Report: Trust, authenticity, and connection vital in times of crisis

Leaders need to listen to marketing in a crisis

A new report on leadership has confirmed what marketers have known for years: Good brand leadership comes down to trust, authenticity and connection.

Isentia’s latest Leadership Index revealed the need for CEOs to show up emotionally and physically In times of crisis. Leading Through Crisis delves into four of the biggest crises of the last year, revealing the strengths and weaknesses of some of the world’s high profile leaders, and what business leaders can learn from them.

The Index lined up local leaders including Rugby Australia’s Raelene Castle and New Zealand Prime Minister, Jacinda Ardern, next to the global headlines that Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg and Boeing’s Dennis Muilenburg faced, and how they responded to exceptional circumstances.

The analysis found Zuckerberg and Muilenburg got it wrong and could learn from the words and actions of Castle and Ardern.

The analysis points to the necessity of CEO’s presence, and authenticity, in influencing outcomes, and these traits need to be nurtured outside of a crisis to ensure actions and motivations are authentic and believable when faced with a crisis.

Chief insights officer at Isentia, Khali Sakkas, said getting leadership right during crises is crucial as it can heavily impact the leaders’, as well as the organisations’, reputations.

“Soft skills such as empathy, building a connection with the public, authenticity and being physically and emotionally present are often overlooked and undermined,” she told CMO.

“Leadership is never more tested than when it is under stress. It can reveal a lot about a character, and while organisations tend to avoid a crisis, being ready to face one can also be an opportunity to improve public trust for a leader, if managed well.

“The report didn’t find there was a new playbook on crisis management, it found what everyone has always known to be true of marketing: Response time is critical, as well as who responds, and how. How you are positioned before a crisis is also vital.

“Therefore, being more proactive with media prior to a crisis can build a foundation of connection and trust,” Sakkas said.

It‘s important, however, that words are backed up by actions, she added. Companies must have a plan in place, come out quickly and own the problem, and then back it up with actions.

“From the Boeing and Facebook crises, both CEOs came out and said they owned the problem, but their actions didn’t back this up. Firm, fast, believable action is the new mantra brands must have," Sakkascontinued.
“If a brand isn’t firm, fast, and believable, there are significant consequences in how the media will frame the situation. How a brand responds in the first 48hrs sets the narrative, and it’s very difficult to pivot after that.”

Sakkas said it’s also very difficult for a leader to create trust if they are unknown, so brands should not be scared of social media to build awareness and presence prior to a crisis.

“If a consumer doesn’t know you or who you are, or how you’ve led, when you come and tell us in a crisis, we’re not familiar with you. Social media isn’t something to be scared of," she continued. "Good leaders around the world are using social media to change the world, build brands and businesses, do deals, and change policy. If you compare that to Australia’s top CEOs, they are not on social media; in fact only 5 per cent are considered influencers, and they are largely invisible.

“So when something happens, stakeholders don’t know who these people are, so there is no natural affinity and no audience to connect to."

Connection is the other critical factor. ISentia's report pointed out Ardern used social media, setting herself apart in the Christchurch attacks and owning the narrative.

"Ultimately, the goal is for your reaction (or non-reaction) to not become the story," Sakkas said. "The five days Zuckerberg didn’t responded to the Cambridge Analytica crisis last year became the narrative.

“From our analysis, it became very clear leaders who fall short of the necessary soft skills, such as authenticity and empathy and trust, are the ones who fail to keep their head above water when faced with crisis.

“On the other hand, leaders who are compassionate and authentic and those who show up when the going gets tough, are the ones who are able to turn things around from a public perception point of view. And this doesn’t only impact their reputation as leaders but it also reflects on the organisation they represent,” she added.

Absent versus present

Following the Lion Air and Ethiopian Airlines crashes killing a total of 346 people, Boeing CEO, Dennis Muilenburg, faced criticism for responding too late and being absent. Media framed his statements as “too little too late” with the majority of coverage positing Muilenburg as ‘defensive” and dishonest”, directly criticising him in 44 per cent of coverage analysed.

As pointed out by iSentia, this lack of communication and contribution severely impacted Boeing’s reputation and continues to shape the narrative with an estimated global impact to airline industry is calculated at $4.1 billion in lost revenue so far.

Facebook CEO, Mark Zuckerberg, was seen to be ineffective and dishonest in over 35 per cent of coverage analysed since the series of data breaches, transparency concerns and legal proceedings against Facebook. While Zuckerberg was always on message about privacy and how Facebook intends to build a safer platform, he lacks believability. More than 35 per cent of coverage categorised Zuckerberg as ineffective and dishonest.

Rugby Australia CEO, Raelene Castle, faced a very public employee conduct dispute over continued comments made by professional rugby player, Israel Folau, on social media. After taking swift and decisive actions to both dismiss Folau and take a clear stance against homophobia, Castle was positively portrayed in nearly 40 per cent of coverage. Acting swiftly was important for taking control of a potentially complex debate, and saw Castle step in to manage the organisation’s reputation from the beginning. Described by the media as calm, clear and consistent, Castle’s leadership was praised as being inclusive, decisive and strategic.

New Zealand Prime Minister, Jacinda Ardern, gained global recognition in multiple news outlets across the world in the wake of Christchurch terrorist attacks. From wearing the hijab as a sign of respect, to declaring a national day of mourning and making swift and radical changes to gun laws in New Zealand, resulted in news coverage focusing on her actions describing Ardern as authentic and empathetic. Close to 50 per cent of analysed coverage overtly praised her leadership and she was described as authentic and believable, empathetic and being physically and emotionally present.

Follow CMO on Twitter: @CMOAustralia, take part in the CMO conversation on LinkedIn: CMO ANZ, follow our regular updates via CMO Australia's Linkedin company page, or join us on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/CMOAustralia    

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