MEDIA SAVVY CEOs – Hit The “Suite Spot” In Crisis Communications

Would you be annoyed or concerned if you could not access your online bank account?

That was what happened to many DBS customers when its digital banking services went down in November 2021. It was the bank’s worst IT disruption in more than a decade. Transactions worth millions were affected.

So was the bank’s revenue for its services as well its reputation of being the best bank in the world.

A Smart Move

Simply issuing a press release about such a major disruption would have been a big mistake. In today’s viral landscape, putting the right public face, at the right time can help to defuse a crisis much quicker. That was exactly what the bank’s Singapore Country Head did. Shee Tse Koon went on-camera to apologize directly to the bank’s customers and to reassure them that their money was safe. His video was posted on the company’s social media platform and was promptly picked up by the local media. Doing the recording was a smart move. It meant that DBS had total control over the look and tone of its apology.

Sound Professional

Shee would also have had the luxury of several takes, to polish his performance, had he made a mistake. In situations like this, knowing how to handle the teleprompter like a seasoned professional is a valuable new skill for any CEO to master today.  Shee looked like he might be using one and could already have had some practice before the crisis.

It is not easy to look and sound natural while delivering a prepared script from a teleprompter. From a PR perspective, Shee hit the “SUITE Spot” when it came to convincing the bank’s customers that he had the situation under control.

5 Must-Dos

  • Sound professional
  • Earn back trust
  • Avoid scorn
  • Perform better
  • Become media savvy

Earn Back Customer Trust

In times of crisis, media savvy executives can help mitigate the fallout. Fast restoration of public confidence will protect the company’s bottom line. Shee’s apology signaled that the top man was taking responsibility to fix the problem.

Samsung did the same 5 years earlier when its defective Galaxy Note 7 batteries had to be recalled. Tim Baxter, the then President and COO of Samsung Electronics America had a similar apologetic tone. He admitted that standards were not met, and that Samsung would work to earn back customer trust.

“The two most powerful forces in resolving crisis situations, preserving, protecting, and defending reputation are apology, which I define as the atomic energy of empathy. And empathy which I define as positive, constructive actions and deeds that demonstrate decency, civility and integrity while speaking louder than words possibly can. Deeds rather than words.”


Avoid Scorn, Save Billions

Shee and Baxter had saved the day for their respective companies. But the same cannot be said for BP’s then CEO Tony Hayward after one of its oil rigs exploded in the Gulf of Mexico a decade ago. About a dozen people lost their lives in one of the largest marine disasters in history. And Hayward made matters worse when he was caught on camera, saying, “There’s no one who wants this over more than I do. I want my life back.”

While crisis communications is not an exact science, Hayward could perhaps have saved BP billions had he said the opposite of the sum of his remarks and managed the problem better at the start. By pleading ignorance and trying to shift blame to others, he heaped scorn and ridicule upon himself and the company. He would have gotten his life back much sooner had he been seen to be more empathetic towards the victims and perceived to be capable of fixing the problem.

Perform Better With Training

Looking back at the crisis half a year later, Hayward told BBC that he would have  needed to study drama at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts rather than geology to perform better in front of a hostile US public. Hayward was perhaps being dramatic. He could have avoided the fallout had he been better prepared.

The BP Gulf Explosion happened over a decade ago when social media was new on the scene. The negative press on the BP crisis today would have been far worse. With handphones outnumbering people on the planet, anyone with a mobile device can Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram at any time. One small mistake by a spokesperson can be magnified globally in just a matter of seconds.

Become Media Savvy

Even though many aspects of crisis communications may seem like common sense, it may not be common practice. Making sure you have at least a couple of well-trained spokespersons is just the tip of the iceberg. It is best to have a crisis communication plan and team prepared through simulations and mock media interviews. Media training is a must-have, no longer a nice-to-have. From smart soundbites to press and TV interviews and social media management, with preparation, spokespersons will perform better through sounding professional and avoiding scorns. To learn more about the tips and techniques, join us at the upcoming training “Crisis Communications and Media Handling”.

About the Writer (BCP Asia Crisis Communications and Media Handling’s Trainers):
Ms. Rebecca Low, Ms. How Hwee Yin, Ms. Ingrid Ho