At some point, every business faces a crisis. Now, the best way to prepare for a crisis is to be ready before it happens. For the purposes of this article however, lets assume you didnt prepare and its all going a little bit wrong.
Traditionally the media would spend at least 24 hours kicking your ass all over the place while you were stumbling around in the dark trying your best to figure out what the heck just happened. This was true in the case of Honda recently when it transpired that a fault in their cars could put your life in serious danger.
Unsurprisingly they paniced, and it took them a while to get on top of the issue, then, all of a sudden, they produced this:
This appeared to confuse the media, as they suddenly started reporting a different story, not that getting into your car could result in you plunging off a cliff at high speed, but that a CEO had put a video on the internet. The video was well scripted, the performance was a little stiff, but managably so, and all the key messages are there.
The internet has given companies an option to totally exclude the media from their relationship with the public, if they so choose. I personally dont recommend this approach as the media can be exceptionally fussy and will write unpleasant things about you if you pretend they do exist. You can however adopt an approach between the two.
More companies and political parties need to start forging these links with their customers/voters, whether there's a crisis or not. Web Cameron was a perfect example of this, it humanised David Cameron, and created an exceptional amount of good press for him as he pottered around his kitchen, proving that he was definately a man of the people.
Web Cameron has now evolved into something a bit more generic, but that doesnt matter at this stage. It served its purpose and transformed the way that people looked at Cameron, and created a great deal of debate about whether he was 'different' from what had come before.
I would love to be able to convince some of my clients to get out there, to expose themselves directly to the consumers they want to speak to and try and actually build a relationship. Youtube isnt necessarily the perfect medium in all cases, but its not a bad start.
The media has been the way of communicating with the public all too often and we're finally at a stage where that can be changed. Its now entirely possible to communicate with your supporters directly, and even better, get the media to report how great you are for ignoring them and communicating with your supporters.
There is a risk, many CEOs and senior staff couldnt talk to the general public if their lives depended on it. Gordon Brown's attempt to reach out to voters on Youtube deserves special mention in this regard:
Also, as this video clearly demonstrates, you need to be in a position where someone can tell you if the video is actually very very bad before you put it on Youtube. If someone had told Brown this video clearly wasnt up to scratch he'd have avoided some very unpleasant headlines. Theres nothing in here which couldnt have been fixed, they just didnt fix it.
For the record, I'm not going to be writing about Obama in this entry, but he did the Youtube thing pretty well too, to put it mildly.
Direct marketing is a fascination of mine. At some point I'll write a bit about Being Direct by Lester Wunderman, a fantastic book about the evolution of this type of selling.
We're now at a stage where a brand, or an ambassador of that brand, can stand in front of you and tell you about it, they can literally look you in the eye and say their piece. Its yet to become mainstream, and its not been tested to the level everyone is comfortable with it. But it is there, it is growing, and I think 10 or 20 years from now we won't be able to imagine a world in which companies werent endlessly trying to open a dialogue with us.
Perhaps we'll all then wish we were still getting junk mail instead.