A blessing for milk consumers?

MabrookThe launch of a chain of milk shops called Mabrook sees Engro Foods venturing into the loose or fresh milk (khula dood) segment.

Mabrook is a test market project that will be piloted in Karachi only in the first year. The first retail outlet was launched in mid-November last year in Federal B Area, followed by others in December. Two to three shops will be launched every other week until Engro reaches its first year target of 30 shops.

According to Salman Goheer, Director Fresh Dairy Business, Engro Foods, the company entered the milk market in 2006, gaining market leadership in the UHT segment in 2009, and since 2012 it has enjoyed a market share of over 50% with brands like Olper’s and Tarang now household names. The next logical move, says Goheer, was to tap into the bigger chunk of the pie, which is the loose milk segment. Pakistan is among the top five milk producing countries in the world with an annual production of between 34 to 35 billion litres of tradable milk (the official figure keeps changing); Engro Foods’ internal estimate is at approximately 20 billion litres. The segment accounts for 92% of the tradable milk produced while packaged and powdered milk have an eight percent share, although the latter segment has been growing steadily since 2003.

To ensure continued and rapid expansion in the milk category, Engro has now decided to place itself at the front end of the value chain. Mabrook’s target consumer group is mainly the middle income segment and Engro will be matching the current prices for milk and yoghurt (Rs 78 per litre and Rs 110 per kilogramme, respectively).

Given that in Karachi, 90% of the loose milk is sold through shops, Engro has set up a franchise-based business model to operate the Mabrook shops. The company has identified 16 of its 30 franchisees and aims to reach its target in the next five to six months. Mabrook shops will be located in Gulberg, Gulshan-e-Iqbal, JamshedTown, North Nazimabad and Saddar although the exact locations are still under evaluation for visibility and easy access.

The criteria for selecting franchisees include reputation, financial strength and market history. Engro will handle the back end of the operation to ensure the smooth delivery of the milk to the shops and to this end has created its own milk procurement infrastructure; the milk is collected from areas within a 100 kilometre radius of Karachi and the processing plant is based in Korangi.

Goheer expects the company to face multiple challenges in this new venture, which is why Engro is test marketing the concept. Among the challenges are managing a one-day shelf life product, and ensuring consistent quality and hygiene inside the shops.

The venture will require Engro to invest over a billion rupees in 2014; so far the company has invested approximately Rs 200 million in infrastructure alone. Investment will also go towards establishing strong systems and training people to ensure that hygiene protocols and standards are followed by the franchisees. The design and layout of the Mabrook shops has been geared to guarantee that the product does not attract high bacteria counts as the day progresses.

Apart from the internal challenges of quality, shop design and implementation, Goheer says the biggest external challenge is the law and order situation in Karachi. For example, if the city shuts down for five days, Engro will have to figure out how to store the milk safely.

To ensure continued and rapid expansion in the milk category, Engro has now decided to place itself at the front end of the value chain.

The venture is not expected to affect Engro’s share in the packaged UHT segment as it caters mainly to SEC A+ (and to some extent SEC A) consumers and the company does not anticipate any overlap between the two segments. On the other hand, there is a lot of competition in the loose milk category with countless unbranded milk shops operating in Karachi, although the conditions there tend towards the unhygienic, and adulteration is common.

Goheer says, “Engro now has an efficient knowledge base in terms of milk. We will be able to deliver a good and consistent quality product in a very hygienic way to our customers, and this is how we will move against our competitors. Engro is deeply rooted in Pakistan, with a 50-year history, so the name helps a lot in attracting people to work with us and in reaching out to customers. We have sufficient experience with operational controls and will use it to keep a quality check on the Mabrook franchisees.”

In terms of the marketing strategy, the focus will be on ground activities and these are scheduled to start in the next couple of months. The name Mabrook is derived from the Arabic words barkat (abundance, auspicious) and mubarak (blessed) and has been endorsed by consumer research.

After the one year test marketing period in Karachi, Engro hopes to expand to other parts of Pakistan. Goheeer predicts that “we will rapidly expand next year. This year will be a learning platform and we will move forward according to our experience in the market. We are creating a new channel and once it proves successful, I am sure other companies will follow, which will be good for the consumer and the industry.”

First published in the January-February 2014 issue.

USAID: Changing Conversations

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Published in Aurora Magazine

By Ayesha Hoda

In an attempt at transparency and rebuttal of myths about US assistance, an ad campaign ‘Roshan Pakistan’ (Brighter Pakistan) was launched by USAID in May this year.

The campaign apprised us of the role of USAID, a US government agency which provides development assistance to countries around the world, including Pakistan. Over the years, USAID has been active in various sectors and socio-economic programs designed to impact hundreds of communities across the country.

The organization has only recently started focusing on directly and heavily advertising its assistance in Pakistan. USAID spends less than 0.5% of its annual budget on public communications efforts. It was only in early 2011 that it conducted the first large-scale ad campaign although it has been advertising for several years in other countries like Indonesia, Kyrgyzstan, Bolivia and Egypt. In Pakistan, USAID has previously advertised causes such as enrolment in modern teacher education programs, tourism revival in Swat and energy efficiency efforts.

Roshan Pakistan is the largest USAID ad campaign, not only in Pakistan but all over the world. Communications Specialist at USAID Pakistan, Virginija Morgan says that this is an effort to increase transparency and accountability.

“I am sure you have heard people of this country questioning how exactly US assistance is being used,” she says. “Advertising campaigns such as these help answer this question. Since the start of the campaign, we have heard many of our counterparts, and even people we meet in various communities, thank us for explaining what assistance is being provided to their country on behalf of the American people.”

Only a handful of people in Pakistan – government organizations, NGOs and teams of experts – deal with USAID directly. Hence, a need to utilize mass media tools was identified to reach out to the people who are experiencing the benefits of US funded programs in their lives. The primary target audience is thus SEC C, D and E, while A and B are secondary.

The campaign, whose concept was born in early 2012, was created by Interflow. The agency has been engaged with USAID indirectly for many years for other projects such as Key Social Marketing, PAIMAN, Abt. Associates etc. For Roshan Pakistan, Interflow was however contracted as a partner under the banner of the Public Communications Project (PCP).

Syed Atif Saeed, Group Account Director (Designated Director Operations for PCP) at Interflow, reveals that the umbrella concept/strategy of the campaign was “Roshan Pakistan”, selected on evidence based procedures through research.

“The rationale behind this is that everyone wants a ‘Roshan Pakistan’. The three areas USAID spends immensely on are education, poverty alleviation and energy. All these focused areas synergize with the umbrella concept aptly,” he says.

The campaign was run in three phases. According to Interflow, Phase I (May and June) consisted of information and education communication component (IEC), that is, it familiarized people with the development initiatives USAID has taken in Pakistan. The introductory print ad tells us how USAID is trying to achieve a Brighter Pakistan. The other print ads focus directly on education, energy and poverty alleviation, with detailed copy which sheds light on the areas and projects USAID has invested in. The second phase (August and September) ads are a combination of IEC and Behavioral Change Communication (BCC). This is a thematic campaign which was geared towards building an emotional connection between Americans and Pakistanis, by depicting friendship, tolerance and highlighting the contributions of USAID employees.

For Phase three (October – November), the agency tweaked and made some adjustments in the earlier communications based on feedback received. For example, research revealed that people often watch television by switching off/lowering the volume so written text in the form of pop-ups was introduced on the screen. The print ads in this phase were not too different except for some changes in copy.

Roshan Pakistan stands apart from other social development campaigns of NGOs and youth groups as it does not ask for donations or volunteering support or talk about patriotism or any cause in detail. It merely talks about USAID activities in certain sectors, what positive changes these can bring and Pak-American friendship. This serves the purpose of the campaign since the objective here is not to market any particular cause or program.

The TVCs and radio spots are in the same vein as the print ads but they tell a story: the story of making a difference through assistance and joint efforts. Three of the ads are based on common Pakistanis and their daily issues, which can be resolved by improving literacy, providing energy and employment opportunities to the less privileged. The main thematic ad shows USAID workers mingling with local citizens. Whether this has generated a wave of positive sentiment or not is debatable.

Unlike other local and international social sector campaigns, Roshan Pakistan also does not present anyone as a victim in need of assistance – no images of extreme poverty, dismal living conditions, children out of school etc. – and neither portrays development as a simple process by promising instant change. Watching it for the first time, you might think it is an ad for a telco or an FMCG brand. But the TVCs have the ability to draw you in. What works for the print ads are the examples of the large projects USAID has undertaken or invested in over the years.

The campaign was run on a 360 degree basis, including outdoor, TV, cable, cinema, print, radio and digital mediums. It was a nationwide initiative. The first year’s KPI was to raise the awareness level from 8 to 12 percent. The second year’s objective is to take it to 24 percent.

However, against the volatile political backdrop and anti-US sentiments of the public, the campaign, its entire look and feel, can seem highly optimistic, especially with regard to relations between common citizens and their American counterparts.

“In general terms the campaign was launched with a lot of apprehension and fear of backlash,” shares Atif. “But no noteable negative feedback has reached us. In terms of statistics, key performance indicator of raising awareness by 50 percent has been achieved.”

Virginija Morgan adds to this by mentioning that they are already witnessing the impact of Roshan Pakistan as dinner table conversations in many households have moved towards the importance of education, job training and energy efforts; people are showing an interest in replicating some of the initiatives.

The campaign is still at a nascent stage and as with any such awareness/image building campaign, significant impact can only be visible after subsequent reinforcements of the messages. Therefore, USAID plans to continue the campaign in the future.

Ready to embrace elegance

Published in the 561097_10151054345591892_486968464_nNovember-December 2012 issue of Aurora.

Original link here.

Ayesha Hoda on Pakistani women and the ready-to-wear phenomenon.

Although unstitched designer lawn continues to be in great demand, ready-to-wear (RTW) brands are gaining popularity among urban, upper-middle class Pakistani women.

RTW clothing in Pakistan dates back to the early 80s when there were a few select names such as Generation and Teejays. Eventually, other boutiques also opened to offer RTW, but affordability remained an issue as such clothes were on the pricey side. The trend of RTW caught on in the last decade, when brands such as Ego, FnkAsia and Khaadi emerged with their distinct aesthetic appeal. These were not merely boutiques but came with brand promises of quality, style and affordability for the modern Pakistani woman.

Buying RTW brands is no longer about convenience as Adil Moosajee, the owner of Ego, explains: “Five or six years ago, a woman wore clothes that were not too different from what her mother or grandmother wore. There was also limited experimentation with design. RTW brands like Ego revolutionised this category – we changed what women wear and how they wear it. We made the dupatta optional with changes in fabrics and cuts, used unconventional motifs and did not sell three-piece suits.” Shamoon Sultan launched Khaadi in 1998 and focused on high quality fabric, which is still one of Khaadi’s major sellers.

229204_10151092521399075_1197411847_nIn 2001, the brand introduced plain kurtas for day wear, moving on to stripes, dye fusion and motifs. Since then there was no looking back. In 2007, Khaadi recruited professional designers to introduce different cuts and launched a fashion oriented label with the Khaadi Khaas line, offering evening and party wear. However, a larger number of customers mostly buy the simpler Khaadi day wear, worn at work, university and elsewhere.

Recently, two relatively new players, Daaman and Sheep, have been making waves in RTW. That RTW is the next big thing is underscored by the fact that large textile companies such as Al-Karam and Gul Ahmed have introduced prêt lines. Outfitters, generally known for western wear, has also launched a line of RTW clothing.

There are many reasons for the popularity of RTW. An increase in the number of working women and greater fashion consciousness are only the tip of the iceberg. Many women cite convenience as a major reason; this is further augmented by the fact that electricity shortages mean that tailors cannot be relied on to deliver clothes on time.

Another major reason is the affordability of RTW, particularly compared to high priced designer lawn. The average price of a branded three-piece lawn suit is Rs 2,000 (minimum) with a good tailor charging at least Rs 500-700, not to mention the additional cost of lace and other accessories. On the other hand, average prices of RTW brands are between Rs 2,500-3,000. Although most RTW brands don’t sell three piece suits and focus mainly on tops, women are combining them with trousers and eliminating the dupatta. Thus the price differential is not great and sometimes it is even cheaper to buy RTW. Designers such as Amir Adnan have taken affordability one step further by launching lines such as Awami, with outfits available for

Rs 1,800-2,200. Even Ego and Khaadi have discounted shelves at selected outlets.

However, making products affordable is not always easy especially for small sized businesses such as Sheep.

SHEEP-Fall-Collection-Now-In-Stores“Our biggest challenge is managing product costing – a lot of times gorgeous designs are rejected because they cost too much and while this is very painful, we do want to make our products affordable,” says Ayesha Jafar, Brand Communication Specialist, Sheep.

In spite of efforts to make RTW affordable, there are plenty of people who think these brands are expensive and this has led to the emergence of small entrepreneurial ventures that promise to deliver imitation Ego, Khaadi and Sheep (among others) patterns at affordable rates. Most of these ventures are either small shops or individuals who promote their RTW via word-of-mouth and Facebook pages. Whether they are successful or not is debatable as most women seem to prefer spending on a few original pieces, rather than lots of imitation ones.

DaamanMalyha Chaudhry, owner of Daaman, points out, “There is no comparison between what we sell and these brands, and what the tailor will make for you. They do not have the same level of design sense and detail.”

Beyond detail however, RTW clothes are designed to make a strong statement about the people who wear them. Moosajee says that when he briefs his designers he describes the Ego customer as “a journalist/architect, urban dweller, comfortable in different environments, who believes she can make a difference.”

Daaman offers “timeless elegance” and fills “an aesthetic gap,” while Sheep’s brand personality is defined by a single word philosophy, i.e. “uncomplicated”; reflected in its colour palette, cuts and styling.

Overall, the RTW category is growing, and not only in Karachi, Lahore and Islamabad. Brands such as Ego are establishing more outlets in the major metros as well as going to Faisalabad, Multan, Sargodha, etc. Others, like Daaman are trying to tap expat Pakistanis by expanding their online business.

Jafar says that there is definitely room for more retailers as “we are still an under retailed country so the growth opportunities are there.”

More stores with multiple designer brands are also opening up (such as Brands Just Prêt, Ensemble and The Designers), with the line between couture and RTW becoming blurred. Those buying off-the-rack are putting not only convenience but also elegance and style in the shopping cart.

Going tomatoes

By Ayesha Hoda

Published in Aurora Magazine (September – October 2012 issue)

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The ketchup category has seen advertising activity recently and there are lots of tomatoes to be found whether you switch on the TV or look at a billboard.

The story of tomato ketchup in Pakistan began with Mitchell’s – a food brand that dates back to the 30s. The category has changed significantly since and more brands have entered the market. Today, the category is populated by names such as Bake Parlor, Knorr, Mitchell’s, National Foods, Shangrila, Shezan, and international brands like Heinz.

According to Adnan Malik, Head of Marketing, National Foods, the tomato ketchup category is worth three billion rupees (Source: A C Nielsen) and his brand accounts for 51% of the share. He says that there is a 70% penetration of this category in consumer segments A1, A2, B and C. In sharp contrast, the penetration levels go down to 30-40% in B, C and E.

Since the 90s the strategies for ketchup brands have evolved. Inflation and the economic downturn have seen cuts in consumer spending and brands have turned to offering their customers convenience and economy.

To this end, Shangrila (established in the late 80s) introduced a 100g sachet in the late 90s and became the first company to launch pouch packaging, a development that raised the bar among competitors and also brought the price down, helping develop a market for ketchup among a wider public.

National Foods quickly followed suit and today claims to be the leader in this format. Pouches account for 60% of the company’s sales and even consumers who are not price sensitive and previously preferred bottles, have accepted pouches due to their convenience.

At Mitchell’s, although concentration on pouches has recently increased, glass bottles still account for a 40-50% share of their sales.

Pouches come iin three sizes: 800g, 400g and 250g, and glass bottles in two: 500g and 280g. For all the brands the large (800g) pouch is priced at about Rs 150 whereas the large (500g) bottle is about 10-15 rupees cheaper. However, there is a smaller quantity of ketchup in the bottle, therefore by paying a little extra, consumers get more ketchup, making the pouch more economical.

Most ketchup brands are concentrating on younger consumers, because, says Malik, “We are a a young nation and the trend of having snacks with ketchup is growing.”

However, a major challenge is to ensure that the brand appeals to everyne, including housewives and other influencers.

In terms of advertising strategy, National Foods, Shangrila and Mitchell’s all seem to be focusing focusing on the main ingredient – tomatoes.

National Foods originally positioned (before 2008) their proposition around fun. However, in 2008, the package design was changed to emphasise the fact that the product was made from 100% pure tomatoes, with the focus of the communication turning towards flavour and purity of the ingredients. The company’s recent ad campaign is also based on ‘The real tomato experience’.

According to ad agency IAL Saatchi and Saatchi (National Foods’ creative agency), the new campaign capitalises on benefits such as purity, quality, convenience and economy through tempting shots of food and tomatoes. The campaign was leveraged to television, retail level (POS) and gondola/displays at shops.

Shangrila leverages print and outdoor and does not advertise on TV or radio as the company believes it is against sharia’h to do so, which is why, according to Erfan Mirza, Brand Manager, Shangrila, the brand has a low share of voice compared to its competitors. Yest, he says that Shangrila is still considered Pakistan’s number one tomato ketchup.

Compared to National Foods and Shangrila, Mitchell’s ad spend was relatively low until about three years ago, because of a focus on infrastructure development. However, advertising activity has picked up since. Zakria Fawad, Account Manager, Lowe & Rauf (Mitchell’s creative agency), says the current ad campaign for Mitchell’s tomato ketchup (Bin khaye raha na jaye  – originally released in 2010) stresses the fact that the product is made from the highest quantity of tomato pulp.

Fawad adds that “strategically, we decided to target the younger age group as they are the primary users/influencers but we also incorporated the primary buyer, the mother.”

In addition to the TVC, Mitchell’s is exploring non-traditional marketing avenues. It currently sponsors a food magazine called Chef Special and Chef Zakir’s annual cookbook. The brand has also opted for content integration on Dawat on Masala TV.

Faiza Iqtadar, Media Planner at Maxus Global (Mitchell’s media agency) says, “The brand’s media strategy is to increase awareness, create recall and promote its discounted offer.”

Overall, things look good for the ketchup brands. All the major players have become more aggressive on the marketing front and the size of the market is growing simultaneously. These brands are also looking to explore more consumer segments. Hamid Mukhtar, Assistant Brand Manager, Mitchell’s Grocery Products, for example, says that Mitchell’s has recently changed their penetration strategy from A+ and A consumers to target people in the B and B+ range.

However, as more ketchup brands are providing more options to snack lovers, the big brands may need to think of new ways to differentiate their product apart from the claim of being ‘natural’. They will also have to come up with more innovative media mixes to remain relevant and appeal to various consumer segments.

The Noodle House @ PC

Last week I had the opportunity to try out South East Asian cuisine for the first time (I’ve only had Thai food a few times before this).

Instead of a typical PR event – like the corporate ones I am used to and was expecting – this was a more informal and entertaining one, where each guest was allowed to order food of their choice. So I got a chance to try out a number of dishes with some fellow bloggers and foodies.

Wok fried honey and sesame chicken

There were specialties from Hong Kong, Malaysia, Shanghai, Bangkok and Jakarta.

This is the first outlet of Noodle House in Karachi. Its first restaurant in Pakistan was opened in Lahore last year. According to the official press release, it’s an international brand launched in 2002, which has a number of restaurants in the Middle East.

Overall, it was a good and different dining experience (with an open kitchen and modern interiors). Anyone heading to Pearl Continental in Karachi should try it out. My favorite dish from amongst the ones I tried – also had Wasabi Prawn, vegetable fried rice, Thai beef salad with Nam Jim dressing and Chicken satay with peanut sauce – turned out to be this:

Thai chicken with cashew nut

A bookworms’ haven

Published on The Express Tribune Blog

Original Link

“Me and books?” – a question (full of sarcasm) I often heard during my childhood and teenage life, in response to the innocent query, “Which book have you read recently?”

That was my idea of making conversation while most of my peers wanted to discuss the latest fast food deals in town. Hence, I have spent many hours of my life reading and writing on my own, talking to books, wondering how to share the love of words.

The situation has improved however. Or perhaps there are more venues today to discover my community members (other bookworms), roaming the city in search of the latest titles.

One such venue is the Karachi International Book Fair which takes place annually. This year the sixth edition was organized and while I expected Karachi Expo Centre to have a good number of visitors (as it was open to the public), the place was actually swarming with bookaholics.

What was impressive and unexpected was that people were not visiting just to pass time or roam around. They were actually interested in buying books – judging from the fact that you could not stick to one shelf for more than five minutes without being pushed; enthusiastic strangers offered feedback on your potential purchases and you had to stand in queue at the payment counters.

“I am loving it because I am a book freak and running into friends, who one can recommend books to, gives me a serious high… I love discussing books and getting recommendations,” shared Atiya Abbas, a mass communication student and a fellow colleague, who was a daily visitor to the five-day long show.

People seemed to have come from all corners of Karachi to the fair – one couldn’t really stereotype and say they belonged to a particular locality or socio-economic class or age group, which reveals that there is still a pretty wide and diverse audience for books.

“Never judge a book by its cover,” I kept repeating to myself to control the impulse to buy every attractive cover (and famous name) I laid my eyes on. Though the range was amazing – from textbooks to fairy tales, from Ghalib’s letters to interactive DVDs on Allama Iqbal to Turkish recipe books – some people felt the discount rates were disappointing.

They reminded me of the story I compiled earlier this year, for a monthly magazine, on the reading culture in Pakistan, in which the publishers argued, “If people can spend a thousand rupees on a meal, why not on a book?”

The answer is simple: for those who can afford to buy books, it is all about a mindset. Clearly many people do not feel they can get enough value for the money they spend on books. Reading books is mostly a necessity in Pakistan, which often ceases to be one once academic life is over. Others who read books for leisure often do not find enough venues (like book clubs or reading parties) to share knowledge and build their interest. But things are changing with events like Karachi International Book Fair and Karachi Literature Festival, and the growth in the number of writers from this region.

May be it has also become fashionable to have read Kamila Shamsie, Mohsin Hamid, Elizabeth Gilbert, Dan Brown and Paulo Coelho. But that’s actually good news for the publishing world. One cannot emphasize enough on the need to continuously promote the industry as a whole. It’s really all about bringing the right people (book lovers) to the right place (book fairs) more often.

Digital Warriors

Published in Slogan (December issue)

Ayesha Hoda emphasizes on the need to build a PR team that can battle in the online world.

“It takes many good deeds to build a good reputation, and only one bad one to lose it,” said Benjamin Franklin.

Similarly, it takes a one-line status on Facebook or 140 letters on Twitter to make a rumour or half-baked news to spread like fire, persuading people to question a person or company’s claims and credibility. Your best friend’s neighbour may be dissatisfi ed with a certain brand and choose to target it on his blog. Your best friend may sympathize with him and share his blog post on Facebook, barraging it with his own two bits. Wouldn’t you believe him and hesitate in using that brand? There is no smoke withoutfire, right? You would then go ahead and warn others. Tweet and retweet the post – do your bit to spread the word against the blood-sucking, profit-maximising corporate.

Many have said, and rightly so, that social media is a double edged sword.It has definitely changed the work dynamics of Crisis PR specialists. Nothing is in control with the increase in the number of bloggers and citizen journalists.

A PR/communication expert has no option but to be proactive and follow the activities of almost everyone who seems to take an interest in his company or in a competitor’s. He has to keep his friends (or online allies) close and his enemies closer.

A crisis created in the online world is not restricted to it but easily fi nds its way in the offline
world. A proactive PR professional will be able to halt and fi nish it off before it gets out of hand.
However, this is easier said than done. Digital communication fi rms abroad are trying to educate their clients that the possibilities of online crises are high. Even if a company is satisfying its customers, there can always be an aggressive competitor, a disgruntled ex-employee, a supplier with grievances or a bored consumer, who may not care two cents
for the company’s good name. They can and they will mislead the public with anonymous online
postings or by giving updates in their circles of influence via social networking.

While positive thinking may be a good thing, companies and their PR agencies must start anticipating crises. They need to acknowledge their weak points internally and while making
improvements, work on their defense strategy. If they fight the small battles well, they can prevent a PR war or an unexpected attack.

Locally, several companies – which are still trying to fathom the importance of traditional
public relations – are oblivious to the fact that their reputations are also at stake in the virtual
world. Netizens are fully exercising their right to voice their opinions, often stating them as facts. What companies should realise is that even if they choose not to leverage the global social media tools, others will use them to communicate about the organisation. Therefore, staying away from the digital world can only harm them.

Internationally, many efforts are being made to keep online crises under control. For instance,
global PR fi rm Weber Shandwick has launched a new social crisis simulator, FireBell, which allows clients to take part in a real-time dialogue in a secure, off-the-internet environment. It simulates crisis situations on multiple social media platforms including Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, Digg, LinkedIn and blogs. The crisis drill helps prepare clients for a similar dialogue during a real crisis – they will know exactly how to respond.

Other simpler measures can also be taken to deal with or prevent crises. Links of positive
coverage may be bookmarked and shared, sometimes as part of responses to any negative
coverage about the company or its brands. Responses based on factual data rather than
flowery words can also help, although apologising for inconveniences may be a good idea in some situations (where the company is to blame). The company can also run a full-time blog to regularly update key audiences on its side of the story. It should analyze who reads and responds to stories on the company in the online world. There is also a need determine how important confi dentiality is versus transparency, which can satisfy the curiosity of the public.
Given the right response strategy, an online crisis can even be used as an opportunity to
generate positive buzz about a brand. Look what happened with Gap recently. Its new logo was
criticised by all and sundry on social networks but, as a blog called Future Lab pointed out, ‘even the logo’s loudest detractors managed to build positive buzz for the Gap brand.’

Deadlines are short or none during a crisis. One needs to be very quick. Online responses are
bound to eventually lead to mainstream media coverage which can leave a lasting impression on people. Rather than wait to clean up the damage and start building a good reputation all over again, learn the social media fundamentals and build a strong team that is ready to command and control on the digital front!