Tuesday 12 February 2013

Pope's resignation highlights communications issues for international business leaders

Many international business leaders have been struck by the dramatic resignation of  Pope Benedict on 11 February as the leader of a huge multinational organisation presiding over 1.3 billion people around the world. Pope Benedict's reasons for stepping down will resonate in the commercial world - for lacking the mental and physical strength to continue to carry out his duties effectively but criticism will follow about the lack of succession planning and a smooth transition.  The fact that the Vatican was rocked by the Pope's announcement is public knowledge will also take its toll.  As in any organisation it will not inspire confidence to know that the leadership who must now elect a successor is very much on the backfoot. It is not helpful to have to take a decision in the full glare of the international spotlight. In human terms, few people around the world will question Pope Benedict's justification for his decsion given that he is an octogenarian.  But in leadership and communication terms things could have been done much better.  In crisis management criteria the performance is poor given the inevitable international focus on the Vatican.  No slick front- of-camera leader stepping forward to allay public fears. No calming statements being issued that a smooth path ahead has long been planned. No pacifying remarks about continuity and business as usual. The sense of shock that engulfed the Vatican as the Pope made his announcement is evident; notes of panic have clearly been struck. This is a perilous position for any international organsiation to be in.  The Pope's dramatic departure will have a lasting impact on the Catholic Church - he will go down in history as the first pontiff to resign unexpectedly in some 600 years.  Few business leaders have to worry about setting such a precedent but many - including the most successful public figures - will have contemplated resignation at some point during their tenure as head of an organisation.  The Pope's decision may shake the confidence of many catholics around the world. The words "If he doesn't have the strength to continue what hope for the rest of us!" have already been proliferated in many countries.   The Vatican will need to recognise that Pope Benedict's successor will have a major communications task from the first moment he assumes the papacy.  It is not a task for the Pontiff alone but a collective focus to ensure that the best interests of the global organisation - in this case the catholic church across the globe - are served. Globally effective communications are central to core business function. The Vatican will need to demonstrate it is on top of its game.  www.globalnewsmakers.com

Tuesday 22 January 2013


The World Economic Forum's annual gathering at Davos with its focus on "Resilient Dynamism" is a timely reminder of the need for momentum in tackling the most pressing issues facing the world. For the 3000 participants geopolitical issues including global terrorism with a spotlight on the conflict in Mali and the recent hostage crisis in Algeria - the Eurozone crisis, global health issues, food security, environmental issues are some of the pressing challenges.

Davos will undoubtedly remind the powerful business and political leaders present of their moral and civil obligations to find answers to urgent global challenges and the opportunities for communicating strategically on issues high on the world's agenda.  It is unusual to find a politician who does not understand the critical value of influencing the media as a way of targeting select audiences.  International businesses should follow suit. In today's highly digitised world with one single click a potentially significant investor anywhere in the world can be impressed by a business thousands of miles away.  And in today's globally competitive environment that matters.  Surprisingly few globally significant companies invest commensurately in resources to shape media and other external views, despite the tangible value that is added. International business activities demand skill and dexterity in the field of communications.  Displaying a consummately professional approach to the media including compelling presentation and public speaking skills, highly accessible core messaging,  thought leadership on important global issues will separate the wheat from the chaff in the eyes of investors, analysts, shareholders and global media. Strategically influential communications are not just for Davos and key dates in the annual business cycle, they are a continous activity which every  serious business should focus on.  

Monday 13 August 2012

International messages sent out from the closing ceremony of London 2012 - Emperor's clothes?

The closing ceremony of the 30th Olympiad held in London may have said it all about the host nation's mood.  An eclectic outburst of euphoria without a clear strategy. If for an unlikely moment UK stopped to consider dispassionately what messages were being sent across the globe through the closing ceremony alone the sense of untrammelled exultation may have disappeared. A motley collection of pop figures from bygone years appearently constituted the vanguard of the desired image to be projected by Britain at the close of a highly successful London 2012 Games. The Pet shop Boys, Madness, the WHO, Queen heralded by a distinctly ghostly Freddie Mercury video seem to reinstate the 1980's as present day.  The distinctly surreal sight of the Spice Girls reunited, cavorting on the top of Black Cabs bizarrely added to the rooting of vibrant present day London in the past. Nothing was displayed of the innovative solutions that are being found to encourage growth and make London and the UK a continued magnet for foreign investment.  It may only have been an imaginative Royal Ballet corps beautifully bedecked in eycatching, colouful costumes on the Olympic stage to mark the extinguishing of the Olympic flame that saved the national pride of the host country. Given the various moralistic notes that have been struck many times during the past couple of years of recession it was perplexing that Russell Brand and George Michael were projected as national icons, a fact on which numerous foreign representatives commented wryly.
London is a genuinely global and modern metropolis that contributes hugely to the world economy - as every significant international politician and business leader knows.  Confidence in the future should have marked the close of an historic event for London and would have been a truer reflection of London's capacity to deliver imaginative and effective solutions and thought leadership for global challenges.  Lord Coe's extraordinary achievement in delivering the 2012 Olympic Games with flair, passion and extraordinary drive should be extolled.  But enough of rock and pop stars of decades past. 

Alexandrite international communications specialises in international communications and global profile and reputation management including crisis response. It is led by international journalist and longtime BBC news anchor Keshini Navaratnam  

Monday 30 July 2012

Cross Cultural Issues and International Awareness Matter

As anyone who does business or engages with other countries will tell you one of the most important issues to prepare for any cross cultural encounter is to double check that nothing will be done that will embarrass, offend or irritate your foreign partners. Mistakes make an interlocutor look incompetent or distinctly parochial. This obviously matters when it applies to one of the world’s leading international centres of business, a global meeting point and the host city of the 2012 Olympic Games.

It is absolutely staggering that with 7 years to prepare London’s Olympic organising committee, LOCOG, has shown extraordinary lack of attention to international details that could make or break the 2012 Olympics. London looks far from the multi cultural success story in many foreign eyes in the light of recent cultural gaffes that loomed on the eve of the opening of the London Games.

It is hard to imagine a more damaging diplomatic episode than the South Korean flag being displayed on screens with the North Korean team on the pitch. Given the decades of hostilities and the huge sensitivities over a raft of issues between the two countries it is mind-boggling that no-one thought to double check that the correct flag would be displayed.  A similar belt and braces approach needs to be applied to the national anthems – which constitute  another potential high-casualty area.  

David Cameron’s dismissal of the deeply damaging flag incident as an “honest mistake” in no way mitigates the impact. Anyone who has worked in the international arena knows that mistakes are just not acceptable as an excuse for lack of preparation and attention to this predictable minefield of sensitivities.

What is most troubling is that the offence given to the North Korean team was not the only incident in this area.  Further problems arose after Britain’s Foreign Office was obliged to intervene after the display on London’s Regent Street of the Taiwanese flag, rather than the flag of the Chinese Taipei Olympic committee, the body under which Taiwan’s team officially competes. China is of course hugely sensitive about Taiwan, which it regards as part of its national territory.  

LOCOG were also having to placate Ukraine and Armenia after athlete information on an official Games website appeared to suggest the two countries were still part of Russia. Both countries independence was recognised in 1991.

Other cross cultural gaffes occurred on Wednesday at the Westfield shopping centre, where most Olympic ticket holders would pass on their way to the Olympic site from Stratford rail station, where the Arabic welcome signs were back to front on both sign boards and staff t-shirts.

London is widely regarded as a leading international centre.  Anybody conducting international business knows that avoiding cultural mistakes is key to a successful outcome.  With hundreds of millions of global television viewers focused on the London Olympics for the next several weeks LOCOG should take particular note that London’s reputation as a global business centre post games is also at stake. In today’s straightened global economic context foreign investment is incredibly important to the UK.  It is worth billions of pounds to the UK economy to get our cross cultural communications right.  An international, culturally aware approach is not an optional add-on , it is integral to the success and renewal of the British economy.

Alexandrite international communications specialises in cross cultural global communications, international media and reputation management