“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, …” –Charles Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities.
I often use this Dickens’ quote when describing situations in business (and life!). It is also applicable to Communications: the area of every organization that is responsible for communicating with an organization’s “publics”.
While Communications is a fun and exciting area to work in, there are many times when the real importance of Communications becomes apparent only when dealing with crisis management or, as the title to this post suggests, “the worst of times.”
Issue and crisis management supports organizational leadership when things don’t go as planned. Communications has a key role to play because these professionals can often see the forest from the trees; unlike management or individuals directly involved in the issue, Communications professionals are not players in the issue at hand but rather generalists who can tie in ideas and areas of the organization promoting a crisis turn-around or positive outcome.
One such example is Communications’ obsession with getting terminology correct. Take, for example, the often confused difference between issue and crisis management:
Issues Management involves identifying any potential issues as a result of policy, communications, actions etc. and creating a strategy that serves to address issues in a positive way.
Crisis Management relates to managing the damage an issue might have on company reputation or bottom line. It involves recognizing warning signs such as: 1) unexpected event 2) media and stakeholders demanding info/resolution 3) online rumors 4) loss of control (when unfortunate events expand in scope).
Organizations and individuals may experience “the worst of times” but it is up to both leadership and individuals seasoned in the art of Communications to leverage these as opportunities to show increased clarity, values, ethics or empathy with the public. While planning ahead for a crisis (who, what, where, when, how) is part of the role of a Communications or PR professional, the moments of truth may very well be in “the worst of times” and the goal should always be to bring around the issue or crisis to embrace, once again, “the best of times.”
I was hired to work for BMW Group Canada fresh out of grad school. I bought myself a beautiful pair of Prada heels and some gorgeous new suits to celebrate and from my first day working in the President’s office, I took executive management’s mantra seriously: work hard and play hard.
Looking back at that time – 12 years ago – I feel tremendously pride in what I learned (and contributed) at BMW. I learned about branding and about love for a brand; I’m not talking about love for a car, or a luxury product, or 5 star customer service, or the fabulous parties and events; no, I learned that a company and product can have a personality and that personality is transmitted through a brand and carried forward by every single employee and follower/client of the brand. Everything that we feel, think, believe, experience about a product, service or organization makes up a brand and to put it very simply, I was blessed to have been immersed in this amazing learning experience right after graduation from my Master’s program.
Most of my MBA colleagues went into banking, some others into consumer products, and still others into consulting services but my decision to join BMW was twofold: 1) I wanted a job that would stand out on my resume (and working for one of the most internationally recognized brands will do that quite nicely!) and 2) I wanted to work with executive management and board members to understand how “big decisions” are made. Both elements have helped me in my professional career and the investment I put into BMW as an employee was richly rewarded: the lessons I learned in branding have been present in many aspects of my life: from writing, my consultancy and the decisions I have made as a professional.
Working at BMW, I ended up learning more about branding than I ever thought possible. It probably started during my very first week when my boss – the President of BMW Group Financial Services – told me he got me a new BMW to drive since it was important that I “love the car.” And from that moment on, the learning never stopped; to this day I am continually impressed by BMW’s ability to reach the heart and minds of consumers. I still remember hearing about “corporate identity” (or “CI” as I learned how to call it) and experiencing the rush that comes with driving a series 7 down the 401 in Toronto or participating as a sponsor in Formula One in Montreal.
Photo: Esther Clark at Formula 1 in Montreal, Canada. Part of BMW’s sponsor team.
Branding is not about a marketing strategy or an advertiser’s storyboard or the color or look of your logo. It is about connecting your product or service to a human being and doing this in a meaningful, coherent and continuous way. I may just be BMW’s biggest fan in Quito, Ecuador: I love the brand, and I wouldn’t have it any other way!
“You may have to fight a battle more than once to win it.” – Margaret Thatcher
“Judge a man by his questions rather than his answers.” – Voltaire