I was having a chat a few weeks ago to Neeran Naidoo with whom I have worked on and off for many years on various projects, mostly involving crisis communication.
I asked him why so many companies - let’s not even start on politicians - were so indescribably bad at handling crises. Companies such as Ford South Africa which continues to make a huge mess of things as their Kuga SUV’s burst into flame one after the other.
I seem to recall that somewhere Ford said that they were working with their ad agency to try and quell the crisis - as do so many consumer goods companies, when the proverbial hits the fan.
Much as I have a lot of respect for ad agencies, they are not equipped, skilled nor experienced in crisis communication. Getting an ad agency or frankly the bulk of the PR companies in this country to handle crisis communication is like getting dentists to tackle intricate brain surgery. They look like they can do it and seem to be in the same industry but when they look inside the head of a crisis they’re mostly all fingers and thumbs.
Neeran’s take and model that he developed was telling. He said that you have two features in a crisis: a risk and public outrage. When working with both these variables, the media behaved differently, the public outrage is tangible and organisations need to be equipped to manage both. This is the point of departure between ad agencies, PR companies and crisis communication practitioners.
Crisis communication is very specialised. It is something that needs to happen before a crisis happens. And it needs to be planned by someone who knows what he or she is doing.
Enter Neeran Naidoo, a British Council Chevening scholar with a Masters’ degree in Communications from the University of Leicester, UK. He has experience working in the public, NGO and private sectors. He spent eight years at Woolworths SA as group corporate communications manager protecting the reputation of one of South Africa’s celebrated retail brands. More recently, he was Director of Communications at the Nelson Mandela Foundation. He loves the media with all its pitfalls, personalities and pit-bulls. You’ll get well considered advice from him.
He has saved a lot of reputations, mitigated risk, maintained leadership on issues, engaged stakeholders and positioned sustainability for clients. I am certainly looking forward to working with him as he grows his specialised crisis communications business. You can find him on 083 258 2102, Hewers.co.za or
Apart from being a corporate marketing analyst, advisor and media commentator, Chris Moerdyk is a former chairman of Bizcommunity. He was head of strategic planning and public affairs for BMW South Africa and spent 16 years in the creative and client service departments of ad agencies, ending up as resident director of Lindsay Smithers-FCB in KwaZulu-Natal. Email Chris on and follow him on Twitter at @chrismoerdyk.
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