PR professionals are often placed in a tough spot when the brand cops flak. With consumers increasingly expecting CEOs to take a stand on issues to consumers stating that they would not purchase from brands that do not align with their values, PR leaders need to know when and how to toe the line to prevent the brand from coming under fire.
"Know thy brand and what it stands for," Syed Mohammed Idid, head of corporate communications at PLUS Malaysia, told MARKETING-INTERACTIVE. When faced with such an issue, PR professionals should communicate with honesty, integrity and transparency. "It pays to be authentic and emphatic as today’s consumers are highly charged emotionally," he said.
Syed, who will also be speaking on this topic at MARKETING-INTERACTIVE's PR Asia 2022 conference, said he believes PR professionals cannot avoid difficult conversations and these are the opportunities to unravel the root of issues that may impact or tarnish the brand. Hence, communications whose intentions are clear must have the courage to engage with stakeholders and provide them with the correct perspective to win them to your side. He added:
The worst case scenario is that we agree to disagree but we maintain our professional decorum and both parties part in a good way. The outcome is understanding and tolerance.
"Moving forward is the end game as it is business as usual after that," he added. Syed took on his current role earlier this year following a reshuffle of PLUS' strategic stakeholder engagement team. Since then, he said his role is to be the "PLUS factor" in the lives of highway stakeholders, i.e. customers, the regulator, ministries, the media and of course the brand itself.
According to him, being a PLUS factor is being proactive and agile in addressing and resolving any issues that will impact the sustainability of the brand. This means as the corporate communication team, it must be industry experts and understand the business well, so it is able to communicate with surety and confidence. "The end game of my role is to protect and defend the brand of PLUS. A good reputation for the brand is a job well done," he explained.
While there were several instances when he had to make tough decisions involving sensitive topics, Syed said what is key is that PR professionals have the full facts behind them. "Research and a strong network of nformation providers are important for any communication team. According to Syed, the network strength is derived from the goodwill of the stakeholders that matters to the business.
"Always start with a stakeholder map, and once you know who moves the needle in such situations, no matter how sensitive, their buy-in and support will bolster up your courage to make that tough decision," he added.
When asked how PLUS is walking the talk in this conversation, he said PLUS's corporate values itself propagate that all 3,800 staff walk the talk and its brand purpose - Taking good care of you - also highlights that. Its other values - do things better, enterprised-focus, taking pride, and commit to the company's growth - also help steer employees in the right direction when it comes to having the courage to make tough decisions.
Despite having to make tough decisions, Syed said the highway is one of the most exciting industries a communications practitioner can be in. "You deal with near crisis and issues on a daily basis. You need to juggle the delicate stakeholder relationships and maintain a balance to propagate an environment that is win-win-win for all involved," he said.
Syed added that there are also the demands of serving PLUS's internal stakeholders who themselves are in an engagement mode with multiple stakeholders, who in turn are external stakeholders whose support can make a difference in your communication initiatives.
Despite the ever-evolving landscape, thought leadership is still the one constant PR trend that has been a mainstay in the communication landscape, Syed said. The reason being is that it shapes opinion, drives policy creation and most importantly, serves as a beacon in the volatility, uncertainty, complexity, and ambiguity world that is even more volatile than ever.
"The single reason is that a strong thought leader can move mountains, they can build new economies and inspire communities to change for the better. They serve as a steward in the choppy seas of business uncertainties and they give hope," he added.
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