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Telum Talks To Mileage Communications Group Chairman Mr. Yap Boh Tiong

Telum Talks To Mileage Communications Group Chairman Mr. Yap Boh Tiong

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What has been your most exciting experience in the 28 years since setting up Mileage Communications?
For me I would say when Mileage was approached by the Association of Banks in Singapore to be the communications facilitator for the financial institutions which included local and foreign banks, SGX, Life Insurance Association and General Insurance Association to participate in a one-day crisis simulation exercise. It entailed three scenarios: terrorist assault, cyber-attack and a pandemic outbreak. Our staff played journalists reacting to the responses issued by the FIs’ communications team. I had the opportunity to craft a short critique and later wrote a report and crisis communications guide for the association.

Given that you work with clients across sectors would you say each sector requires different communications skills or is a one-size-fits-all approach possible?
Every sector has its own rules, regulations, and legislation which clients must adhere to. Thus one has to be familiar with them. Because Mileage deals with IPOs and investor relations, we have to be mindful on when and how we disclose clients’ announcements and news releases without breaking the law. Moreover, there are business and work terminologies that you have to be acquainted with. In shipping, there are terms such as “port of refuge, NOX emissions and oily separator”. Then there are the jargons to contend with especially in the healthcare and pharmaceutical industries. As communicators, we must make the contents as easily digestible to the laymen without losing the essence of the message.

Preparing for crisis situations is key to effective crisis management but it seems that many companies are still unprepared. What would you suggest to avoid that?
The missing key is spokesperson training in crisis and non-crisis situations. Some companies, especially those in the shipping, pharmaceutical, oil and gas, industrial, and hospitality industries, are aware of the merits of having good spokesperson training.

The emergence of social media has changed the game for many companies and has made them more prone to crisis than ever before. How can companies manage a social media crisis effectively?
Companies need to first prepare their social media crisis assets (such as a ‘dark site’) in advance and ensure that their staff are trained to upload them promptly when the time comes. Ultimately, it boils down to effective user engagement – the most critical component in protecting a company’s public reputation across the social web – and conveying messages clearly and tactfully. Also, establish a list of what can and cannot be said on social media.

Keep management informed of the user sentiments developing on social media, and do not attempt to ‘play down’ the situation with ‘soft’ words. Increasingly, the public and media are judging companies on their readiness to acknowledge what has happened and whether they are attempting to play down the severity of the crisis. Take corrective action sooner, minimise bad publicity, and turn the situation into one that wins its followers, along with others in their social network, back to the side of the brand.

Finally, what crises will you never forget?
Mileage has handled more than a hundred incidents (significant as well as small ones). There are a few I will never forget for different reasons. For the financial industry, Mileage handled AIA’s Critical Year Option saga, where policy holders who thought that they do not have to pay premiums after 14 years were told otherwise. We provided strategic counsel which helped the company to cope with the onslaught of comments from the media and its policy holders until the issue was resolved many months later.

There’s also another one from the hospitality sector, where the Marriott hotel bombings took place in Jakarta and Islamabad. I was despatched to assist in crisis mitigation and response on the ground.

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