement that sets future expectations, i.e., “We will keep you up-to-date as we hear any important news and will let you know when we can reopen. We will be here for you online even while we are closed.”
In all fairness, I’m sure these independent owners also mean to communicate how much they love and miss their customers. But their words – crafted out of necessity and in great haste from a template – don’t quite resonate. They don’t quite say: We are closed, but we miss you and are still there for you.
Contrast those signs with recent updates that a certain coffee company has posted on Instagram – the digital front door for many contemporary consumers. Note the likes and comments.
So, for owners of shuttered businesses – small or large, mighty or nimble – here are two important questions you should ask yourself:
1. How can you communicate your message in conversational human language, rather than boilerplate jargon? You’re dealing with ordinary humans. Why not sound like one?
2. How can you include a message of gratitude at the very top of the page? Owners should express their sincere thanks to the customer who has arrived at the door in the first sentence or two. What would happen if the language of the sign started there? Only good things, I promise you.
Here are some signs that hit the mark beautifully. Which ones do you like best?
One last thought: many of the signs that I see on the doors have been left there unchanged for weeks.
Dear shop owners— It’s not too late to change that sign!
https://i2.wp.com/www.logosconsulting.net/wp-content/uploads/2020/04/Dispatches-in-the-Time-of-COVID-19-Leave-Your-Empathy-at-the-Door-covid19-barbaragreen.png?fit=950%2C868&ssl=1868950Barbara Greenehttps://www.logosconsulting.net/wp-content/uploads/2021/05/HQ-Lambda-Consulting-Lockup-1030x562.pngBarbara Greene2020-05-01 12:23:162021-09-03 20:23:36Dispatches in the Time of COVID-19: Leave Your Empathy at the Door
The COVID-19 pandemic has been a battle not only for lives, but also for hearts and minds.
We’re in a crisis that no single sector or business is immune to. Every organization, from the family-owned pizza place in your neighborhood to a trillion-dollar corporation, is affected and faced with threats to its viability. Companies must also survive the court of public opinion through effectively responding to and communicating about the crisis.
Recent communications by Marriott and Macy’s and the consequences provide an instructive comparison:
The Wall Street Journal reported on March 17 that Marriott had begun furloughing tens of thousands of its employees, which later was confirmed by the company. Two days later, the company released a video update from its President and CEO Arne Sorenson on Twitter. Sorenson thoughtfully and authentically explained the significant impact that COVID-19 has had on Marriott’s revenues – a more severe and sudden financial impact than the 2009 recession and 9/11 combined. He then articulated a number of steps the company was taking to maintain financial viability going forward.
He closed by empathizing with his employees and highlighting his commitment to them:
“There is simply nothing worse than telling highly valued associates, people who are at the very heart of the company, that their roles are being impacted by events completely outside of their control. I’ve never been more determined to see us through than I am at this moment.”
“Leadership at its finest,” someone commented under the Twitter video, which had been viewed 915.5k times by the time of writing this blog. Forbes applauded Mr. Sorenson for demonstrating “truly authentic leadership.”
Marriott President and CEO Arne Sorenson delivers COVID-19 update
Conversely, on March 30 Macy’s announced in a press release that it was furloughing most of its 125,000 employees:
“Across Macy’s, Bloomingdales, and Blue Mercury brands, we will be moving to the absolute minimum workforce needed to maintain basic operations. This means that the majority of our colleagues will go on furlough beginning this week.”
They contextualized this decision by referencing a decline in store sales:
“While the digital business remains open, we have lost the majority of our sales due to the store closures.”
Like Marriott, Macy’s also announced other mitigating measures to conserve cash such as cutting executive salaries and freezing new hires.
For public companies, the individual stock price is a barometer of trust and confidence. While under the best of circumstances stock price indicates trust and confidence, it is arguably more of a critical matrix when people are anxious and hyperresponsive to changes in the pandemic.
On the day Sorenson released his video update, Marriott was at $66.80 per share, up about 4.7% from the day before. On the day of its announcement, Macy’s saw its shares down about 8.5% from the closing price of a day before, even though Macy’s essentially implemented similar business measures.
So, why did Marriott and Macy’s end up in such different places when pretty much doing the same things?
There are five best practices that determine whether companies win or lose trust when implementing unfavorable actions in catastrophic situations:
1. Actions alone do not communicate your intent. They must be combined with communication.
Actions should always go hand in hand with communications, otherwise you leave room for unintended interpretation. Communicating your intent can frame your actions in a persuasive, positive light. Failure to frame your intent will result in audiences judging your actions alone.
2. Reset expectations when previous ones cannot be met.
Trust is the natural consequence of promises fulfilled, expectations met, and values lived. When a business is no longer able to operate as usual, it is unrealistic for an organization to fulfill expectations that were set in ordinary circumstances. However, stakeholders’ expectations will remain the same unless the new circumstances that requires new expectations are communicated clearly.
3. When delivering bad news, be direct, transparent, and specific.
For dramatic actions to be understood by those who matter, the magnitude of the negative event in play needs to be communicated in full and clear terms. Do not use euphemisms. Be sure to show empathy.
4. Make connections, not announcements.
If possible, put a face to the communication and make personal connections with your audiences. Once a human connection is made, even the most undesirable decisions become more palatable. Sorenson started the video by acknowledging his “new bald look” as a cancer survivor. By exhibiting vulnerability and humility, he bonded with his audience on the emotional level. He then empathized with his employees. Macy’s, however, gave a straightforward, dry business update.
5. It’s never about you; it’s about them.
It is important to not think or frame the decision from the perspective of the leader or the organization in a crisis. The I/me/we/us frame of reference abandons the opportunity to demonstrate care and empathy and can easily be seen as irresponsible or self-serving. For example, Macy’s simply stated that it was furloughing employees to a basic operation level to support digital sales. However, employees don’t care about “maintaining basic operations;” they care about being able to pay rent and buy food.
It’s difficult to frame any unpleasant decisions from the perspective of stakeholders when the actions will at least in the short term hurt them. However, tapping into a higher value, inspiring a sense of duty and togetherness can help bring people to your side. But this has to be done in a candid and authentic manner, as Sorenson did in the video update.
The best times are often forgotten. Leaders and organizations are remembered for what they’ve done in the worst ones. Therefore, it’s critical for leaders to remember these five principles when they need to take unfavorable actions and deliver bad news. These best practices not only protect companies from losing their case in the court of public opinion, but also provide an opportunity to win more hearts and minds.
https://i2.wp.com/www.logosconsulting.net/wp-content/uploads/2020/04/Five-Principles-for-Maintaining-Trust-When-Making-Unpopular-Decisions-in-A-Crisis-covid19-yinnanshen.jpg?fit=1180%2C472&ssl=14721180Yinnan Shenhttps://www.logosconsulting.net/wp-content/uploads/2021/05/HQ-Lambda-Consulting-Lockup-1030x562.pngYinnan Shen2020-04-23 11:58:282021-08-26 20:49:44Five Principles for Maintaining Trust When Making Unpopular Decisions in A Crisis
The Chinese publisher is Posts & Telecom Press, a leading publisher of business and non-fiction titles in China. The Chinese translation had been scheduled for publication in February 2020, but the lockdown due to the COVID-19 pandemic delayed publication. Given the continuing recovery in China that began in the last few weeks, the publisher is now positioning the book as an essential tool for Chinese leaders in all sectors to be able to restore trust of critical stakeholders that was lost in the pandemic.
As with the English edition, the Chinese edition is available as a physical book, an e-book, and an audio book. The Chinese language title is 从危到机: 危机中的决策之痛与领导之术, which translates roughly into English as From Danger to Opportunity: The Agony of Decision-Making and Leadership in Crisis.
The Chinese edition was translated from English by Xinyin Lu, deputy director of the Institute of Corporate Communication at the Academy of Media and Public Affairs at the Communication University of China, and by Dr. Steven Guanpeng Dong, Chair Professor and Dean of the School of Government and Public Affairs at the Communication University of China, the leading Chinese university specializing in journalism, communication, documentary filmmaking, and related disciplines. Dr. Dong also wrote the foreword to the Chinese edition.
Dr. Steven Guanpeng Dong, translator and author of the foreword.
Translator Xinyin Lu
The Chinese edition of The Agony of Decision has been endorsed by:
Yang Yujun, dean of the Academy of Media and Public Affairs at the Communication University of China, former head of the Information Bureau of the Ministry of National Defense of China, and former spokesperson for the Ministry of National Defense of China. Both Yang and Dr. Dong are part of the Expert Committee for the COVID-19 pandemic in China.
Du Shaozhong, vice chair of All-China Environment Federation (ACEF), and former deputy director and spokesperson for the Beijing Municipal Environmental Protection Bureau.
Wang Lianglan, former spokesperson for The National Medical Products Administration (the FDA of China)
Lv Dapeng, spokesperson for China Petroleum & Chemical Corp. (NYSE: SNP, $1,217B market cap)
Wu Huanling, managing director of China Public Relations Association (CPRA), former vice president of General electric medical system (China) Co., Ltd.,
Dr. Steven Guanpeng Dong
The Chinese edition was made possible by Dr. Steven Guanpeng Dong, Chair Professor and Dean of the School of Government and Public Affairs, and Provost for Faculty of Professional Studies, Executive Education and Continuing Education at the Communication University of China.
Dr. Dong is also Vice Chairman of the China Public Relations Association (CPRA) and Vice Chair of Communication and Education, All-China Federation of Industry and Commerce.
He is one of the official advisors for transparent governance, strategic communications and crisis management for the State Council Ministries.
Dr. Steven Guanpeng Dong conducting a television interview at Communication University of China, 2015
Prior to his current appointments, Dr. Dong was a presenter for the BBC World Service in London and a morning news anchor for the China Central Television (CCTV).
Dr. Dong was among the founders of Journalism School and the founding Chair and former director of the Institute of Public Relations and Strategic Communications at Tsinghua University. He is also a very popular professor of strategic communications for the prestigious EMBA, EDP and DBA programs at Tsinghua University.
He was appointed the Shorenstein Fellow on the Press, Politics and Public Policy at the Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University in 2009, and most recently as an Eisenhower Fellow by the Eisenhower Fellowships in Philadelphia, USA.
In 2019, Logos Institute for Crisis Management and Executive Leadership awarded Dr. Dong its Outstanding Leader Award in recognition of his consequential professional achievement that sets the standard to which other leaders may aspire; his use of strategic communication to change the world; and having inspired and empowered the next generation of leaders through teaching, mentoring, for their advocacy on behalf of others.
Logos president Helio Fred Garcia presenting the Logos Institute Outstanding Leader Award to Dr. Steven Guanpeng Dong, May, 2019
The Agony of Decision: Mental Readiness and Leadership in a Crisis is about how leaders and the organizations they lead can maintain reputation, trust, confidence, financial and operational strength, and competitive advantage in a crisis. First, by thinking clearly; second by making smart choices; and third by executing those choices effectively.
But making smart choices in a crisis can be agonizing.
The difference between leaders who handle crises well and those who handle crises poorly is mental readiness: the ability some leaders exhibit that allows them to make smart choices quickly in a crisis. And this ability creates real competitive advantage. One of the predictable patterns of crisis response is that the severity of the crisis event does not determine whether an organization and its leader get through a crisis effectively. Indeed, two organizations, similarly situated, can see dramatically different outcomes based on the quality and timeliness of their individual responses to the crisis events.
And the ability to respond effectively in a timely way is a consequence of mental readiness. This book is for leaders of organizations who need to be good stewards of reputation, trust, and confidence; and for those who advise those leaders, whether in public relations, or law, or other business disciplines.
Graphic of The Ten Most Common Mis-Steps in a Crisis, from the Chinese Edition of The Agony of Decsion
In 2018 The Agony of Decision was named one of the Best Crisis Management Books of All Time (#2 of 51) by the leading nonfiction book review site BookAuthority. It is currently listed #3 of 100 All-Time Best Crisis Management Books. BookAuthority uses a proprietary technology to identify and rate the best nonfiction books, using dozens of different signals, including public mentions, recommendations, ratings, sentiment, popularity and sales history.
The Agony of Decision has been adopted in a number of universities and professional schools in the United States and abroad.
Garcia was planning a teaching and speaking trip to China in conjunction with the publication of the Chinese edition. But the COVID-19 crisis in the United States makes such a visit impossible for the foreseeable future.
Logos Institute Thought Leadership in China
Logos Institute for Crisis Management and Executive Leadership has been a thought leader in China for nearly ten years.
In 2014 Power of Communication was published in Chinese by Pearson Education Asia Ltd in Hong Kong and Publishing House of Electronics Industry in Beijing under the title 沟通的力量.
In 1991, Logos president Helio Fred Garcia was invited to be an International Distinguished Scholar at Tsinghua University as part of an international exchange on crisis management among academics, business leaders, the government, and outside experts. Tsinghua is consistently named the top one or two university in China.
He also taught at a number of Chinese government ministries, including the Ministry of Finance and the Chinese Food and Drug Administration. And he did a workshop for the chief spokesperson of all the ministries. He also keynoted conferences for a number of non-governmental organizations and associations.
In 2015, in conjunction with the Chinese language publication of The Power of Communication, Garcia conducted an extensive teaching and speaking tour of China.
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