by Aaron Kwittken for Forbes.com CMO Network
The past several months have been rather quiet on the corporate crisis management front, post-BP , Toyota and Goldman. Fear not: Enter Apple and allegations of poor working conditions in China and Carnival ’s Costa Concordia shipwreck.
Crisis communications navel gazers, of which I am one, love to opine on and on about the strategies and tactics these companies deploy in an effort to protect their brand integrity (and company valuation). Regardless, now both Apple and Carnival have found themselves on the wrong side of the media tracks.
These companies may be in different lines of business but both are powerful, global consumer brands, now renting rooms in the hotel of crisis management. One thing is true: The world’s most valuable and most admired company and one of the world’s largest purveyors of “fun ships” both have a responsibility to communicate to the public and stakeholders in this time of crisis, and now more than ever. While a focus on the operational component of addressing these issues should take precedence above all else, effectively communicating those efforts should always run a close second (especially in Carnival’s case).
It is true that a company is judged not so much on what it did but how it responded to what it did. I say “man up” to your mistakes, whether they are real or perceived, apologize and make yourself as accessible and responsive as possible to media and social media commentary.
Micky Arison , Carnival’s chief executive, should not have handled the crisis from Carnival’s offices in Miami . He should have been on the first flight to Italy, making himself available and visible in at the site of the wreck. This would have eliminated the perception that Carnival was trying to distance itself from the disaster.
Adding salt to the wounds, Arison then appeared to place the burden of response on the CEO of Carnival’s Italian unit. While I agree that from an operational and cultural standpoint the executives leading this unit may be best suited to respond to the crisis on a day-to-day basis, a true leader stands in front of his team in both bad times and good times.
Twitter has granted the media and the public visibility into the personal and professional lives of many executives, athletes and celebrities. However, the platform is no surrogate for devoting personal time and attention to address questions that the victims’ families deserve answers to. Arison chose to use Twitter as his main distribution channel to express his condolences to the victims’ families. This is the same platform Justin Bieber uses to interact with his fans. Hmmm. Oh, and by the way, where is there even a passing mention of Costa Concordia on Carnival’s homepage.
Have Some Humility
The bank of goodwill and almost cult-like following that Apple has built during its existence has undoubtedly helped the technology giant weather ongoing allegations that could cripple a smaller, less adored consumer-facing corporation. Put aside (if you can) the recent allegations from The New York Times and Apple’s response to the hard-hitting journalism from The Times up to this point, which has infuriated many.
Tim Cook has yet to publicly address the labor issue. More than a billion people say good morning and good night to an iPhone every day, myself included. And while I understand that a certain percentage of those people may not pay any mind to how those devices are actually assembled (or understand the price/value consideration), there is an equally large if not larger percentage of people, like myself, who still consider human rights a serious issue. With the exception of a leaked memo to his staff (maybe on purpose), we’ve yet to hear Apple’s side of the story through a legitimate media platform. For Apple’s sake, thank goodness for Nike, who broke ground on this issue years ago by taking bullets, potentially making us numb or just fatigued by the story.
While I would counsel Apple to be more transparent with the media and the public when it comes to their supply chain (I promised my colleagues I wouldn’t press Apple to “open the kimono”), I do applaud their cooperation with the Fair Labor Association and their disclosure of supply chain partners to the public. However, with legions of fans and such high demand for their products, it becomes increasingly important that consumers are confident that the well being of workers is not being sacrificed for the sake of technology – no matter how great that technology may be.
While public pressure for a full mea culpa will likely force Arison and Carnival to make an about-face when it comes to their communications strategy, let’s hope it’s not too little, too late for the sake of his company and the industry. As a fan of Apple and a believer that the company has fundamentally changed the way we live through technology, I’m optimistic that Cook will also recognize his responsibility and embrace some form of humility, this time without the investigative pressure of another New York Times exposé.