Branding-Don't wake up to a nastyshock

Globalisation is generally considered to make brand marketing easier, but it can cause unforeseen problems.

The Bulgarian office of one international NGO pitched a story to its domestic media about human rights abuses in Latin America. The story got picked up and 24 hours later had made its way to Latin America.

When the organisation's Latin American local regional office woke up, it was shocked to discover that it was in the news - the media not differentiating between the national offices of an international brand.

It was also horrified to find that it was in trouble.

The original story contained inaccuracies, which meant the authorities could refute the allegations and tarnish the otherwise good name of the NGO, a long-time critic.

Before long, several other offices of the organisation in different countries were in trouble too as the coverage continued to spread.

Five years ago, the story would never have left Bulgaria. But in the era of globalised media there is no such thing as a national border and no way of containing brand damage once it's happened.

Brand is still a dirty word in our sector, but a strong brand is the most valuable commodity an NGO has, and we are failing to account for changes in the external communications world.

As a consequence, we're still running our brand management the old way, and it's no surprise that most of the international NGO communications professionals I speak to know that one morning it will be them waking up to a nasty shock.

There is no way of preventing negative coverage such as this crossing borders, but there are ways to manage the impact.

The first is to persuade the senior leaders of your organisation that your brand is important, that it needs to be robust and making it this way is an organisation-wide responsibility. A strong brand will attract more negative coverage than a weak one, but only the strong ones tend to survive a significant crisis.

The second is to be ready for a crisis. If you don't have a crisis plan in place, you need one, particularly one that addresses the potential for cross-border media coverage and seeks to manage the way in which different arms of the organisation manage their responses. There's no worse strategic reaction than one office simply blaming another.

Above all, international NGOs need to engage with the threats and opportunities of a world in which there are no media borders and consider what that means for their own, often geographically defined operations.

- Details have been changed to protect the identity of the organisation.

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