Under siege: Managing the media

Morris Kaplan

Morris Kaplan is a guest blogger.

Morris Kaplan, one-time stockbroker and venture capitalist, brings his finance skills and recent experience as a business journalist and writer to IT, with a special interest in telecoms and how communications is being transformed by technology.

"Tender bungles” scream the headlines. “NBN at a standstill”, they say. Headlines of this sort would be unwelcome news for the Government as well as the company running the (national broadband network) show. The company, NBN Co has indefinitely suspended its network construction tender after construction companies were unable to provide acceptable terms and prices following four rounds of pricing negotiations. The company says it has “thoroughly benchmarked” the project against similar engineering and civil works projects in Australia and overseas and says it will not proceed on the basis of prices currently being offered. It was reported that 14 short-listed bidders failed to match its price demands. The delays while not specified are reported to already be four months.

Telcos, it seems, have a very poor record in Australia of managing the issues being faced. Whilst plausible, it is hard to imagine how a list of 45 potential suppliers could not “match its price demands.” Whatever the case, NBN and the government are showing every sign of battle fatigue and a near perfect score sheet in failed media relations.

They are not alone. It is often said that getting your name (or your organisation's name) in the media is always good but telco chiefs and their staff know that this is a myth. Indeed many a corporation would rather their name not be in the media for fear of misinformation. This is a serious and present risk for any organisation. Indeed with an explosion on the media available and the proliferation of smart phones, Tweets and the like, an organisation needs to spend time and money doing some “risk management”.

Consider the BP oil disaster (or should we name it as The BP Media Relations Fiasco). After an explosion in a BP platform in the Gulf of Mexico last April killed 11 people and caused the biggest oil spill in US history, the company’s CEO at the time, Tony Hayward, zoomed in on the implications - for his career! He appeared pre-occupied with the incident’s impact on BP’s management and, in particular, on himself, famously being quoted as saying to executives in his London office, “What the hell did we do to deserve this?” Despite PR coaching, a month later he told reporters, “I’d like my life back.”

Business leaders should be wriggling in psychic pain with what can go wrong when the bigger picture of an issue is not appropriately acknowledged. Clearly someone needed to take BP leader’s view of the situation to a much higher level than his own personal discomfort. Telco’s should mind their P’s and Q’s in a highly competitive environment and note how the political winds are changing.

Tags: NBN, Telco, NBN delay, media relations

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