Yesterday, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong took to the Parliament, to deliver a ministerial statement to refute allegations made by his siblings around the Oxley house. The issue which had many Singaporeans talking and gained global media attention, ultimately led to PM Lee's issuing of a video apology.
During Parliament, PM Lee addressed matters surrounding the setting up of the Ministerial Committee on 38 Oxley Road, the "Deed of Gift" for some Lee family artefacts to be displayed in an exhibition by the National Heritage Board, and the accusations of nepotism over his wife and son. He also addressed accusations of his desire over having his father’s house kept standing.
Three prominent speeches have been made so far addressing the matter. These are from Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong himself, opposition Worker's Party chief Low Thia Khiang and Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean, who heads the Ministerial Committee over 38 Oxley Road.
Here are five things marketers can learn from the statements given, when it comes to safeguarding a brand's image.
Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong
1. "[The] allegations are entirely baseless. But they have already damaged Singapore’s reputation. Unrebutted, they can affect Singaporeans’ confidence in the Government."
False accusations, especially if left unaddressed, can hamper a brand's image in the public eye. In recent years, false accusations have morphed into "fake news" - which has become a huge issue for many brands, marketers and celebrities. Various moves are being taken by organisations such as Facebook and Google to curb this. In fact most recently, K Shanmugam, Minister for Home Affairs & Minister for Law said that measures are currently in the pipeline to battle the problem of fake news in the country.
Swift actions are needed to address false accusations of a brand as sometimes this can lead to a drop in sales and of course, over all brand trust.
One recent example was NTUC FairPrice's police report filing over online rumours that its house brand jasmine fragrant rice is made of plastic. In a conversation with Marketing, Jonas Kor, director, corporate communications, NTUC FairPrice said communications efforts were taken, informing customers of the false information and safeguard sales. Other brands in recent years involved in fake news and scams are brands such as AirAsia.
In this case, quick moves need to be made so that Singapore's image does not take a beating.
2. "Suing my own brother and sister in court would further besmirch our parents’ names. At the end of the day, we are brothers and sister, and we are all our parents’ children. It would also drag out the process for years, and cause more distraction and distress to Singaporeans."
Some say when it comes to safeguarding your brand, sometimes taking matters to the court is one step marketers and corporate communication specialists can take. But others might also agree that this would simply hurt the wider community and drag on an issue.
While many are split on whether or not this is the right call, showing a little vulnerability helps soften a hard and difficult situation. Sometimes opening up and explaining the situation from a human point of view can also help.
During an earlier conversation around the issue, Joseph Baladi, managing partner at BrandAsian said that while the issue was unlikely to hamper "Brand Singapore" (at the time of writing), the longer the saga continues, the more likely a private family disagreement can morph into a damaging public liability - something that is likely to happen if the issue drags on for years.
Low Thia Khiang, chief of Worker's Party
3. "The problem with this whole saga is that the line between the private and the public has been blurred and crossed too many times by the Prime Minister, the Lee siblings and the Government too."
Social media has no doubt blurred the lines between the private and the public. While snippets of one’s private life is necessary to come across as human and humane, too much can also be detrimental.
With education levels at an all time high now, the line between politics and entertainment is also blurring (one simply needs to see the antics played by Donald Trump and PR savvy moves by Canadian PM Justin Trudeau to see what we mean.) People are interested in the lives of politicians.
So while social is important, it is also, in the words of Low, important to ensure it does not become "an ugly media circus".
A recent study by Hootsuite also outlined that marketing and communications leaders need to be in charge of the company's CEOs branding and ensure that the direction they set is properly staffed, budgeted and managed. Currently, 70% of chief executives believe it is risky to participate on social media. As such, a trusted, capable communications counsel is needed at the side of a trusty leader.
4. "The Government should set an example and needs to maintain its dignity in the face of insults to its integrity. It should not get involved in a Facebook brawl for the whole world to see […] The Government should not continue with this dispute in the public domain."
Even if you are not a politician, this matters. This is a great tip for brands with a presence in the world of social. No matter what, do not get involved in a Facebook brawl for the world to see. We know despite the popular saying, the customer is NOT always right.
Take the conversation offline. Shut it down as soon as you can with a simple statement that addresses the issue and guides the unhappy party offline. Then, continue the conversation offline.
During a recent conference held by Marketing, Lesley Tan, director of communications at Shangri-La Hotel Singapore said that taking things offline and being objective are crucial in times of crisis.
Tony Chow, director, creative and content marketing, Asia Pacific at Marriott International also earlier commented on a separate article that if you choose to issue any response by social media or videos, the very content you present must to address the core of the crisis, and be prepared to receive further reaction and be publicly questioned.
As such, in a crisis, he advised that sometimes a press conference could be a better solution.
Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean
5. “This committee is like numerous other committees that Cabinet may set up from time to time to study specific issues [...] This is similar in approach to Cabinet Committees set up by many other governments.”
When a crisis hits, brands should always remember the cardinal rule – transparency. While confidential information doesn’t always need to be shared, being forthcoming can help build and strengthen consumer trust.
Also, creating a core team to address the issue from numerous business units can help a company work more collaboratively. During a time of crisis, it is often said that legal and PR sit on opposing ends. As such, creating a team, to collaborate and help solve the issue rather than having one simple unit deal with it ensures checks and balances and presents a united front from the brand’s end.