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How to Keep Your Company’s Reputation Afloat When You Spill Oil in the San Francisco Bay Dated : 14-11-2007

This is exactly the crisis facing South Korea's Hanjin Group which chartered the ship, Cosco Busan, from the Greek firm Synergy Maritime. As the tanker ship left the Port of Oakland amid dense fog on the morning of November 7, it struck a fender support on the Oakland Bay Bridge. The collision caused a gash in the ship spilling 58,000 gallons (220,000 liters) of fuel into the San Francisco Bay. Now, a week later, the spill has forced closure of some of the region's most famous beaches, such as Crissy Field overlooking the Golden Gate Bridge and Baker Beach on the Pacific Ocean.
In addition to the environmental damage this spill has caused, the Hanjin Group’s reputation has suffered at the hands of the American media as well as government officials from San Francisco to Washington, D.C. The Hanjin Group, which was established in 1945, is a Korean conglomerate that includes a shipping company, Hanjin Shipping (including Hanjin Logistics), and Korean Air (KAL), which was acquired in 1969. With its majority interest in the Senator Lines Hanjin, Senator is the seventh largest container transportation and shipping company in the world. At this moment, I suspect that W.Y. Lee, the president of Hanjin Transportation Company, Ltd., is struggling to find a way to minimize the damage to his company’s otherwise sterling reputation. What should he do?
It has been said that “you can take away all my money and even my customers, but so long as I can keep my experience, relationships, and reputation, I'll come back stronger than before.” Certainly, the San Francisco oil spill disaster will cost the Hanjin Group a pretty penny and tarnish its proud name, but I doubt it will sink the company provided its leadership acts quickly to shore-up its reputation. As one public relations expert said, “Having knowledge, social capital and trust is the ultimate security blanket in good times and bad.” Now is the time for the Hanjin Group to spend some of its social capital and good will to ensure its reputation doesn’t go down with the ship.
Public relations firm Hill & Knowlton conducted a study entitled, "Return on Reputation" that reveals how important reputation is perceived by customers and the public. Hill & Knowlton’s study indicated that a company’s reputation has a direct correlation on its financial performance and how consumers measure the company’s trustworthiness. According to the 282 global companies surveyed for the study, brand and marketing message (76 percent), corporate culture and working environment (51 percent), employee compensation and career opportunities (49 percent), and social responsibility/community investment (22 percent) all play an active role in reputation assessment.
In reviewing the Hanjin Group’s minimal media response to their oil spill crisis, they would be wise to abandon their bunker mentality and begin to counter the daily barrage of negative media stories by emphasizing their track record on social responsibility.
Certainly, the Hanjin Group is doing good things in Korea and the other countries it serves. Unfortunately, no one is hearing those inspiring stories because the company’s leadership is still in a “damage control” mindset and has yet to put a corporate face in front of the cameras. Every day they delay to put a positive, friendly corporate face on camera is another day they will be battered by the media. I am not suggesting that the Hanjin deny fault for this accident. At this point, that would be pointless and only infuriate the public.
Instead, the Hanjin Group should step forward, accept some degree of responsibility for the accident, and vow to commit whatever resources are necessary to clean-up their mess. In doing so, the Hanjin Group can save its tarnished reputation in the United States and avoid being linked to a handful of discredited corporations that made the major mistake of trying to sidestep their social responsibility during similar disasters. This is a unique opportunity for the Hanjin Group to demonstrate Reputation Leadership™ and, at least, neutralize the damage to its good name.
About the Author: Tom Hinton is America’s expert in Business Excellence. Mr. Hinton is the president and chief executive officer of CRI Global, LLC, an international consulting firm that helps clients create a culture of excellence in the workplace. He is also a popular international speaker and trainer on the subjects of Leadership, Customer Service, and Team Building. He can be reached at tom@tomhinton.com
Source: San Diego, CA 92150-3016, November 14 2007, http://www.expertclick.com/NewsReleaseWire/default.cfm?Action=ReleaseDetail&ID=18773


 
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