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Arrested development

Arrested development

The branding fallout of Dubai’s anti-corruption drive has, unfortunately, been coupled with the lack of proper crisis management, says experts.

October 9, 2008 8:48 by

Say something. The inevitable – and mostly unavoidable – damage done to the perception of the brands just by being involved in the investigations, has, unfortunately, been increased by poor crisis management, say many in the industry.

“From what little I’ve seen, I’m not sure [the companies involved] have PR firms,” says one communications expert we speak to. They’re only half-joking. Several others express relief that the companies involved are not their clients. Not because they wouldn’t want to represent those brands, but because the response to the crises has been so poor that they wouldn’t want their agencies to be associated with it.

One of the main problems, it seems, is a lack of timely responses to the news of arrests or investigations, and of regular updates afterwards. “You’ve got 60 minutes from when the story breaks to say something,” Kinsville-Heyne says. “If you don’t say anything in that time, the perception is that you’re not in control or you don’t care. Get a holding statement out to the media. That’s not an admission of anything except that you’re on top of it. But companies don’t do it here. They’re frightened of saying, ‘We don’t know.’ But during the crisis, as an organization, you have to communicate directly, honestly and frequently.”

Hazar Al Zaki, general manager Middle East of M Communications, echoes his criticism. “You have to keep communication flowing,” she says. “Sometimes they issue a reactive statement and that’s it. And then you don’t know what’s happening. That’s when people start speculating about dungeons and stuff. Keep the media and stakeholders informed.”

A story with boring, rehearsed holding statements is preferable – from a PR point of view – to a story that says companies were unavailable for comment, Kinsville-Heyne believes. “I hate it when people are ‘not available for comment,’” he says. “For me, ‘no comment’ is a missed opportunity. [In a crisis] how people are seen to act is actually more important than how they act. You are guilty as charged if you say nothing.”

Most of the reports about the recent arrests have been full of “no comments.” “And that just exacerbates the problem,” says Behrens. “People naturally jump to conclusions. Often the wrong ones.”

Asda’a, the PR agency of Deyaar, Etisalat, Dubai Islamic Bank and Tamweel, declined to comment on this story.

Practice makes perfect. It seems fair to say that none of the companies involved have undergone any crisis-management training. Or, if they have, it wasn’t up to scratch. This may not be the fault of their PR agencies though. “When budgets are tight, one of the first things that goes out the window is training,” says Kinsville-Heyne. “And it’s folly. Because it’s training that’s actually going to get you out of problems.”

“Companies in general do not tend to plan for crises unless a crisis happens – not necessarily to them, but in the market,” says Mamoon Sbeih, managing director of PR agency Jiwin, which represents Sama Dubai, among others. “They see preparation for crisis communications as an added cost.” (Sbeih stresses that he is speaking in general, not in reference to individual clients.)

On average, says Sbeih, companies would pay between $50,000 to $150,000 for a crisis-management training package. It’s the sort of figure that you can imagine board members baulking at, particularly as a solution to a purely hypothetical problem. But the companies embroiled in the recent scandals probably wish they had invested in it.

Training is vital, says Kinsville-Heyne, because crises require a different set of rules to everyday corporate communications. “The quickest way of summing it up is that the organization has to move from slow-time thinking to quick-time doing,” he says. “You move from the theoretic to the practical. And it’s one of the hardest things you can do, so it’s something that you have to practice.”

Had these companies done their homework, he speculates, we would have seen some rather different responses. And far less damage to the brands.

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1 Comment

  1. Sandy Best on October 10, 2008 7:44 pm

    Brands –; Coca Cola, Google, Rolls Royce, Gucci … all with People behind them who are stakeholders in building the company – in hard times and good. People who are not here today and gone tomorrow . People who have the time and incentive to build that brand into that indefinable something that is Their Brand. I wonder where those People are today in Dubai and The Gulf who are not gone tomorrow .


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