When a multinational company with omnipresent visibility in the media celebrates the birth anniversary of national poet Kazi Nazrul Islam birth anniversary with a photograph of Rabindranath Thakur, it is nothing short of a comms nightmare.
Unfortunately, one company did make this mistake on its Facebook page with more than ten million people as followers. Although it was an inadvertent mistake, it was an unpardonable one. It is not something the followers would forget in a month. The company would carry the baggage for some time.
Anyone born and brought up in Bangladesh, especially someone working in external communication for a multinational company, should certainly know who Nazrul and Rabindranath are. Even a millennial Bengali child with an Anglicised Bangla accent has heard about them and seen the photographs of both these Bengali poets.
The post went viral in a negative way, accompanied by an outpouring of condemnation, and the company responded with an apologetic note, saying that they were sorry for their actions. However, from a communication point of view, the apology note was also devoid of any serious thinking.
The apology note had blamed the advertising agency for committing the mistake. Boom! And another piece of poor communication.
We have to understand that the agency works for the company, the company doesn't work for the agency. We seek skills from the agency but the communications that go out in the public domain are owned by us, not the agency. At the end of the day, the mistake is ours.
The agency must have sent us the 'Nazrul Joyonti' visual, which we had to approve as a normal process. The mistake was clearly on our part. Blaming the agency for the mistake displayed a complete lack of ownership on our part.
The entire world has witnessed the company's 'blame' game which, I believe, didn't augur well for the company's image.
It doesn't require any consultant to guide us that, given the number of followers on a page like this, anyone working to boost the company's image has to be extra careful. In this case, someone, belonging to the company, must have approved the design on email without even opening the attachment.
This is what happens when all comms professionals of a company don't work together – in coordination. Many companies tend to separate brand and marcom from corporate communication. They very often report to different supervisors.
Yes, sometimes, it helps when it comes to business and product campaigns, but finally, the two wings of communications develop a strange detachment between themselves, leading to an enormous silo.
This structure could be rethought.
In such circumstances, when brand and marcom commit any mistake, the corpcom has to salvage the eventual crisis. I have witnessed many such instances.
In a Bangladeshi scenario, the head of comms, with a lofty title, is usually placed in the corporate or regulatory department or division. S/he is called the 'head' of comms, but s/he doesn't have access to all communications that go out from the company.
Companies in Bangladesh also employ professionals for 'external communication,' who quite often, do not know what brand and marcom are.
We also recruit a person for the position of 'strategic' communication. This person is often neglected by our companies. S/he has the title but no one seeks his/her guidance regarding any form of communication.
In the above case, if the strategic and external communication professionals were involved, the mistake could have been avoided. We must remember that the person(s) working for external communication is/are responsible for identifying the risks in the communication materials before they are published for the public, the customers or the consumers.
And the person(s) working in strategic communication is/are there to guide everybody based on company strategies. S/he would also guide what is right and what is wrong when it comes to all communications.
The profession of communication is yet to mature in the Bangladeshi context. Many companies have been trying to institutionalise the concept of corpcom, but the concept gets lost when the corpcom people are always engaged in mitigating some crisis that ensued from negative news in the media.
In many instances, negative news emanates from others' mistakes and if the corpcom people cannot prevent the news from being published, they are poor performers.
However, if we think differently and engage and equip corpcom professionals in the right direction and allow them to guide for the betterment of the company, these people could be great assets.
To my mind, these people may work as the imaginators of the company. The person who can operate as the chief imagination officer may be employed as the head of comms.
In our context, most corpcom professionals are engaged in some routine work – like clerks. It's an art that involves thinking not just beyond the box, but, in fact, without any box. Whoever has valued the importance of communication has prospered sustainably.
Ekram Kabir is a storyteller, a yogi and a communications professional. He is an email away: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the opinions and views of The Business Standard.