Friday, January 16, 2009

Brace For Impact!

OK, those are three words that I hope none of us ever have to hear. Imagine what/who would be occupying your thoughts in those final three seconds...on the other hand the passengers really didn't have that much time to do anything but brace themselves. This is once again an example of crisis preparedness (similar to the Air France crash in August 2006 in Toronto where all the passengers and crew also survived). Airlines and aircrews have normalized crisis preparedness and have operationalized the six attributes of crisis leadership that I developed into a predictive model in my dissertation. Those factors are: leadership, culture, mindset, crisis management procedures, communications capabilities and organizational learning.

If the pilot (who I understand is also an accomplished glider pilot) hadn't have normalized these conditions and factors and reviewed and readied himself and his co-pilot for this type of eventuality, I'm not sure that we would have had the same results.

I've seen lots of coverage and communications but I haven't seen anything yet from U.S. Air -- have you heard or seen communications from the company. If so, please give me your perspective.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Thank Goodness for This New Thing Called The Internet

While preparing for tomorrow's lecture on crisis communications, I came across this clip from an interview I did on CTV Newsnet in the weeks following the federal election in October. The real secret behind this interview is that my two teenage boys were sitting off camera and threatening to yell and scream just to see how I reacted during the interview...oh the joys of parenthood! The camera guy loved it.

My key point is that political parties, just like organizations, must find a competitive strategic point of differentiation and their leaders must reflect that differentiation as well.

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Looking for Canadian Best Practices

I'm thinking about developing a series of Canadian public relations case studies that could be used at both the undergraduate/post-grad and masters level. But to do that, I need to write the cases with organizations that are willing to put themselves forward as 'best practices' -- you know from my writings on Maple Leaf Foods that they are a natural for the Crisis Communications case study. So who do you think are the candidates for this publication?

Friday, January 2, 2009

Newsmaker of the Year

The Canadian Press today announced that Maple Leaf Foods CEO, Michael McCain, was named their 2008 Newsmaker of the Year for his handling of the listeria recall (see story in today's Waterloo Region Record The annual survey of Canadian editors and broadcasters stated that McCain "showed both genuine compassion and cutthroat business sense, and helped Maple Leaf Foods Inc. emerge relatively unscathed from one of the worst foodborne illness outbreaks in Canadian history."

From my analysis and assessment of their initial and continuing response to this crisis, I predicted in early September that not only would the company survive this tragedy but that it would be stronger and more focused on their core operations when the dust settled. In those early days I observed a number of critical variables that I believe MLF had institutionalized prior to the outbreak that predicted a successful recovery: strong crisis leadership, a participative culture, strategic public relations management capabilities and a crisis mindset that demonstrated that crises are a fact of everyday life.

In those early days I gave their response an A- (a very good mark in my books) and in mid-December I revised that to an A (for my U.S. colleagues ... our grading system includes A+) due to following actions: not rushing to reopen the plant and waiting until they had effectively managed the presence of listeria in their operations (it is ubiquitous); and most importantly, the effective and strategic decision to settle the class-action lawsuits in a very timely manner.

The markets have responded positively to their actions as well. On the last trading day of 2008, MLF shares traded above their pre-crisis price of $10.90 -- signalling a vote of confidence from investors and analysts.

There are of course a couple of things that I'm sure that Maple Leaf Foods would dispute in Canadian Press statement I quoted above: cutthroat and the company emerged relatively unscathed. I would suggest that rather than cutthroat their response was absolutely strategic. Cutthroat denotes a devious intent and I do not believe that the company's response was designed to help the company survive at all costs. In fact I would suggest that they ultimately lived their corporate value of "doing the right thing" and thereby were able to strategically manage their way through this crisis. The second statement is also problematic: no company that is faced with a crisis of this proportion emerges relatively unscathed. I would suggest that MLF and Michael McCain have been impacted deeply by this crisis and therefore have been changed forever. It is my belief that they will institutionalize the learnings from this recall and response and make it a very real and meaningful part of their corporate history and values.

Congratulations Mr. McCain and the Corporate Communications department at MLF.
POST SCRIPT... on Saturday, while drinking my morning coffee, I was pleased to read that the editorial staff at the Record agreed with my perspective on MLF's success. I was also pleased to read that they referenced a line from an op-ed that I wrote on this subject in September. Here's the editorial for your reading enjoyment

Saturday, December 20, 2008

The Detroit Three -- Bail Outs or Bailing?

Can a $20+ billion bail out stop North American consumers from bailing on the Detroit Three? Over the last decade these companies have significantly damaged their relationships with their priority publics, resulting in a dramatic decrease in their overall reputational value. In two recent studies conducted with my MBA students, the Detroit Three ranked at least 30 points behind in corporate reputation scores than Toyota and Honda. So will the investment by both the governments of Canada and the United States impact consumer demand for these products? Rather than simply handing over $20 billion -- which will only be a short term fix to help them through the next quarter -- why not encourage both consumer confidence and spark retail sales by implementing a moratorium on both federal and provincial taxes -- in Ontario that would be a 13% savings for consumers. But on the other hand, this might just help Toyota and Honda continue to out pace the Detroit Three.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Strengthening Relationships and Enhancing Your Reputations During This Economic Crisis

Can public relations initiatives survive this economic crisis? For those of us that can remember the recession of the early 1980's and then the mild economic disruption in the early 1990's -- public relations programs and professionals were among the first casualities of organizational cutbacks.

Will that be the case in this recession or have we done a better job in showing the value and return on investment that strategic public relations programs bring to organizations -- relative to other organizational functions?

From my research, it is clear that when public relations professionals demonstrate their strategic contributions through communications/public relations programs and can tie their program success to increasing the organization's overall value or reputation, then they are in a better position to defend their programs and their jobs.

What do you think?

CPRS Annual Conference Launches Vancouver Website

The Canadian Public Relations Society (CPRS) will hold its annual conference in Vancouver from June 7-9, 2009 at the Westin Bayshore Hotel. The conference organizers are offering extra early bird registration offers from now until February 20, 2009 -- a $200.00 saving over the full conference fee. Here's a link to the conference website and you can also go to for further information. The list of speakers will be updated in the new year but I can confirm that Dave Scholz (VP Leger Marketing Toronto Office) and I will be presenting our results from two national surveys on the effect of Maple Leaf Foods crisis communications efforts.