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The 'Be Better' strategy is simply to do the right thing and to communicate about it. There's a simple three step process to it, which is to investigate the issue, to remediate and then to communicate.

Yet, those things don't necessarily happen in a sequence, they sometimes happen all at once and it's not always simple to execute this strategy when a brand is in the glare of high volume media attention or when operational risks are running high. 

In this episode - #8 of our nine-part series of communication strategies used to slow, halt or reverse a perceptual crisis - we discuss the 'Be Better' strategy where a brand seeks to make a positive change and lift the industry standard.


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 episode #7, we discuss the 'Small Target' strategy where the aim is to "ride out the storm" or deprive the fire of oxygen until it dies down.

Video Transcript

Jacqui Maddock: Hello, I'm Jacqui Maddock and this Carden Calder, the Founder and Managing Director here at BlueChip Communication and today we want to talk to you about the eighth in our series of nine public relations strategies to fight or halt or stop a perceptual crisis in financial services. Today we want to talk about the strategy known as ‘Be Better’. Carden, what is ‘Be Better’ and how does it work?

Carden Calder: Right, so it sounds incredibly simple, it is simply to do the right thing and to communicate about it. There's a simple three step process to it, which is to investigate the issue, to remediate and then to communicate. Those things don't necessarily happen in a sequence, they sometimes happen all at once and while it sounds simple, it's not always simple when you are in the glare of high volume media attention or when operational risks are running high or you have a serious incident that you're dealing with.

Jacqui Maddock: All right, so now we want to take a look at examples of where we've seen the ‘Be Better’  strategy work in recent history or examples that really stick out in your mind.

Carden Calder: Right, so Tylenol is the classic crisis management case study and it was a case where several people in the US died. It was many years ago, it was the '80s, but several people in the US died and Tylenol, in managing that crisis, did a number of things that have been used in case studies ever since. One of the points for us today is that they introduced tamper-proof packaging. As a result of a very serious crisis, the death of consumers, which is about as bad as it can get, Tylenol actually lifted the standard for the entire industry and others followed suit by adopting packaging which was no longer susceptible to tampering.

If we look at more recent examples in banking and financial services and wealth management, you can see the compression of fees in funds management, often done proactively by managers to head off reputation risk or commercial risk. They're lifting the standard really. Ditto something like after fees and after tax reporting. Maybe an example in the wealth sector is platform fees. We've seen one of the major banks break ranks with the others and change platform fees, bring them down and communicate that very, very strongly to advisors and to consumers in the wake of the Royal Commission.

Then Jacqui, I think you've made the same comment about ATM fees.

Jacqui Maddock: Well CBA was the leader in removing ATM fees, which everyone thought was a ridiculous fee. Of course they were in the midst of a little bit of heat themselves to do with various infringements but they did step up during the period that they were under a lot of public glare and all their competitors stepped up to the plate too. Ultimately, it's a better result for consumers and for clients and for all Australians that bank here. I would say a win for their brand.

Carden Calder: We're going to see much more of that post Royal Commission and it's fair to say that we can see that among the banks and AMP who have been, very clearly, the centre of the media attention. I think we're going to see that flow out to a lot more in the industry, a lot more industry sectors, in banking and financial services who have decided proactively to make positive changes. We can see that in our own client base already.

Jacqui Maddock: If you're advising, Carden, an organization or an individual about the tactics needed to successfully pull off the ‘Be Better’ strategy in the face of really intense public scrutiny and media glare, what's sort of the stepped process?

Carden Calder: The first three steps are always to understand the chain of events, whether you document that as a fact base or a chronology or some other form of a list of causal factors, something that leads you to have reasonable confidence about what actually happened and that's really investigation. That's the documentation that goes with investigation.

Secondly, in terms of remediation, you're going to need to buy time to do that because usually investigation takes some time so you need a holding statement. From a very practical PR point of view, one of the very first things – other than to establish that chronology or the fact base – is to put in place a holding statement. Then really the third thing we tend to move clients towards quite quickly is to start to do stakeholder analysis. It's to think through very carefully the effected parties, what their interest is in the issue and how you're going to start to communicate to them about it.

That really then brings you onto a full scale communication program, which is the third component of being better and doing the right thing, which is to communicate really well. That might end up ultimately being a very large scale communication program that goes on for a long time or it might be that you only ever use the holding statement or in the ideal world, you don't have to use any of it because the issue never becomes known, but you were prepared.

Jacqui Maddock: Would be the same for say, if there's been some failure of governance, there's been a fraud committed inside by a top executive or if processes failed deliberately or other and customers have been systemically charged more than they were meant to, is it the same tactics, would you say?

Carden Calder: The framework's the same. If you look at either of those cases, let's say you had a fraud or let's say it's a conduct risk, or you had a situation where the organisation may well have made an honest mistake or maybe it's a long term not-so-honest mistake that might have been overlooked or it might have been deliberate, the processes are very much similar as when you first understand that there might be an issue is we need more information.

Secondly we need a holding statement because if it becomes public before you ready for it, it just doesn't go well because the communication is unintentional. Thirdly the stakeholder impact is always absolutely key because in fact by managing stakeholders well you can often keep issues out of the public domain. The basic framework is pretty robust across the kinds of issues that you might encounter.

Jacqui Maddock: In terms of critical success factors, you're absolutely not going to pull off this strategy unless you are actually willing to step up to the plate and change things for the better.

Carden Calder: Correct. That's really a key part of it, is with a multi-disciplinary team you can form a view operationally of what needs to be done and then decide on a positive set of changes. To be clear on the goals and the principles that you have in mind when managing the issue becomes really a critical part of making the strategy work. If you want to be better, you need to set out at the beginning as a team, a senior team, to achieve a certain kind of goal.

That planning at the beginning of a crisis management or a crisis communication exercise is key, so we all are intentional about where we're going and part of being intentional is also to have, in my view, a set of principles or values that the management team and the communication team will operate by. Those become behavioural guidelines and they help people understand which way to jump and what kinds of actions to take in a crisis.

Another critical success factor of being better is that you actually have to lift the standard. If you want to make a positive change and make a statement that the organisation has learned from the problem it's created or been left to deal with, then you have to understand what the industry standard is and lift it.

Jacqui Maddock: Thank you so much for watching today our eighth strategy in our nine video series. If you would like more detail, then please download our stepped process how to guide on our website and of course, while you're there, please subscribe to Blue Chip's fortnightly ‘Take a Beat Tuesday’ roundup, which is insights and analysis of all public relations and marketing for financial services professionals. We share with you our methodology so that you can build a better brand. Thank you very much for watching.

Carden Calder: Thanks for watching.

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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