The suspension of Julius Malema raises some interesting questions. Sure, let's leave the politics of it all to those who manage politics and focus our thinking about what this means if, as communicators, we were charged with managing the reputation of the ANCYL. But which brand is in crisis...? The organisation or the person?
Following a logical train of thought, crisis communications is nothing new to a seasoned communicator. So, for the sake of this argument, let's look at what this would mean for ANCYL (Pty) Limited.
In this example, the board of directors of the Youth League has requested the communications manager to assist in managing this crisis; the communications manager needs to act and act fast.
Less about people, more about "business"
If the Youth League were indeed a company, the crisis would need to be managed as an organisation (less about the people and more about sustainability of the "business" over the long term). For a communicator, this is an empowered space in which to find yourself, as it equates directly into solid proof of concrete action taken in addressing a crisis, and translates simply into telling a credible and relevant media story, strongly focused on recovering from the crisis.
Crudely enough, it translates directly into the headline media would expect: "ANCYL (Pty) Ltd takes decisive action against CEO". Crisis solved?
As much as the communications manager supports the CEO at all times (often in communicating a vision), the primary responsibility is to the long-term reputation of the brand. However, in this case, the connection between CEO and company is somewhat blurred, to the extent that it is not easy to distinguish between the brand of the person and the brand of the company.
Focus on other reputation drivers
Not something most organisations in crisis are faced with. So, yes, in proactively building corporate reputation, quality of leadership constitutes a major positive driver; in this case, it would require a strategic call to focus on other reputation drivers, such as operational performance or long-term investment value in building a story on which to base a communications programme.
For the board of the fictitious ANCYL (Pty) Ltd, this balanced approach is a key measurement of its responsibility to manage a sustainable brand and sustainable business.
The path for the ANCYL (Pty) Ltd would be clear. But, this leaves the real ANCYL in a quandary. Its brand is in crisis and should be managed accordingly.
Indeed, it's not about the CEO; the primary responsibility remains with the reputation of the organisation, a reputation divorced from any one person.
The first step in this journey is admitting that there is crisis at an organisational level. Following on from this, it's about beginning to communicate towards recovery (and continuing to do so until this has been achieved).
What will be interesting, moving forward, are the efforts made to manage a brand in crisis. The only question which remains will be about which brand gets managed.
Dustin Chick is head of strategy for Ogilvy Public Relations Worldwide. His experience includes the development of the reputation management strategy for Brand South Africa and successful campaigns for the World Economic Forum and the 2010 FIFA World Cup. Dustin has managed SA and pan-African communications campaigns for several major multinational brands, including Western Union, BP, Konica Minolta and Henkel. Contact him on tel +27 (0)11 709 9660, email and follow @dustinchick.
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Is the question not more related to the trend in South Africa to associate success and identity with individuals rather than brands? As a result the brand becomes the person rather than the member buying into the brand and its values.
“The only question which remains will be about which brand gets managed.” I guess in the ANCYL’s case the CEO’s brand comes first. Sadly for the organizational brand the CEO brand’s value has become expensive currency.