The RBC temporary foreign workers story has dominated the news for a whole week. It made the CEO look out of touch, alienated customers and employees, shone an unwanted spotlight on all the other banks, and embarrassed senior politicians.
Here’s how your organization can avoid a similar fiasco:
1. Recognize that the most important PR function is preventing bad things from happening. This means you need senior PR people in your organization have access to, and the necessary authority, to look at every possible problem, in every department, and in every branch of your operation. The authority part is critical, so that senior PR people can actually cause decisions to be made to eliminate problems before they explode.
Of course PR people can’t be everywhere, looking at every possible angle. But they should be monitoring your: a) industry, b) the business world, and c) politics to spot potential problems early on. This requires both PR skill and experience.
2. There should be a constantly-evolving “Issues List,” starting with doing what is necessary to get the potential problem off the Issues List in the first place. It is common to have 40 or more issues on the issues list, each with a PR specialist responsible for monitoring it. And each of the issues has its own crisis plan.
For years, there have been complaints about Canadians themselves training foreigners, with an objective of taking away Canadians’ jobs. RBC should have seen this coming and should have been ready.
3. Analyze media and other stakeholder audiences, so you know who to reach and how to reach them during a PR crisis. Don’t forget to clue in your industry colleagues and competitors. We saw TV cameras outside other banks’ offices, too.
Issues that companies should be getting ready for now:
The 1% v 99% is not going away. This week’s RBC debacle clearly shows that we have reached a tipping point. Foreign trained workers now number about 330,000 in Canada, so the 45 Canadians about to lose their jobs at RBC were a “drop in the bucket”—but they were the drop that mattered to RBC’s Canadian customers, employees, and media.
Canadians want to work for honest people and they want to give their money to honest businesses. And they want to keep their money in honest banks.
CEOs’ pay and bonuses will be back in the spotlight. Soon. The obsession with quarter-over-quarter “shareholder value” is not sustainable. RBC made $7.5 billion in 2012, up 17 per cent from the prior year. Mr. Nixon made $12.6 million in 2012, up 25 per cent over the previous year. Who else at RBC got a 25% raise?
The end of “Talking Points.” Increasingly, the public and the media are getting impatient with both CEOs’ and politicians’ “Talking Points.” Bla-bla-bla.
4. Media train a cross-section of department heads and subject matter experts who will speak to the media in the event of a PR crisis. These “placeholders” are the ones who initially express a) concern, concern, concern and b) commit to finding the real facts—fast.
A critical point: when there is a crisis, it frequently turns out that the crisis ends up going in another direction from what was originally thought. Look for facts, not positions.
5. Your lawyers should also be at media training. Lawyers need to understand the importance of the “court of public opinion” as well as be prevented from shooting the organization in the foot with non-understandable legalese that has the end effect of looking like you are dodging the question.
6. Points 1 to 5 happen before a real crisis hits.
RBC should have seen this train coming down the track: white-collar Canadian employees who are first to train their replacements, and then fire themselves, and then have foreign-trained employees do their jobs, all under the guise of a third party company (iGate), is a problem waiting to happen for the CBC’s cameras.
All other Canadian banks and insurance companies should consider themselves lucky that the CBC did not park TV cameras on their doorstep first.
7. Don’t protest your innocence until you find out all the facts. More often than not, businesses screw up. And their stakeholders would rather know that it is working to fix things rather than denying that bad things happened and proven later that the accusations are true.
Once the facts are known, figure out how to say them clearly. Mr. Nixon did several media interviews, and although he was speaking English, he was making absolutely no sense. Several PR commentators and reporters caught on to this, calling it “blathering.”
Once you figure out what to say, that’s when you send out your CEO, to save the day. Don’t send him out improperly briefed.