Tuesday, 1 February 2011

Remember your fundamentals & media training skills: The Benihana Debacle

With everything that's gone on with Benihana in Kuwait for the last few days, it brings to light the fact that such situations could be avoided if more executives in this region had some sort of media training or didn't lost sight of some basic business fundamentals in customer care.

While I have no way of knowing the background or experience that the team at Benihana has had, I do know for a fact that many senior executives who are responsible for talking to the press or media in this region have never had any media training.

The lack of any media training means that many companies and their executives are left totally exposed when faced with a crisis.  As we've seen in the last couple of years when the region has been through more downs than ups and the solution most companies resort to at a time of crisis is to stay silent.  While silence is said to be golden, not saying anything during a crisis only makes the situation worse.

What more companies need to realize is that thoughts, emotions and opinions can't be censored or ignored. We need to listen, we need to acknowledge them and we need to discuss.

While I've admittedly not had any formal media training, I've probably over the period learned a lot through experience whether it be dealing with print media, radio, TV and social media.  If given the chance to undergo formal media training, I would do it immediately.  As a person who is responsible to speak to the press, it is vital that you take upon yourself the responsibility of being able to manage your company's image in the press.

The fact that Benihana let their lawyer's speak first only highlights this because once you involve your lawyer, then everything has to be funneled through them.  Lawyers by nature will always be very safe and conservative in terms of what they'll let you do or say (which is what they're paid to do), but lawyers should be brought in if there is no other way to move forward.

While a lot of what is happening in the Benihana case is billed as a social media or blogger community versus big business, it's also about basic fundamentals in customer service, which have not changed in decades.  Social media or blogging is a means of communication but the fact is the fundamentals we work by don't change.  If the same comments were written on the back of a comments card in the restaurant, it would've been read and possibly, Mark, the blogger, would've been contacted or the Chef would've received some stick for under-cooking the chicken in his meal.

The bottomline is, we need to see more executives media trained in this region if we want to see more companies respond proactively and we also need to understand how to adapt social media policies into the fundamentals that a company operates on.  When this starts to happen, I'm pretty sure we'll start to see an improvement of how crisis situations like this are handled.