Monthly Archives: September 2015

Proud to be British!

I am not always proud to be British; certainly there are times when we are in Spain that I speak more Czech than I ever do here in the CR, for fear of being thought to be from the same place as some of the boys and girls that make their way down to the sun each summer. But after a weekend in front of the TV watching two of my favourite sports, I have the same proud feelings as I had during the London Olympics – the Brits are really good at these huge occasions!
Saturday saw the retirement of the greatest jockey of all time, A.P. McCoy. I know that not everyone is as horse-racing mad as I am so they may not have taken much notice of this, and certainly outside of the UK it probably didn’t make many of the newspapers, but had AP (as he is known) been involved in one of the more popular sports (football, tennis, golf) news of his retirement would have made it to the front page of newspapers all over the world, since he is truly a legend.

In the UK, where he is as famous as Roger, Tiger or Lionel, AP’s final day before hanging up his boots was marked with a festival of racing, with many of the best horses in the country taking part (not that they would have known the relevance) and all the biggest names in the sport turning out to say goodbye, alongside nearly 20,000 spectators. And not a dry eye in the house (at the racecourse or ours!). Since most jockeys have retirement forced on them – injuries, loss of nerve, inability to starve themselves any more – I do wonder, though, whether AP, who is still fighting fit, will find retirement a bit too dull and we will suddenly hear about him coming out to ride in one or other big race next year. We shall see.

Having only just recovered from the emotion of all that, we were back in front of the TV on Sunday morning to watch the London Marathon. Having run in eight half marathons myself, and been the Prague International Marathon’s PR agency for four years until 2012 (and with a partner that runs the marathon every year), watching marathons on television is probably a bit more interesting to us than it is to most people – let’s face it, watching a group of people running along a road for 2 hours and more is not so exciting – but the London Marathon is something else.

Sunday was particularly special, as not only did it show off the city in all of its splendor, but it also saw another great British sports person hanging up their shoes – this time Paula Radcliffe, the marathon world record holder, who, whilst no longer running professionally, decided to have her last run in London in amongst the other 30,000 plus runners (but still finishing in a near to professional time)! Again, most of the hundreds of thousands of spectators were cheering her on, and again most of the people involved were in floods of tears at the end.

What does all of this have to do with marketing and management? Well, not so much. But what these wonderful events prove is that it is not enough just to put on a show – you need the people and the emotion to make them into something really special. Which, in our world, is probably the case with most of what we do.

Crisis Management – How Far Does it Go?

Setting off from Spain on Wednesday, 25th March, the morning after news broke of the GERMANWINGS aircraft going down over the French Alps, was a very strange experience; we were at the airport at exactly the same time as the plane had taken off the previous day and it was eerily quiet, and then on the flight to Paris no-one was really speaking or doing much at all… just waiting to get it over with. For the first time that I have seen on a scheduled flight, everyone clapped and cheered when we landed – which was really quite emotional.

As someone that flies quite a lot, however, I spent a lot of the flight looking at ways to take my mind off the fact that I was actually quite nervous, and one of the things I pondered was how I would manage the situation if I was appointed by GERMANWINGS to handle the crisis management – just going off slightly, I wrote about crisis management once before and a few people said to me that they were unaware that PR agencies (or anyone else for that matter) actually handle this kind of thing… but yes, we do, and we, ourselves, have done a huge amount over the past 20 or so years, including for another airline that had a crash…

My first thought when watching the early interviews with the CEO of the company on Tuesday evening was that he was too ‘trained’ – someone like me had taught him how to speak to the camera and he was very polished, even smiling a bit – not very good in the circumstances. But then (and I guess that was because of someone like me too!) he was replaced by a very good VP who spoke well whilst being obviously choked up. First amendment to my usual ‘crisis management process’ is to note that, whilst being professional and calm in a ‘normal’ crisis is good, when it is of a monumental scale… maybe showing a bit of emotion is no bad thing.

Reading some of the reports, especially in the ‘tabloid press’ on Wednesday morning, it sounded as if this particular plane had had a few problems in the past, but they had been kept quiet – I have always been of the view that if you are a high profile company and you have a problem, it is best to be honest about it, as sooner or later it will come out, and the fallout then might be a lot worse. Of course the risk to a company’s business when reporting every little issue can be huge. But if something has been kept quiet and then it comes out in a situation such as this one, the risk to the business can be catastrophic. Second point to note; covering up problems can sometimes come back to bite you.
What was also clear during Wednesday was that the media had been digging about a lot during Tuesday night and a lot of what was being printed was speculation – and in our experience, speculation usually starts at home (it seems that it was actually an ‘anonymous person’ that first leaked the news that the pilot was to blame). This made me wonder just how much information was being passed to staff and stakeholders during the course of Tuesday and Wednesday, and whether, in fact, everyone’s focus was on the management of the information that was going out to the media. Something that we have often talked about in crisis management is the need to make sure that staff and stakeholders have ALL the necessary information before anyone else, and that they are all fully aware of the need to keep everything confidential, since it is often ‘rumours’ from insiders that get printed over and above the official line.

I am writing this two days after the crash, whilst watching the ongoing news about the pilot, and wondering what the effect of all of this will be on the various companies involved – for sure it will be difficult to rebuild the GERMANWINGS brand (although not as difficult as it would have been if the cause had been that the airplane was too old, or they had known it had been faulty – as had been mentioned previously). Andy maybe we will notice when we next get onto an A320 plane. But in a few weeks’ time, a lot of people will have forgotten which airline or airplane was involved, and life will go back to normal.

The thing is, even the worst type of publicity can sometimes be overcome and in years to come the only thing that people will say about GERMANWINGS is ‘oh yes, I have heard of them’…

And the purpose of this blog? There probably isn’t one… just my own usual need to write something down in order to somehow feel better about it.

Sustainability

Watching the Australian Open whilst writing this (and not enjoying it as much as usual with the early demise of Roger Federer) I pondered one of the tennis commentators’ most regular questions; who is the greatest player of all time? My vote, of course, would go to Roger, but not just because of his wonderful tennis, but more his incredible fitness (only recently has he been known to have been injured) and, even more importantly, his ability to stay driven and to work so hard day after day.

We discussed something similar over Christmas when one of my family, a soon to be retired opera singer, explained her early giving up as being due to her not wanting to keep travelling, keep practicing, be away from home so regularly and battle to stay healthy – of course, she still loves to sing. Whilst everyone else expressed their sympathy, I said that I thought that her world was not so different to mine – which generated quite a lot of debate, not least because in a family of academics, performers and doctors, I am probably the only one that knows what it feels like to run their own business..! And as I am often saying, no-one can imagine what it is like to sit in my chair, unless they have sat in a similar one!

A while ago I attended a conference on ‘leadership’, where one of the things we discussed was the stress involved in running a business, and how, then, to manage it. At one point, the lecturer asked us what we thought the average age of the top 50 most successful companies in the world was, to which we mostly answered between 50 and 100 years old.  In fact the answer was 15, which was, initially, a surprise.

However, having discussed this in some detail, it made sense; even the most successful companies were started by someone, and what was proven in our discussions was that very few people can continue building and running a company for any significant length of time before the stress starts to take its toll and they start looking at ways out – merging, selling, closing down, changing course or handing over the reins to someone else.

My own company will be 25 years old this year, and whilst, of course, it is nothing like the sort of companies that we discussed at the conference, it still manages to cause enough sleepless nights for me to go through phases of wanting to get out in some way; and over the years I, too, have found it difficult to stay driven, to keep travelling, ‘practicing’, battling to stay healthy and so on, but it is no easier to give up on business than it is to give up on sport or music; we just have to find ways to manage what we are doing so that we don’t burn out.

I have tried a few methods over the years – not all of them good!  But generally I find that whacking a tennis ball gets rid of quite a lot of stress, and there is nothing like running as a way to see a new place (or, in my case, to pick up marketing ideas… seeing what other companies do to promote themselves is an endless source of inspiration!).

Let’s hope that we are all able to sustain our enthusiasm as we go into 2015.