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In light of the Royal Commission we've recently completed a review of some 20 perceptual crises in the finance sector that our senior team have personally worked on over the last two decades. From this analysis we've identified nine communication strategies used by leadership teams to slow, halt or reverse a perceptual crisis.

In this episode, we discuss strategy #6, “Taking Ownership”, which requires accepting responsibility for all or part of the issue, then taking accountability and clearly communicating the solution, or steps towards one.


The Royal Commission into Financial Services continues to shake up the industry. Like the proverbial stone in the pond, the ripples will affect us all – for good and bad. We are keeping a close watch on both the seismic shifts and the minor tremors.

As we make sense of the task ahead for the industry – restoring trust – we’ll share our observations as communicators. Read part 6 of our Royal Commission watch here.

Video Transcript

Jacqui Maddock: Hello, and welcome. My name is Jacqui Maddock, and I'm here with Carden Calder, the Founder and Managing Director here at BlueChip Communication, and today we want to talk to you about the sixth in our series of videos about halting a perceptual crisis in financial services, and today we want to talk to you about ...

Carden Calder: Taking ownership.

Jacqui Maddock: Taking ownership. And tell me, what does that mean, Carden?

Carden Calder: Pretty much what it sounds like. It usually revolves around taking a leadership position on an issue, taking responsibility, maybe not for the root cause but maybe for some part of fixing the problem, and then communicating with conviction about it.

Jacqui Maddock: Okay. So, let's talk through some of the mechanics. If you were wanting to employ this strategy effectively, how would you go about that?

Carden Calder: First of all you need the facts. We talked about that a lot in other examples of crisis communication, so I won't go into that. But again, having a fact base that you're comfortable with internally, not necessarily for external replay, although aspects of it you will need outside.

Secondly, understanding where you, as a brand or as a leader, feel it's appropriate to take ownership and to step into responsibility for fixing the problem versus maybe explaining what's happened and what you're doing in response to it, so it's a very clear judgment call to make there.

And then finally, you may choose to apologise, that might be a part of this, but the communication that follows the action is absolutely key because that is what shows that you're taking ownership.

Jacqui Maddock: So, what are some of the examples that you've seen of taking ownership as a PR strategy working effectively in the field?

Carden Calder: I think the letter that you received from Matt Comyn, the CBA CEO, is a great example.

Jacqui Maddock: Not bad right?

Carden Calder: Right. And the most powerful couple of sentences in there.

Jacqui Maddock: “I'm sorry for the mistakes we've made, and my job now is to fix them.”

Carden Calder: There's no clearer example of taking ownership. And then, what Matt Comyn goes on to do is outline a series of steps that the bank is taking. They're all in plain language, they all make sense, they hit the nail on the head in terms of a response to the media commentary, but they also ring true to both of us as people who work in the financial services sector in terms of some of the root issues that led to the Banking Royal Commission.

So it's quite a simply worded, but cleverly executed piece of content that has credibility because it sounds like the bank really understands the root causes. They're taking clear ownership for fixing the problems, they're not taking ownership for all of the root causes that led to the findings of the Banking Royal Commission. I mean, we've yet to see the findings, but to the commentary of the Banking Royal Commission, but they're taking absolute, 100% ownership for making things better for their stakeholders, which is appropriate in the situation. And, I think it's an excellent example of perhaps a strategy that other organisations, insurers, and fund managers could be thinking about using themselves. Ditto super funds when things go wrong, and used well, this is probably the primary and most effective crisis communication strategy.

Jacqui Maddock: The CEO came out on Twitter and to direct to customers and to media, to everyone, with a video similarly acknowledging the difficulties that customers had almost endured but essentially, and addressing those head on and saying that it wasn't good enough, and the organization is going to do better. We're seeing quite a lot of that, and it's pretty clear why.

Carden Calder: It might look from the outside like that's the only strategy that's an apology and then a series of steps but taking ownership requires more than that. It requires a program of communication over time after the initial apology, after the initial statement of what's gone wrong. If you're going to execute this well, you actually have to be consistent across stakeholders and show that you have a stepped process for addressing whatever the issues were and continue communicating about it until the very death of the issue, until the commentary actually goes away.

Jacqui Maddock: So, the mechanics of taking ownership, obviously, assembling the facts is pretty key.

Carden Calder: Right. And, I won’t talk through all the steps, you can get those from our downloadable content, but some of the other things are, that you need to accept some level of the responsibility for the issue, you need to show understanding of the impact it's had on stakeholders, whether that's your customers, employees, members of the community.

You also need to accept a level of responsibility or this doesn't work as a strategy. And then, a couple of the other steps are to demonstrate leadership by being an authority on the issue and by following through on your promised actions. And then, I would say finally, that part of that follow through is to communicate very thoroughly about everything you've done to remediate the issue.

Jacqui Maddock: In terms of critical success factors, what does an organisation or an individual need to effectively get this strategy out there?

Carden Calder: Right. I think there are at least four essential ingredients. The first three are to be fast, be correct and be open. That last one can be as simple as being open about what you know and what you don't know. That in itself will build credibility. And, the fourth factor to err on the side of self-responsibility.

Jacqui Maddock: Very clear actions not to take and there are some very clear behaviours to keep in mind when it comes to this strategy. Certainly, not glossing over issues is key and history is, unfortunately, littered with organisations who have glossed over things and they haven't heard how the community is feeling of the victims of what's gone on, I mean we could talk Dreamworld, we could talk BP, you know, there's so many excellent examples of that. So thinking of how to avoid that sort of thing, what not to do? Don't gloss over issues.

Carden Calder: Right, and you know we are often asked as consultants, 'What do you think of X?' And when someone is managing an active crisis or they're managing a crisis that doesn't appear to be going well in the public domain, it's almost impossible for anyone on the outside to know the real information the directors, the CEO and the leaders in question, have at the moment of impact of the issue and then the sorts of considerations in their decisions because you're not inside the team.

But, one thing I would say is, looking at a lot of the things that haven't gone well and looking at the ones that have gone well, we've worked hard to identify the patterns in those. And, one clear pattern is, certainly not to gloss over the issues. Related to that, is not to have a tin ear. It's actually to listen very, very carefully to stakeholders. Most usually, when we do that well in managing crisis, our clients – or when we simply go through the exercise of putting ourselves into those stakeholders shoes – we can anticipate criticisms, we can adjust our messaging and our actions accordingly and we get a far better outcome.

It also helps to not over or under react. And, there is a risk sometimes, not always, but there is a risk that when crises are managed (and I say this with some degree of self-criticism of our profession) entirely by the PR people or lead to much by the PR people alone, a corporate can overreact and they can go down a path which means the issue is escalated and made more public and perhaps, the organisation takes steps that are too radical, they over correct.

So, we need to be mindful of that. When I look at patterns across crisis management work we've done, I can't think of a time when it's happened for us but, I can see times when I worked in-house, where I think the organisation I was working for went a bit too far in trying to respond to an issue.

Carden Calder: Thanks for watching.

Jacqui Maddock: Thank you.

Carden Calder: If you thought this was useful, please share it and feel free to give us any feedback.

Download BlueChip’s COVID-19 Communication Response Kit, a practical guide to help you act, communicate and lead with more certainty. It provides communication and crisis management tools specifically developed for financial services CEOs, leadership teams and coronavirus response teams.


Download now

If you’d like to discuss adjusting your communication strategy for the current times, please call us or fill out our contact form here. 

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