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With more than three decades of experience in helping organisations to navigate crises, Siobhán Molloy of Káno Communications is a firm believer in businesses swiftly owning up to corporate mistakes
Siobhán Molloy had an onerous task in front of her on a Saturday morning in 2008: telling the nation that it was soon to be separated from its supply of pork.
In her role as an adviser to the Food Safety Authority of Ireland (FSAI), the managing director at Káno Communications was charged with handling the messaging around one of the largest product recalls in the history of the state.
Elevated levels of dioxins, an environmental pollutant, had been found in Irish pork products sold both nationally and internationally. Although they were not so high that they posed an immediate risk to the health of consumers, they were between 80 and 200 times the levels allowed under EU law.
The issue had been caused by contaminated animal feed distributed to a number of farms in both Ireland and Northern Ireland.
“Everyone woke up to warnings on the radio. Morning Ireland, I remember, did a special on it, as every pork product was coming off the shelves. It was the easiest, cleanest, safest way to handle it,” said Molloy, who has more than 30 years’ experience helping organisations navigate their way through crises.
As well as overseeing the handling of the pork dioxin recall, she worked closely with the FSAI to manage the communication of the discovery of horse and pig DNA in Irish beef products in 2013.
More recently, she has aided the Health Products Regulatory Authority (HPRA) with monitoring the approval of Covid-19 vaccines and communicating any possible side effects or safety concerns (“of which there were not many”) to the public.
Through all of this, she has developed a particular perspective on what can make, or break, a crisis response.
“Our world today is very volatile and communication moves fast. During a crisis, it’s all about trust and confidence. If you’re not clearly communicating and providing the necessary information, you will fail, and there will be a vacuum,” she said.
Molloy is a major proponent of the fail to prepare, prepare to fail adage. She recommends that any brand hoping to ensure they can weather a crisis create a “crisis playbook” in advance that sets out what to do in the event that something goes wrong. This will prevent frenetic decisions being made in the midst of an actual event.
Running “live crisis simulations” can also be helpful in identifying potential gaps in an organisation’s response before the crisis in question actually arises.
“You need to think about what is the worst thing that could happen, and then plan for it,” she said.
According to Molloy, one of the worst things that a brand can do during a crisis situation is fail to issue any kind of response.
“If something has happened, you need to accept the consequences. Get as much of the news and facts out as fast as you can,” she said.
“Don’t have it pulled out of you through pressure, or have it dribble out. If you don’t own the story, others will.”
Once a company or organisation starts communicating, the public response, whether it be on social media or on the radio airwaves, should be carefully monitored, with any misunderstandings clarified and misinformation corrected in a timely manner.
“Misinformation can, when unchallenged, become reality,” Molloy said.
She cites Glenisk, the Irish organic dairy producer, as a company that handled a recent crisis with particular grace. The manner in which it communicated news of its Offaly plant being destroyed in a massive fire embodied much of the advice Molloy said she would give to a client in a similar situation.
“Vincent Cleary, Glenisk’s managing director, was out straight away explaining what they knew at that point. He was really honest and extremely humble about not knowing what the source of the fire was, or what the company’s plan was in the medium term,” she said.
Glenisk’s decision to honour the milk purchases it had agreed that day was not only a good move from a branding perspective, Molloy said, but indicative of a business with a particularly good set of values.
“Glenisk took a financial hit making sure it looked after its stakeholders, and came across as having great empathy. In the end, its competitors offered them the capacity to make their products at their factories, which is quite incredible.”
Conversely, Boeing’s handling of the grounding of its 737 Max planes left much to be desired, chiefly because the company lagged behind in issuing a response. Two crashes in Ethiopia and Indonesia that killed a total of 346 people caused many airlines and aviation authorities to ground the model amid safety concerns.
By the time Boeing had made the decision to formally take the model out of the air, the company had lost control of the narrative, Molloy said. She added that although companies may be inclined to assess the full facts of a situation or conduct an investigation prior to making a public statement, allowing this information vacuum to form within the public sphere is a major mistake.
“As others had acted before [Boeing], it seemed it was grounding its planes due to pressure,” Molloy said. “They should have been quicker to reinforce how seriously they take passenger safety. The undue delay resulted in Boeing losing control of telling its own story.”
Molloy also noted that the decision by Facebook to change its name to Meta seemed to come at a time when the company was facing enhanced scrutiny surrounding how its platforms affect users and society more broadly, a rebranding tactic that, she said, was ill-judged.
“Facebook’s decision to change its name has been perceived in many quarters as a move to distance itself from the barrage of negativity,” she said. “But the problem hasn’t been bottomed out and addressed, so it won’t go away.”
“Originally published in the Business Post on December 19th”
Here at Káno we are delighted to announce and officially welcome three new colleagues to support our growing client portfolio.
Claire Egan has over 15 years’ experience in the communications industry, working in the media, publishing, sport and higher education sectors. She joins Káno Communications as a Senior Account Manager from Dublin City University, where she worked as part of the University’s Communications Unit, specifically working on strategic research initiatives and flagship events. She previously spent six years as Director of Communications and Marketing with the Camogie Association. She is a four-time, All-Ireland Ladies Football winner with Mayo.
Kathryn Moley joins the agency as an Account Manager having worked in the PR sector for over six years. With extensive experience working with Irish and global organisations in the technology, healthcare, and education sector, the Dundalk native joins the Káno Communications corporate team from MKC Communications.
Gavin Hegarty joins as Digital Executive and will work across the firm’s brand and corporate clients. He has experience in digital production and international marketing. He joins Káno Communications following a successful marketing manager role with Digicel Caribbean Ltd.
Siobhán Molloy, Managing Director says, “I’m delighted to welcome Claire, Kathryn and Gavin to our growing team at Káno. Their combined experience and expertise will add huge value to new and existing clients as we continue to grow the business. The communications challenges that businesses, state agencies and brands face are becoming ever more complex and having expert and trusted advisors to navigate these challenges is more important than ever.”
The agency was founded over 30 years ago as Financial & Corporate Communications (FCC) the firm became part of Weber Shandwick in 2000 and following a management buyout 2020, the agency is now a partner to Weber Shandwick. We rebranded to Káno Communications in mid-2021.
Last Friday, the team won the prestigious ‘Best Corporate Communications’ campaign at the 28th national Awards for Excellence in Public Relations for our Eway 2040 campaign on behalf of the Irish Car Carbon Reduction Alliance (ICCRA). The campaign was also ‘highly commended’ in the ‘Best Use of Media Relations’ category, in which a record 28 campaigns were shortlisted.
The annual awards celebrate and recognise outstanding communications campaigns that creatively inspire audiences and deliver real and measurable results that drive organisational objectives.
Our latest accolade represents our 21st win at these national PR industry awards.
The esteemed judging panel described our winning campaign as a
campaign that demonstrated how PR effectively overcame a challenge for an industry. Through PR it built an initiative from the ground up, with clear objectives to reach multiple audiences through different tactics and carved out a relevant space against the political and consumer tide to achieve impressive outcomes.
Really well done to all the team who tirelessly went beyond to deliver an outstanding client campaign and congratulations to all our fellow 2021 winners.”