Saturday, May 29, 2010

Suicides at Apple, Dell Suppliers in China

Apple, Dell and H-P are facing a potential public relations nightmare following at least 10 suicide deaths and another 20 suicide attempts by employees of Foxconn Technology Group.

The giant Chinese manufacturer of Apple I-Pads and Dell’s new Streak tablet employs an estimated 400,000 workers, or more, and most live in dormitories on company property. That’s roughly the population of Miami, Florida.

And, according to the World Health Organization, China’s national suicide rate is 13 to 15 per 100,000 population, so that is not an unusual rate, except the number of deaths has been in such a short period of time and in one work-place.

While media attention and bloggers have been talking about the rising number of suicides at the Foxconn plants, customers like Apple and Dell and HP are facing growing criticism for their support of “sweat shops” in pursuit of higher profits.

The American companies have been telling anyone who will listen that they have standards for their suppliers to follow and Apple and Dell say they are conducting their own investigations.

After several days of continuing coverage, Apple finally issued a statement May 26, saying the company was “saddened and upset” by the suicides.

Because Foxxcon is so big and companies like Dell and Apple have put so many of their apples in that one basket, no pun intended, the American companies have few choices except to put the best face on the situation and try their best to influence their suppliers to treat their employees humanely.

Meanwhile, Foxxcon has begun installing safety nets around their employee dormitories, where most of the suicides resulted from workers jumping from the roofs of seven story buildings.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

BP's Twitter Imposter

Say what you will about British Petroleum (BP) but they seem to have a sense of humor.

Within the past week, someone has hijacked the company's brand on Twitter, @bpglobalpr and in a matter of days has more followers than BP's own Twitter account @BP America.

Many companies, hit by a fake Twitterer, complain and insist the look-alike account be removed. BP spokesman Toby Odone told Ad Age, "People are frustrated at what's happening, as are we, and that's just their way of expressing it."

The site is somewhere between a parody and down-right comedy, but the frightening part is some people "get it" and are having fun with it, and some take it seriously and are responding accordingly.

The lesson for crisis communicators -- sometimes you do less harm by not making a big deal out of a critic's efforts.

An example of the fun the writer is having at BP's expense: "Proud to announce that BP will be sponsoring the New Orleans Blues Festival this summer w/ special tribute to Muddy Waters. #bpcares"

And another: "I'm sorry, are people mad at us for drilling in the ocean?!? Maybe God shouldn't have put oil there in the first place. DUH. #bpcares"

Dan Hicks, ICM Senior Consultant and author of continues to praise BP's communication strategy and its execution. I have been impressed with their websites and how often they have made senior executives available to the media.

I still believe they could improve their execution of message development and delivery, but as Dan said in his most recent blog post, a company has to do the "right thing" and then they can talk about it. Stopping the spill and expediting the clean-up is job one, right now.

Monday, May 17, 2010

What Will Toyota Do With Its Polling Results?

Just because someone says it, writes it or reports it, doesn’t mean it is true and just because someone denies it, doesn’t mean it’s not true!

I wanted to clear that up.

This week The Washington Post reported that Toyota executives considered a public relations strategy to attack the credibility of at least two public critics – A Massachusetts safety consultant and a technology professor at Southern Illinois University Carbondale.

Part of the evidence the Post used for its story was a series of public polls commissioned by Toyota, and including questions that challenged the integrity and motivation of the two men.

Toyota says it never used the poll information in any advertisements and Congress wants to know if it was used in any other way.

In the real world, corporations and politicians spend a lot of money on market research and polling. Politicians do it for the same reason companies do; to find out what the public knows, cares and thinks about a product or a candidate and the competition, whether it’s another car company or an opposing candidate.

It’s how companies/politicians put that information to work that, sometimes, raises eyebrows.

There’s another group that uses similar polling – plaintiff’s attorneys. Toyota already faces more than 327 lawsuits and those lawyers use market research to see what arguments will win them money and where the most likely “customers” are and how to sign them up for their class action lawsuits.

You know how you feel about some of the so-called dirty politics that grow out of the polling information that candidates use. We should feel the same way if a company, like Toyota, were to use that kind of information for any other reason than a fair defense of its own position and to point out legitimate mistakes or misinformation from its critics.

From a crisis communication perspective, we frequently encourage our clients to avoid criticizing the “other side” and concentrate on emphasizing their own facts and truth.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Have You Tweeted BP Today?

Ain’t technology grand?

Where would we be, today, without Facebook, Twitter, millions of blogs (including this one) and YouTube?

Where would British Petroleum and Transocean be without all these new fangled “social media?”

They wouldn’t be any better off, but they would not have to hear all the nasty things people around the world are saying about them – at least not until the hundreds of lawsuits begin winding their way through the American legal system.

One recent Tweet said, “Thanks for fighting standards and regulations that would have prevented this leak.” Another Tweeter declared “I will walk before I ever buy a gallon of your gasoline.”

And some of our crisis communication consulting peers are asking, what, if anything has BP learned from Toyota.

Well, BP has launched a new website: called “Deepwater Horizon Response,” with scores of pages of detailed information, hotline phone numbers, official company statements and maps and what BP calls “contingency plans.”

And company executives have bravely been facing the cameras, but they have not begun to take control of the story or the company’s future. Someone needs to not only appear to be in charge, but actually be in charge and make strong, clear statements about what BP and Transocean is doing, going to do and how they’re going to do it, to stop the flow of oil and clean up the Gulf.

It appears the leadership of BP was naive or blind to the risk they faced. It never ceases to amaze me how intelligent and successful business men and women can convince themselves that “nothing will go wrong while I’m in charge!”

When they were considering the mile-deep drilling in the Gulf of Mexico, they may have weighed the risks and consequences, but, even if they did, they should have gone to the next level of their risk assessment and asked what if something worse happens? And then develop an operational plan, a communication plan and a recovery plan for the “even worse” situation.

BP will survive just like Exxon did, and probably continue to make billions of dollars in profits, while we grouse about the exploitive oil companies and keep on spending obscene amounts of money for their products.