Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Crisis Communications: Soon Huat Bak Kut Teh Responds to Channel News Asia Report

Crisis Communications: Soon Huat Bak Kut Teh Responds to Channel News Asia Report

Yesterday, Channel News Asia reported that Soon Huat Bak Kut Teh Simpang Bedok outlet had been suspended by NEA for 2 weeks for hygiene breaches. The news went viral.

However, unlike other companies in Singapore who face a social media crisis, Soon Huat Bak Kut Teh responded in textbook fashion according to our crisis communications framework – open, 100% truthful, timely, social media present and broadly communicated.

crisis communications soon huat bak kut teh

Within 2 hours (timely), Soon Huat’s founder, Jabez Tan, issued a clarification to say Soon Huat Bak Kut Teh had indeed been suspended by NEA for food preparation offences (open). He then went on to clarify that the “prepared food on the floor”, reported in the media, referred to 30kg of frozen pork ribs (sealed in plastic bags) that was left out to thaw in a crate on the floor. He also posted a picture of the pork ribs and went on accept responsibility for not complying fully with food preparation guidelines (100% Truthful). Jabez’s clarification was made on numerous platforms (including social media) and he even had notices at his other outlets. (broadly communicated and social media present).

While it is too soon to tell whether Soon Huat’s business will be affected by the bad publicity, but judging from netizens’ response to the clarification, we believe that Jabez Tan has done well in managing this crisis and Soon Huat Bak Kut Teh will emerge from this with stronger brand awareness - all publicity is good publicity if you know how to handle it.

Monday, May 29, 2017

Crisis Communications: Why WP's Silence on PwC Report May Not Mean Guilt

On 2 May 2017, PwC called for an inquiry into payments made to the former Managing Agent (MA) of the Workers’ Party (WP) Town Council - FM Solutions and Services (FMSS). According to the PwC report, the circumstances surrounding the selection of FMSS as the MA of AHTC show it was done by design, with FMSS assured of the job two months before it was formally appointed in August 2011. This revelation "put the propriety of all payments made under two managing contracts to FM Solutions and Services into question." PwC added that while its report does not look into potential criminal liability, "the circumstances may warrant further investigations by the relevant authorities as to the relevant potential offences". Since PwC’s call on 2 May 2017, apart from WP’s response to the Straits Times that they would “study the report”, there were no comments from AHTC on PwC's findings.

Silence May Not Mean Guilt

WP’s silence since the report is not surprising, but it cannot be taken to imply guilt.

In crisis situations where there may be criminal or civil liabilities, legal advisors prefer that the organization say nothing. This is because any statement issued can have legal implications. Additionally, in the event that the case does go to the Court, a statement would reveal the likely defence strategy which will put the defence at a disadvantage. In Singapore, publicly speaking about a case pending before the Court is considered sub judice and carries with it legal penalties. In this instance, however, as the AGC has not filed any charges, the WP does have a window of opportunity to issue a statement if they choose to do so.

While remaining silent is the logical approach, the silence is deafening and accentuates the narrative that the WP is guilty.

WP silence on PwC Report AHPETC


What can an organization facing such a situation do?

Without seeking to influence Court proceedings, organizations caught in this limbo can work to inoculate themselves against the negative publicity. Conceptually, what this means is that the organization should push out information that contradicts what the crisis is implying. Using the example of an organization facing a lawsuit over an industrial accident, the organization should work to amplify their good safety record. The intent of doing this is to brand the organization as one with a good safety record such that when stakeholders subsequently hear the opposite, they will discredit what they are now hearing.


Putting aside partisan views about the WP, WP’s silence cannot be taken to imply guilt. For that, we will need to wait till the authorities conclude their investigations and the case decided in a court of law (if it goes that far).

Saturday, May 27, 2017

Crisis Communications: SPH Announces the Appointment of Ng Yat Chung as its CEO

On Friday, 26 May 2017, Singapore Press Holdings (SPH) announced that they will be appointing Mr Ng Yat Chung as its Chief Executive Officer with effect 1st Sep 2017. Ng, takes over from Mr Alan Chan Heng Loon who is retiring after 15 years at SPH.

While this may seem like a normal corporate announcement, it is far from it. The news of Ng’s appointment drew the ire of Singapore netizens as Ng is the former soldier turned CEO under whose watch the national carrier was sold to France’s CMA CGM - the world’s third-largest container shipper. To make matters worse, only last week, the French-based group reported that it had turned around the loss making NOL since taking it over in June 2016.

(Note: Personally, we believe the turn-around had a lot to do with CMA CGM’s size and market dominance.)

Lesson Learnt – Need to be Proactive to Frame the Narrative

Considering that SPH is in the “communications” industry, it is surprising that they opted not to proactively manage this announcement. Granted, this crisis is more political than business-related, the reality is that perceptions matter. With this hanging over the head of the CEO-designate, there will be employee morale as well as trust issues to address.

Using our Impact Assessment Matrix, we can be seen that news of Ng’s failure as the CEO of NOL would have high credibility. Even if our assessment that the impact will be high against the Government (and employees) and the SPH Board felt otherwise, some form of response to address Ng’s history and appointment is necessary.

crisis communications impact assessment matrix

As any PR professional will tell you, the best time to address potential issues is before they happen and not after. A proactive approach would have allowed SPH to frame the narrative to let the naysayers counter them, rather than let the naysayers dictate the “battle” with SPH responding. The latter places SPH in a defensive posture which is not the best place to be in a crisis management situation as you will be forced to react to what is being said.


In summary, we will never know what was the thinking behind the Board's decision not to prepare the ground for this announcement. At the very least, the announcement could have been delayed by a few weeks to let the story of CMA CGM’s success at turning NOL around subside. As communications professionals, we believe that SPH could have managed this better.