Several major brands, including Citi, General Motors and AIG, have received tons of free visibility lately — but not the sort of coverage any business would wish.
In recent months these three colossal companies, in particular, have garnered headlines and blog buzz for receiving tens of billions in emergency investment, loans and other backing from the U.S. government.
Crisis doesn’t necessarily make for a marketing opportunity. On the other hand, it does represent a brand moment of truth. So it pays to ask yourself a hypothetical:
If it were your brand receiving historic levels of emergency backing from government (and thus, from taxpayers), what would your communication strategy be? More specifically, to what degree would you — should you — be publishing content that:
- acknowledges and explains the crisis situation and its implications?
- provides context, defines technical terminology and anticipates FAQs?
- speaks candidly and clearly to near-term plans, risks, responsibilities?
- invites questions, comments and other forms of interaction?
To gauge how these three mega brands are handling that complex question, Touch Point City visited their Web sites. Here’s what we found:
Disclaimer: While a public Web site is by no means a 360-degree view of all a corporation might be doing to tell its brand story, it’s a good place to start.
If there’s anything atypical going on at the Citigroup of companies, you wouldn’t know it from the home page. There are no text or graphics elements referencing emergency government funding. In the left nav, near the bottom, a single header speaks to Citi’s “Homeowner Assistance Program” for consumers facing home foreclosure.
Under “About Citi,” and another tier deep in “Press Room,” there’s a news release describing a common stock exchange that will let Citi boost equity on its balance sheet “without any additional U.S. government investment. ”
Another tier deep, an Executive Commentary from CEO Vikram Pandit welcomes the “vigorous global debate now unfolding on regulatory reform,” and calls for “transparency, a level playing field and systemic oversight” as guiding principles.
But overall, judging purely by its Web site, Citi seems to be taking a business-as-usual approach to communication — or lack thereof — around the government rescue and its ramifications.
Here again, at least at the ultra-clean home page level, plus a few tiers down, no obvious text or navigation clues to suggest anything abnormal in the works at GM.
Eventually, deep under “About GM,” halfway down a page of news release links, there’s this: GM Statement Regarding the Company’s Position on Restructuring, plus a second release regarding the government’s newly appointed Task Force on Autos.
Meanwhile, GM’s corporate blog, FastLane, has a number of recent posts that speak to the current state of affairs. One, dated March 12, is a video titled The Case for GM. In it, CFO Ray Young speaks to GM’s go-forward strategy and discussions with the U.S. government. The post, at last viewing, had three comments, including one detailed list of ideas for achieving long-term viability.
In a pair of other posts, Steve Harris, VP of global communications, weighs in on GM’s challenges and plans, including its desire to avoid bankruptcy. Harris’ posts, delivered more in real-speak than corporate-speak, attracted more than 110 comments.
Perhaps because it’s received the most government money of any company (a reported $170 billion), or because its Financial Products division is so embedded in the global credit crisis, AIG goes furthest with crisis-related content.
For example, there’s significant home page real esate devoted to a box titled AIG Moving Forward: Protecting Customers, Repaying Taxpayers. A click leads to sub-pages where content addresses AIG’s restructuring plan, “What Happened?”, and details on government investments and loans.
The sitelet also hosts a “Customer Center,” featuring a very basic FAQ for consumers who hold AIG insurance policies, along with a brief “Thanks for sticking with us” letter from goverment-appointed chairman and CEO, Edward Liddy. In addition, there are RSS feed options for receiving progress reports on AIG’s restructuring and divestiture.
At times of crisis, content has powerful potential to maintain constructive dialogue with the market, sustain customer relationships and stabilize brand equity. When the time comes, will your bias be to communicate or stay quiet? Is your Web content management process nimble or gnarly? Will you have a blog or other social media channels by which to engage interested (or angry) audiences?
Now might be a good time to revisit your crisis comm plan, to assess how ready you’ll be to respond if historic events thrust your brand into the spotlight.