The Rise of Brand Narcissism

“Mirror, mirror, on the wall, who’s the fairest of them all?”

Pepsi – and now United – are the latest example of brands exhibiting evidence of spending too much time admiring their reflection in the mirror while the societal and political climate is changing rapidly outside their doors.

‘Tone deaf’ and ‘out-of-touch’ – two terms that are now synonymous with both brands with United quickly becoming a global textbook case.

United and Pepsi are not alone – Uber, Google, YouTube – powerhouse brands that have been forced to take the blinders off and face the new reality of growing business and consumer impatience and purchasing power action.

Most of it directly correlates to company culture – when leaders and employees together perceive their brand from 1.) their vision of the organization, 2.) negate alternative realities to that vision, 3.) ignore public/consumer feedback and 4.) remain out-of-touch with rapidly changing scenarios within markets.

Communications and public relations teams can help put a stop to brand narcissism by taking the lead on bringing the public and alternative views into sharp focus internally.

Benchmark, continually. Benchmark perception on a regular basis, every quarter or twice a year. Hire an independent research firm to conduct the benchmark analysis and to present findings to yourself and your leadership team. Try to avoid a defensive reaction to the feedback and take time to assess the findings before reacting.

Pay attention to digital. Keep an eye on your sentiment analysis data and read what is being shared and said about your brand on a regular basis. Share those reports with your leadership team in your meetings (don’t just email the report, present it and explain it).

Don’t forget media. Deep dive on your brand in the media daily both on social and on the web. Who is covering you on a regular basis? Who is citing you as a source or your data/research as a source? Read article comments over time. Provide staff with weekly updates on media coverage, encourage them to read and interact with the comments.

Educate leadership. Often times, brand narcissism starts from the top and is a reflection of leadership style. Invite specialists to come and speak to your company/team about changes in your industry, changes in customer behavior, innovation in the workplace. HR can be a trusted partner in helping to provide online courses and information on a regular basis to prevent ‘group think’ from taking hold.

Last, but not least, conduct scenario analysis. Stay informed of what is happening in the news, what is trending in society, politics and culture and how overall public sentiment is evolving. “If you see something, say something”, applies here.

Starting Your Global Career

It is the one question I am often asked, “how did you start your global career?”

After university, I was lucky to work for a firm that invested in building global leadership skills among its staff. It is a great way to get started and many companies, like Alibaba, are actively training young employees on global leadership skills as part of their overseas expansion strategy.

Here are several skills that I have found invaluable working globally that will help you standout in a competitive global landscape:

Communication skills. An ability to speak clearly, write clearly and to listen intently will be the key to your success. Remember to slow down and be much more clear in your use of your native language than you would normally be to ensure all of your colleagues understand your message. Work to acquire a common second language at working proficiency (French, Spanish, Mandarin).

Critical thinking. An ability to analyze different scenarios, data and research as well as patterns in behaviors or systems is vital. You will constantly be assessing projects, goals and expectations across many countries; an ability to identify trends or outliers will enable you to be more efficient.

Cultural dexterity. This one takes practice and it is what I call “leaving your country behind on the tarmac.” You must be able to step outside of cultural constructs. A great tip for doing so is by telling yourself – constantly if needed – that you may be the only Canadian, Singaporean, South African that your colleagues and/or clients ever work with, so leave them with a positive experience.

Ethics. You may be surprised by the standard code of ethics in the countries you will work in and some of the conduct you encounter may be considered unethical or corrupt in your country of origin. My advice is to stay true to your moral compass and remain calm when faced with such conduct. Acting outraged and indigent will make you look somewhat dramatic and will get you nowhere. Use it as a way to start educating your team on other ways they may consider achieving their goals.

Global mindset. Being open to new ways of working and seeing the world is essential as well as being able to view challenges and opportunities through a global lens. It will also make your day-to-day interactions with your colleagues more pleasant; however, do not expect to be a pro at this from the outset. That comes with practice.

Team adaptability. Having a team mindset and experience leading teams is a must. Your management style may need to adjust depending on the business culture. Mastering an ability to be patient – observe and listen when in meetings and in your daily interactions with your team – will help you decipher expectations, cultural understandings and ways of working.


6 Tips for Managing a Crisis

Managing a crisis is never easy and requires very strong leadership to lead everyone to a safe harbor. It also requires a close-knit, respectful and fully aware crisis communications team.

Here are some quick tips for creating a crisis communications team that is technically well planned and is prepared for any breakdown in communication:

Create a crisis communications plan. You may already have a comprehensive plan for your organization; however, you will need a simple and straightforward plan for an actual crisis. Make sure you have both on hand and that they are up-to-date and accessible quickly.

Determine your team before a crisis hits. Preparation is key. Within your crisis communications plan, you should have outlined – and have executive agreement on – who among senior leadership will sit on the team and who will chair the team during an actual crisis.

Choose a leader who is ready and able to lead. Crises can become very difficult. Choose a leader who has the wherewithal to lead the team to the finish.

Keep your team to a maximum of 5 members. This is crucial. Research has proven that a team larger than 5 can become ineffective in a fast-moving crisis. Each member should represent one of your key operational divisions within your organization.

Practice. Run mock drills at least once a year with the team. These drills should be as real world as possible and preferably run by a crisis communications expert.

Monitor behaviors during the drill. Use the drills as a learning experience and review with the team their interactions and decisions made throughout the drill, highlighting areas that could be potentially harmful in an actual crisis.

Your CEO on Social

Recently, Weber Shandwick released their Socializing Your CEO report which audits the online presence of CEOs globally. The audit found that CEOs are starting to engage and feel comfortable on social media.

Your CEO can be a powerful addition to your social media strategy. The key is to integrate your executive’s social media presence within the overall brand’s social media strategy. By doing so, it will help prevent one from overpowering the other.

Even though your CEO might be an established brand within his industry offline, social media will potentially reach a much wider segment of your audience globally, therefore, you’ll need to start building your CEO’s credibility out of the gate.

One approach I have used is to create a dedicated CEO account on Twitter as the channel of choice for their voice. The dedicated account is used to express personal opinions, theories and expertise to lead and guide the social discussion within the brand’s issue area.

Crossover with the brand would occur with the sharing of content on the organization’s Facebook page and Twitter account during high visibility events, news or project/product launches.

To start engaging and leading the discussion from the dedicated account, consider the following tactics:

  • sharing organization research, news, updates and new projects;
  • speaking at a conference: share salient talking points, impressions, and highlights;
  • participating in a panel discussion: engage with other members pre and post panel, sharing thoughts and insights;
  • curating other research, news or statements from organizations in the same industry, and
  • starting the discussion by asking direct questions of other leaders/organizations on trending topic areas.

Ideally your approach will be a mix of the above. As you and your CEO get more comfortable, the more you can curate content and start to push discussion on issues or issue areas that may not have entered into the social conversation.

By pushing the envelope and being seen as an initiator and innovator of content and discussion, you will attract more followers and will increase your overall social media engagement over time.

Creating a Personal Brand

It’s probably the last thought you have – to create a personal brand strategy for yourself.

But the world of work has changed and expanded beyond your office and your personal circles. Establishing a platform to extend your expertise beyond your sphere of influence is essential to establish yourself firmly in your career as an expert with a unique point-of-view.

Is it hard? No, but it will take a shift in perspective that you may not be comfortable with – turning the magnifying glass on yourself and finding out what your value proposition is. It will also require an ongoing investment in terms of time, focus, and resources.

Can you do it all on your own? You have the skill sets, the tools of the trade and the experience, but you will need at least one trusted adviser, preferably not a friend or colleague, who can be honest with you and whose opinion you trust and respect. It can be a coach or a strategist – someone who has a vested interest in your career development.

Here are some quick tips for getting started:

Establish what is unique about you. Before you start, sit down and write out three to five career attributes about yourself that are different from others in your field. Think about your overall experiences and what others can learn from you.

Determine your audience. Is it professionals in your field? Or professionals in a certain industry? Determine beforehand whom you are targeting and where you need to make an impact.

Create a platform. A platform consists of your online presence. Start with a blog and choose a mix of tools that will most effectively reach your audience (i.e. Google+, Twitter, LinkedIn). If you have existing accounts, you may want to establish new ones under your brand name.

Join the conversation. Establish a following by joining in the conversation through “curating” articles, retweeting and commenting on opinions, and re-blogging. Bring your own personal spin to the online conversation.

Remember that content is king. Great content will create interest. Focus on developing stories that will appeal to a large audience with tips and advice to convey your overall skills and expertise.

Don’t forget the offline world. A great way to extend your brand is through speaking engagements. Develop a speaking proposal and pitch yourself at conferences in your field.