It's the most basic and the very first moral lesson our parents try to teach us. Speak the truth. And now, it is the cri de coeur of consumers all over the world.
Faced with an increasing demand for transparency in the dealings with consumers and investors, MNCs are feeling the heat. That's how James Moeller, director, Ogilvy Public Relations Worldwide, sums up communication strategy in the new millennium.
In recent times, the Indian consumer has had her trysts with controversy in the recent Cadbury worm and the pesticide-in-cola cases. The brands involved may have pooled in their best resources to control the damage in reputation for the time-being, but it also showed how vulnerable even old-timers such as Cadbury's were to a crisis.
In an interview with agencyfaqs!, Moeller says, "People are increasingly getting sceptical about institutions, about brands and even advertising. The need of the hour is to initiate a dialogue between the stakeholders and the company."
Moeller reveals that most MNCs eyeing India ought to be warned that "here is a market like no other". "There is no single profile that defines the Indian consumer due to the sheer diversity of the country. Even within a single city, profiles change even as you move from one pocket to another."
In such a case, the trick is to have people "on the ground" who are tuned into the consumer, and understand the relationships that the brand may have already established with the stakeholders and the market.
This exercise is especially important when one considers how susceptible most of these brands are. "I would urge any company coming into India to have a crisis management programme handy. For a company that is trying to get a foothold in the country, any crisis, big or small can be quite damaging," he cautions.
"Your operations here may be small, but you cannot assume that your crisis here, however small, can't assume bigger ramifications. That's because we live in a global village," he adds. In other words, when it comes to crisis management, be proactive, and not reactive.
In the face of a crisis, as it happened in the Cadbury case or in a famous oil company case that the agency handled, the first thing to do is to have in place is a crisis team. "It is usually not a large one, but a very small core group of key people - who can identify the crisis and its source, and figure out a strategy as fast as possible. Speed is very important in crisis management."
But there's a golden rule in such cases: "It is better to communicate than not communicate at all." Agrees Marcia Silverman, CEO, Ogilvy Public Relations Worldwide. Her experience with big brands, especially in the pharma sector tells her that the consumers sometimes forget that the companies are actually doing a good job. "We always urge our clients to talk to the stakeholders, to communicate and win back the trust they may have lost in the face of a crisis."
And this dialogue could be in the form of an one-to-one relationship with the consumer through word-of-mouth, or it could be a direct approach through the media and through effective advertising.
This 360 degree approach is the key to any communication strategy, feel both Silverman and Moeller. "Ideally, advertising and public relations go together, but at times as a solution provider, one must be able to figure out which tool to use and when," says Moeller.
Touching on the issue of using Amitabh Bachchan to win consumer trust or even as a campaigner for AIDS awareness, Moeller remarked that at times, engaging a "third party" to initiate a dialogue or to create awareness about a "social service communication" is extremely desirable. "It is not enough to have fixed the problem. Because, you have to let the people know that you have done it."
Moeller agrees that companies that have been around for a while, tend to get a bit aggressive about marketing their products and services because they know their stakeholders. "After all, they have established a relationship with the consumers and have a reputation in the marketplaces." His parting shot: "The more secure and trusted a company or an institution is/feels, the crisis is potentially more damaging. You cannot assume that just because you have been around, no crisis is going to affect you."
© 2005 agencyfaqs!