Companies so often speak about digital transformation and how it has drastically increased the pace of change across the business landscape. Technology and digitalisation have brought about some of the world’s most ground-breaking innovations in a matter of decades, revolutionising the way companies operate on almost every front.
However, when it comes to corporate and outward-facing communication, many organisations fall short. Between workplace silos and complex agreement systems, communication methods often lag behind in speed and skill. But what are the long-term effects?
This lack of agility can damage a company’s reputation and its relationship with both internal and external stakeholders, ultimately affecting its bottom-line. Slow or unresponsive communication is easily perceived as corporate rigidity or resistance to change.
And in a world so established in constant change, this reflects poorly on an organisation’s image of adaptability. To understand the value of agility in corporate communication, it is useful to examine some of the best and worst communication efforts of the world’s highly recognisable companies — especially during times of crisis.
A corporate crisis that took the media by storm earlier this year was the infamous incident involving a leading American airline in which a passenger was forcibly removed from an overbooked flight. During the incident, the passenger sustained multiple injuries and the whole event was filmed and shared online by another passenger.
The following day, in response to widespread criticism, the airline issued a statement blaming the victim and calling the incident “an upsetting event”. Over the next 24 hours, the company released two more statements before finally issuing an apology in which they accepted “full responsibility” for the episode and addressed the victim’s mistreatment.
While the initial response for the airline was relatively prompt, it took multiple statements released in rapid succession to finally achieve one that the media and the public deemed appropriate. This is a sure sign of poor preparedness and lack of internal communication — a blunder that lost the company $250 million in market share in just two days after the incident occurred.
The company didn’t handle its crisis well and its communication methods missed the mark in many ways. However, other globally-recognised companies have demonstrated how strong communication strategies can make all the difference between a public relations disaster and a seized opportunity.
On September 20, Hurricane Maria made landfall on the US territory of Puerto Rico, wreaking unprecedented havoc on the entire island and its 3.1 million inhabitants. The hurricane knocked out electricity across the island; and four weeks after it struck, 79 per cent of the island was still without electricity.
On October 5, a Twitter user tweeted the CEO of a leading automobile company and asked him whether he could rebuild Puerto Rico’s electricity system using the company’s technology. Within two hours, the CEO responded that he could indeed do it — to which the Puerto Rican governor replied, “Let’s talk”.
By the following day, media outlets around the world had picked up the story, praising the CEO for his eagerness to help.
Despite the crisis being external, and therefore not affecting the aforesaid automobile company in a direct or discernible way, the CEO (and his communications team) took this call to action in stride. In the days following the famed Twitter exchange, the company issued statements with plans to follow through on the CEO’s offer, and by October 24, the CEO announced on Twitter that the company’s first solar storage project had gone live at Puerto Rico’s Hospital del Niño.
The company’s rapid and actionable response to the crisis in Puerto Rico has given the company a reputation for its generosity around the world. It’s not hard to understand how the company’s CEO landed on Glassdoor’s Top 10 list of most well-liked CEOs in America.
In modern businesses, communications cannot be held up by a convoluted approvals process and a disjuncture between relevant departments and individuals within an organisation. Rather, companies need to prioritise expertise within their communications agendas and empower their in-house corporate communications teams they work with in order to streamline the release of important information and time-sensitive communications.
Today, the world operates at a faster pace than ever before, and change happens remarkably quickly. So, this is a lesson for us in the corporate world to embrace agility in our communication efforts and ensure that we keep pace in our ever-evolving business landscape.
The writer is Executive Vice-President, Brand and Corporate Communications, at du.