Insights

  • Haze crisis: Why some companies come out ahead in reputation management

    By Lena-Soh Ng on December 10 , 2015

    Now that the haze is behind us, we can see how some companies have not only reinforced their corporate reputation, but have even managed to enhance it.

    The haze is not new to Singapore, but the length that the haze stayed and the intensity of the issue took everyone by surprise.

    It led to the National Environment Agency (NEA) taking a tough legal stance, by serving Asia Pulp and Paper (APP) a notice under the Transboundary Haze Pollution Act to demand more transparency about their haze-related business operations in Indonesia.

    Within a few days, NTUC FairPrice and Sheng Siong decided to pull all paper products from APP off their shelves. A brilliant move!

    What wasn’t so great was that this paper company later did a corporate ad (see video below) explaining that they were taking measures to handle the crisis. But it came across as impersonal.

    Companies selling haze products such as masks also did videos on how to use them properly. 3M put out a video clip on how to use its N95 masks out, and this was duplicated by certain retail stores a little too late into the haze period.

    From this national crisis, we can see that there are many learning points for companies

    1. When a crisis hits, be ready to execute, not plan

    Companies whose products or operations are linked to the forest fires in Indonesia should already have a crisis team in place, ready to spring into action when a crisis erupts. With SOPs already in place, companies who are prepared can then communicate with the media in a decisive manner. Companies should have answers to questions such as ‘Who should spokespersons be’, ‘What are some crisis scenarios that will take place with our company’, ‘Do we need to manage online conversations?’.

    2. Provide human leadership, not hide behind corporate advertising

    There are always two sides to a coin and people are prepared to listen.  This leadership should be provided by the head of the company, rather than just the corporate name. It’s more believable when Mr James Tan (an example) of Company ABC personally explains what went wrong and what measures the company is taking. This is a good opportunity to connect.

    3. Think business impact and what your business can champion

    NTUC supermarkets made a bold showing when they took APP products off the shelves. They established their leadership in such a bold move, and the result is that consumers are more aware about how directly their purchasing habits contributes to the haze.

    4. Lead rather than follow

    Rather than be a ‘me-too’, companies now have time to think about their moves when a crisis repeats. Some pertinent questions would be ‘Where do we stand’ – there are intelligence tools to pick up opinions of legislative bodies, key people and customers. How do we want to be positioned?  How do we engage?

    5. Post crisis presents opportunities for reputation management

    This last part is as important as the management of the crisis itself.  In the recovery phase, companies work on brand rebuilding exercises (this should take place after a reasonable period from the crisis), which could include corporate ads or donations.