When good comms go bad: is it ever okay for your CEO to dress up as superman?

Is it ever okay for your CEO to dress up as superman?

What are your thoughts on this video below, leaked from NHS (HEY) Hull & East Yorkshire Hospitals Trust?

It was released to staff at the Trust to promote ‘Work-out at Work Day’ and features Chief Executive Phil Morley dressed up as superman and dancing to music. Yep, you’ve got to watch it to believe it….

**UPDATE 28/06/2013: unfortunately due to a copyright claim by the Trust the video below no longer works, you may be able to find elsewhere online**


The video has divided opinion in press, online and seemingly within the NHS Trust itself. Variously labelled as ‘insulting’ to hard-working employees and a waste of time; others meanwhile have said it’s ‘brilliant’.

Personally, I think it’s a real shame that such a well-intentioned engagement piece has backfired so badly. I think it could put off a lot of other leaders from being open to more innovative forms of communication in the future; discourage them from showing their personality and being more than just a suit and tie in an ivory tower.

I think we should congratulate someone like Phil Morley for being brave enough to try something new. It should be seen a what it is – a bit of fun to show his support for this wellbeing initiative.

But not everyone thinks that way. So, how do you balance being creative in your comms with ensuring you protect the reputation of the business you’re in? Is it ever okay for your CEO to dress up as superman?

Here’s a few basic checks to carry out:

– Aim for fun and cool, not David Brent cringeworthyThe HEY NHS Trust video, I think, probably positioned Phil Morley more towards the latter.

– Test out your idea first: what might sound like a great idea in theory just doesn’t work in practice. Think of how it could be perceived – in this case by frontline staff who don’t have the luxury of taking time out of their day for something like this. Will everyone ‘get it’? And if it’s on a video and it’s seen externally, what then?

– Join the dots: Hmmm, multi-million pound cuts to your organisation looming? Likely to involve redundancies? Probably not the best time to be showing all the fun you’re having in the office.

– Is this the right image for your leader? Ask yourself if the person you’ll portray in the video fits the actual personality of the leader. Can they carry it off? How will this build the reputation of your leader throughout your business – particularly among staff who might not have regular face-to-face contact with your leader. If this is all they’ll see, make sure it’s the right image portrayed.

– Does this accurately reflect your workplace culture? Does your piece of comms reflect the values of your organisation? How risk-adverse is your organisation? Can you reinforce your culture through the comms, or will it undermine it?

– And finally, manage closely and trust your gut instinct: It remains to be seen how closely involved the comms team at HEY NHS Trust were in the making of this video. Phil Morley has said to the media that he was asked by his physiotherapy team to take part. Ultimately, you need to be the trusted adviser to your CEO and the one guiding the decision. Even if he/she wants to take part, it’s you who should be the one making the call on whether or not they take part. Trust your gut instinct.

And that’s the hardest part of all, weighing up all the pros and cons, staying objective and sticking to your guns. What would you have done?


Why your marketing team should not be controlling social media

Over the last few days Aussie clothing retailer Target has been the latest in a long line of brands to suffer the backlash from a foray into social media.

Marketers from the company pushed Target’s latest product line – girl’s clothing – via its facebook pages with the presumable aim of reaching an audience of highly-engaged mothers.

But it backfired. The mums saw the clothing as too adult-like for their seven year olds. Criticism picked up pace until the issue made headline news in the morning papers.

What Target planned as a simple product advertisement on a free channel, has now turned into an exercise in crisis media management with the comms team picking up the pieces. (On a side note, I don’t believe in the long-term the Target brand will be damage badly – there’s been as much positive feedback on the lines as negative anyway.)

And, what’s happened to Target is a great example of just where social media management is going wrong in companies at the moment.

As Social Media Consultant Thomas Tudehope commented to the Sydney Morning Herald:

”Historically, it’s been all about their [the brand’s] own content – namely ‘What are we going to post on our page?’ Now it will be the other way around – what are users going to say on our page,” he said.

Yes, what’s gone wrong is that fact that on the whole, the strategy, execution and day-to-day management of social media sits with marketing teams.

And the battle goes like this: CEO/management team decides the company needs to be on facebook. CEO/management team thinks hey, this could get us more sales / hits to our website etc. So CEO/ management team surveys current departments and thinks well, that’s just what our marketing team currently does.

But, whilst this may seem like a common sense approach, the reality is vastly different.  Because what marketing teams don’t do is have conversations with their audiences, deal with positive/negative feedback or manage reputation and sentiment.  They very skilfully promote products and services to drive business, but not the company’s corporate image and profile to drive reputation – nor have to prepare responses when promotion is not well received. Marketeers buy coverage, they don’t earn it.

I read an interesting report on Trends and Issues in Corporate Affairs 2012 from recruiters Salt& Shein earlier this year which has stuck in my mind for a while now.

This extract from page 16 is part of a dedicated section on the battle over social media in companies in Australia right now:


“We have an ongoing debate about who owns social media, and you do get knee-jerk turf wars developing. The corporate affairs department argues it should sit with them because it’s about managing the message, but the marketing department sees it quite differently. For them it’s about corporate brand. But in reality social media runs across the organisation and it is just as important to customer service and the help desk as it is to the guardians of corporate reputation.”’

I think the point is that to achieve success in social media, it needs to be everyone’s business. If social media currently sits solely with your marketing team you NEED to start asking questions. Start asking what will happen when it goes wrong. Are we getting the results we need. What value could other areas of the business add and can we get champions from across the business involved in the strategy. At the very least, a joint approach is needed to every strategy and campaign. Marketing and Comms working together for shared goals.

Social media: The tricky thing is the policy…

As more and more businesses reap the benefits of engaging with their customers through social media, so follows the rush to rein in how employees should behave in this arena – not only whilst at work, but in a social context too.

The Commonwealth Bank Australia (CBA) has been slammed this week for its social media policy.

The Union is unhappy that employees are requested to report any “inappropriate or disparaging remarks” on social media sites. As it points out in the article:

“A conversation about the colour of the tea cups at the workplace, who is winning the footy tipping competition, or what day of the week CBA employees are permitted to wear casual clothes are examples of conversations that would constitute a breach of the policy as it is currently worded.”

In addition, CBA employees work under award which means they’re actually legally bound to the policy, and that’s what sets it apart from some other similar policies at other organisations.

When I worked at the London Ambulance Service our social media policy existed primarily to ensure confidential patient information was not posted anywhere on the internet. It was a vital clause in the policy to avoid data breaches, families seeing in-depth details of an incident involving a loved one and (in extreme examples) any prejudice to a police investigation. The policy was instigated after an increase in staff blogs talking about their work for the Service, as well as several online discussion boards and a need to frame what was, and what wasn’t acceptable in these forums.

My two favourite (and very popular) blogs by our staff were The Paramedic’s Diary and NeeNaw (about the work of a 999 call-taker).

They’re both fascinating insights into what it’s like to work for an ambulance service and act as a research tool for wannabe paramedics/ calltakers – the recruitment of many a staff member owes credit to these blogs.

But even these blogs have not been without issue, and there were times when there was a fine line between telling an interesting and detailed recount of an incident and protecting the rights of the patient and the details about them that were being released. Thankfully, both employees worked closely with our communications department to the benefit of both parties: we got two great representatives for the organisation and lots of positive messaging; both of them got successful books deals.

Creating a social media policy is such a tricky area and balances the desire to protect the reputation of the organisation with ensuring a realistic and manageable policy is in place and of course allowing freedom of speech for employees.

And after all, whilst you might be able to get employees to commit to a policy, censoring the views of the general public about your company is a lot harder job.
For CBA, an attempt to protect their own reputation has backfired badly and ironically resulted in a lot of avoidable bad press. Staff talking about whether their teacups are blue or white are now the least of their worries.