March 15, 2017
Given the tsunami of opinion on the matter, I’ll be succinct with these three observations:
1. Your first quick response to a crisis is the most important
The response should have been immediate, within hours of the story breaking, and certainly once it became clear the story was escalating.
Instead, after several days of weathering a media storm and watching customers trash their brand and their product on social media, Coopers’ Managing Director and Director of Finance hit the airways with a more considered video response, including a commitment to join Marriage Equality Australia.
The objective in a crisis is to stop the media furor, all the more when it’s hitting the bottom line.
The companies I know that fair the best in crises are those that identify potential crises early and treat the issue with the respect (and resources) it deserves. It’s hard to see how being unwittingly thrust into the centre of the marriage equality debate couldn’t be seen as a major problem and deserved of a well-considered, forthright response.
2. Your CSR projects should be values-led and matter as much to your customers (if not more) as to your leadership team
Perception is everything. Why now drop the commemorative Bible Society beer, when it was good to go before the crisis? And why suddenly support Marriage Equality?
People want to see a values driven company.
I can see how support for the Bible Society needn’t be inconsistent with also supporting same sex marriage, but it will be perceived as hypocrisy by some.
It’s a stark contrast to their initial response which supported the ‘Keeping it light’ video. A subsequent follow-up statement then insisted Coopers didn’t endorse the original video, nor had the Bible Society sought permission to promote Coopers therein.
Remember the objective is to stop media activity, and the video supporting marriage equality simply extended the story.
I’m not a huge fan of the concept of Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR). All too often it’s used as a mitigation program for all manner of ills: “Yes I’m destroying the environment, but look over here at my Center For Children Who Can’t Read Good. Aren’t we great?”
My preference is for a Creating Shared Value (CSV) model which looks to the heart of your business, its product and the market, and how through every day business you can benefit the people and communities you intersect (and shareholders). A CSV approach also means you’re unlikely to be caught in a Coopers-esque furor, as your social pursuits inherently align with most of your key stakeholders, especially your customers.
The Coopers family are well within their rights to support the Bible Society. We should all defend that right.
Additionally, the governance around your CSR projects needs to be robust. The organisations and causes you support should have a thorough understanding of the boundaries of the relationship, knowing where and when they need to seek your input and permission.
3. Party-political donations come with risk and need to be well thought out
The controversy has also brought to the fore, the company’s considerable donations to the SA Liberal Party. Such a one-sided political donation record (in fairness the Democrats did get some love when they were still in the game) has a very real potential of undermining commercial realities.
Not only are Coopers potentially upsetting customers who don’t support the Liberal Party, you’re potentially undermining your relationship with Labor governments. While the political parties argue donations earn you no favours, I’d argue a sustained donation campaign can mean the difference between popping into an MP’s office for a chat versus battling their diary secretary for a month to get an appointment. That kind of access can mean a great deal. You’re better off spreading the donations fairly, or not donating at all.
Coopers have lost some paint this week, and very likely lost some long-term customers. It’s a shame, given it was entirely avoidable.