These days, customer touch-points have proliferated to the extent that PR people can no longer ‘manage’ corporate reputation all by themselves. This begs the question: What, then, can you do to control your reputation? Marketing spoke to Jane Chang, head of marketing communications at Chan Brothers Travel, to find out more.
[Chang is speaking at Marketing magazine’s 3rd annual PR Asia 2015 conference, happening 26-27 November in Singapore.]
Marketing: PR people were traditionally the gatekeepers of corporate reputation. Why is this no longer possible?
Chang: The arrival of social media has severely increased the frequency and number of conversations about an organisation. At Chan Brothers Travel, travel expertise is one of our value propositions. Our tour managers/brand ambassadors spend a significant amount of time on the road with our customers developing a close relationship. These valued employees are the last and most critical touchpoint between us and the customers and hence are one of the key gatekeepers of corporate reputation. Simply put, corporate reputation cannot be managed, built or protected by PR people alone.
Marketing: If PR people can no longer be gatekeepers, what is their new role then?
Chang: The role of the PR person remains as facilitator and spear-header of conversations, not just with the public and media but with internal stakeholders. The PR person today needs to have access to the dominant coalition within the organisation to ensure reputation alignment across all touchpoints. At Chan Brothers Travel, we work closely with our customer service department to align standards across departments. We ensure all our employees understand our value proposition of service excellence and convey this constantly at every touchpoint to consumers, partners and colleagues. This is fundamental to managing our corporate reputation.
Marketing: What is PR’s top priority when it comes to spokesperson training?
Chang: The majority of external conversations with the media are channeled through the marketing communications team to ensure alignment of messages. Even the best communicators make gaffes. Senior executives may find themselves thrust into the limelight, and frequently at short notice; when direct access is required, it is the responsibility of the PR person to ascertain context, scope, historical evidence, facts and figures before advising the senior executive who will ultimately be in the firing line.
Marketing: What is the biggest challenge that you face in managing corporate reputation?
Chang: Chan Brothers faces a huge challenge in managing the media’s sensationalisation of on-ground impact on travellers in foreign lands due to a calamity, epidemic or political instability while not coming across as callous towards the situation. Irresponsible citizen journalism can add to the sensationalisation of incidents. Digital media is a double-edged sword: While organisations are compelled to respond quicker, be more transparent and respond thoughtfully, digital platforms also allow for organisations to have immediate access to consumers and resolve less complex issues swiftly.
Marketing: Tell us about the worst reputation crisis you face at Chan Brothers. What happened and how did you manage it?
Chang: The worst corporate reputation crises are usually due to service lapses on tour, when customers are not pleased with our recovery and decide to publicise the incident to the media in the heat of the moment. Our approach is to address the media with facts laid bare and take ownership for lapses that were within our control. There were instances where the media chose to let the story go after reviewing both sides of the account. We also continue to engage our customers in hope of working towards an optimum solution for all parties. Ultimately, we are always glad for the opportunity to improve rather than be boycotted and brand-bashed for life.
Hear more from Chang at Marketing magazine’s 3rd annual PR Asia 2015 conference, happening 26-27 November in Singapore.
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