The recent corporate scandal about Steinhoff and its value destruction which affected millions of South Africans leads one to look at how this was communicated by some of the major investors in the business.
Coronation, which apparently had the highest exposure to Steinhoff, did a great job on its website communique on 12 December 2017, with a message written in simple English, followed by an update in January 2018, written by its CIO, featuring a photo of him.
On the other hand, the website of Sanlam (third on the list of investors in Steinhoff per Biznews) had a technical and cold message, which was only issued on 21 December – no author or photo. No communication was issued to investors in Sanlam policies and RA’s, including employee benefit funds – instead the Sanlam media centre issued the following articles since then:
Is this for real?
Any decent PR company would have seen the potential of this crisis immediately. They would have (inter alia) ensured the preparation of communiques in simple English with the staff (first, always) and other key stakeholders, such as clients – and would have activated its spokesperson policy (as updated and approved by the board on a regular basis), and issued a media release.
They would also have made the CEO available for media interviews (and would have done mock interviews with him), and created a hotline for queries, and ensured that this call centre was briefed. And they would have advised the firms on how to handle on-going communication as the crisis unfolds.
Many PR firms have associations with international PR firms, which could be helpful in certain cases. Also, no-one can know the media and the key opinion-leaders as well external PR firms, there is NO way that internal people have these relationships.
Instead, Sanlam and many other corporates seem to prefer internal PR advisers. FNB is also another example of poor PR practices by internal PR advisers, who only started commenting about the theft of the safety deposit boxes in a few Johannesburg branches (I think) two months after the event.
Especially in the case of companies where you have Chairmen (and CEO’s) whose subordinates typically do not tend to challenge him/her (say no more….), internal PR advisers are often brushed aside – seeing that they are junior in status.
We are of the view that it supports the argument that Heads of Corporate Affairs and Communications must be at represented at board level, reporting directly to the CEO, like Bonang Mohale (now CEO of Business Leadership SA) did at Sanlam as an Exco member until 2013. He left Sanlam soon after Johan van Zyl was appointed as CEO.
We hope that other firms will learn from this recent crisis.
(Also see our post of 26 October below.)